From students to digital citizens: A positive step on Safer Internet Day

A student study group uses a Surface Pro 4.

Think of an earthquake. It’s an event we can’t control, but instead of sitting in fear we can reinforce what we do to help and strengthen ourselves. Staying safe in a digital world is a far cry from the physical safeguards we seek against an earthquake, but educators and parents often rely on the negatives and evils of the Internet to get the message across. How can educators convey the seriousness of digital safety without crossing into fear-based tactics?

We can start with Safer Internet Day, taking place on February 7th. It’s a great time to highlight the need for educators and parents to help students safely navigate the Internet. To do this, teachers need resources and lessons to empower students to correctly research, collaborate and communicate online.

Think of how we often approach talking to students about navigating the vastness of the Internet. Oftentimes we focus on the unknowns – helping students cope with the negative things that may happen instead of taking a more positive approach.

An illustration depicting connectivity between students, teachers and their Windows devices.“If we are focused solely on the unknown dangers with students, we are missing out on a major opportunity to cultivate empowered digital citizens,” says David Ryan Polgar, Trust & Safety for social messaging platform Friendbase and a frequent speaker on digital citizenship and cyber ethics. “Our goal is not to get students to log off, but to log on differently. We want students to be educated, empowered, and engaged in changing the online environment for the better. Being safe and being savvy should be synonymous.”

One way is to empower students through meaningful lessons on digital citizenship. Microsoft has created a teacher toolkit full of lessons and resources, as well as an online course on digital citizenship in the Microsoft Educator Community. By completing the online course through the Microsoft Educator Community, educators will earn a badge and be halfway to becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator.

Focusing on the positive aspects of the Internet with suggestions for protecting themselves and others allows students to take digital safety seriously. The teacher toolkit, packaged in a OneNote notebook, provides lessons for students of any age on digital literacy, digital civility and information literacy.

A Microsoft badge made for Safer Internet DaySafer Internet Day helps educators and students celebrate staying safe online. On February 7th, people in over 100 different countries will encourage safety by raising awareness about current digital issues. This year’s theme, “Be the change: Unite for a better internet” is providing institutions and organizations with resources to help promote events to raise awareness. Utilizing a day like this can be an easy way to positively promote digital safety to students, rather than focus on the evils and pitfalls of the internet.

By empowering students to build a positive digital footprint, they can control their actions online and be a positive influence for others. Teachers and parents need the tools to help students be kind and positive citizens online just as they do in the physical world. As annoying and disruptive as fire drills are, they are an important element in knowing how to stay safe. Let’s work together to ensure our students are product and kind members of society – especially online.