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Digital Citizenship: From Compliance to Moral Imperative

Children's Internet Protection Act compliance shouldn't just be a checkbox for educators, but an opportunity to teach students valuable lessons as they get ready for college and careers.

The June 1 deadline is rapidly approaching for school districts to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) so they can receive E-rate funding. The federal government's E-rate program provides discounts to school districts on services including Internet based on their percentage of students with low socio-economic backgrounds. The program has become an essential way for schools to pay for technology infrastructure maintenance. Depending on the make-up of the district, E-rate funds can lower the district's share of equipment costs for routers, switches, fiber-optic cable, access points, etc., by as much as 90 percent.  

School districts that receive E-rate funding must meet two important stipulations:

  1. Filtered Internet. Schools must filter Internet content to protect students from harmful material online.
  2. CIPA compliance. Students must learn about Internet safety during the school year.
District or site administrators face several important questions regarding CIPA compliance: Were lessons on Internet safety limited to a single day, or were they spread out over the course of a week? Were teachers given training in how to go through these lessons? Was CIPA compliance treated as a one-and-done lesson to be forgotten? I hope that's not the case. E-rate requirements provide districts a chance to teach valuable lessons, set expectations for online behavior and prepare students for college and career.

I challenge schools to make this form of digital citizenship a priority. The Common Core standards describe this as informational literacy, which includes technology as an essential curriculum component. Technology use needs to be accompanied with digital citizenship where students can become creators, not just consumers, of digital content. We need to teach students to evaluate material and to responsibly create and collaborate using technology. It is not only part of the standards, but it is also best for our students. (Note: Informational literacy can be found in Common Core's writing standards 6 and 8, speaking and listening standard 5, and reading informational standard text 7.) 

How can we expect students to learn to produce and publish online, in collaboration with peers, if we are unable to go beyond the E-rate/CIPA compliance requirement? As it stands, the requirement for E-rate is simply to teach students about Internet safety as they consume what other people put on the Internet. Many say the real digital divide is no longer based around access, but on whether or not students are creating or consuming the content that is on the Internet (Citation). If we are not teaching our students how to responsibly and collaboratively create online, then we are developing consumers, not college- and career-ready adults.

How many reasons are necessary to make this a moral imperative? Students need to learn to produce online content, to collaborate with others in the process, distinguish good information from bad information, protect themselves while doing this, and maintain a digital footprint and online presence that shows potential employers that they're a contributing online citizen. It is our job as educators to create learning environments that allow our students to succeed and prepare them for the future. Our world has a lot of digital tools and online content. We should teach our students how to function in this world by making digital citizenship a priority and not just a checkbox on a compliance sheet.