The FIRST World Championships in robotics is now over and I am now back in Bucharest. For 4 days in St Louis, over 12,000 students from 32 different countries built, programmed and competed with robots that were small enough to fit on a table or taller than Kareem Abdul Jabar (seen below as a referee measuring a robot’s height)
All of the students at the competition were exemplars of what John Merrow calls Digital Citizens as he describes in his blog post “Digital Natives. Or Digital Citizens?” John Merrow states that “ONE percent of young people are using today’s technologies to create” which is his requirement to hold Digital Citizenship. After reading the article I thought who gets to decide the requirements for Digital Citizenship?
Every day I teach students from multiple countries and some students within themselves have cultural backgrounds from more than one country like my Colombian-American son. The Internet represents the combined efforts of every country on the globe so can someone really be a Digital Citizen of the Internet? What country determines the requirements for Digital Citizenship? The United States set the requirements for my Colombian wife to become a U.S. citizen so should it also set the rules for her Digital Citizenship? The term citizenship assumes there is an agreed upon social contract that all of the citizens have accepted to be a citizen. There is no common set of values and laws that all internet users are asked to accept regardless of where they live.
The term Digital Citizenship is as vague as the label Global Citizen and my students are smart enough to realize that the term is just a ruse to relabel required behaviors described in the school’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUPs). Instead of asking to students to blindly follow a set of Digital Citizenship rules, I challenge them to reflect on the ethics of their own internet behavior by asking them to imagine themselves “in someone else’s shoes”. Teenagers are constantly making choices on ethical behaviors concerning copying homework, cyber bulling or bullying in the real world. My role as a teacher is to help them see how certain choices hurt others and that their character will be judged by the choices they make. (especially by college admission officers!) AUPs should require the thoughtful and ethical use of technology and not just the blind obedience of students to a list of Digital Citizenship rules. Educators must treat middle school and high school students as aspiring young adults and not like robots being asked to blindly follow rules as the student created robots in the photo of the FIRST Tech Match below.