This article series about future readiness is predicated on the idea of intangible and different futures for every student, and this notion is especially relevant for future readiness in the context of 21st century citizenship.
This form of future readiness is an elusive concept; it refers to a holistic understanding of readiness – not just to get good grades or get a job, but the ability to live productively, happily, and safely.
Earlier articles in this series discuss how technology advances are fueling the seismic shifts in what career readiness means and how this impacts the structure of learning, so it prepares students for the future. These advance in technology, however, also impact students’ daily lives outside of classrooms.
Readiness on a Personal Level
Future readiness for 21st century citizenship blends inherent human cognition with technology, by focusing on the skills students need to be happy, productive, and empowered 21st century citizens.
To quote from a A Comparative Study of the Purposes of Education in the Twenty-First Century, future readiness enables students to meet 21st century expectations and demands “to live long and healthy lives, to contribute positively as active members of their communities, to participate economically and politically in institutions that are often local as well as global, and to relate to the environment in ways that are sustainable.”
In sum, future readiness cultivates citizenship, which is increasingly digital. The average adult spends six hours per day on a device, and 95 percent of students have access to a smartphone with 45 percent of teens describing themselves as online ‘constantly.’ People make connections with other people online. People shop online. People read news online. People learn what percent Phoebe Buffay they are online, see whether they have what it takes to run their own farm online, or post pictures lying face down for – who even knows why – online.
Suffice it to say, people’s lives and experiences are deeply intertwined with the digital world.
To get to the core of this new form of citizenship, it’s important to understand the concept of a digital footprint. Digital footprints are records of someone’s online interactions, buying habits, actions on a website, and even location when accessing content. Digital footprints manifest when people use social media, interact with ads, checkout on a website, or fill out a form – to name a few scenarios. In most cases, digital footprints are not used maliciously, but if they fall into the wrong hands, they can be.
Online Privacy and Security
Think of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. By downloading an application through Facebook, people unwittingly agreed to allow Cambridge Analytica access to their social information as well as that of all their friends with public profiles. The information gathered was then used to target people’s political beliefs. This sort of surreptitious use can also occur when people click on suspicious links, give out payment card information to unsecure websites, or don’t read the terms of service when they download something.
This is not an isolated incident. Data theft is a significant issue. According to a study by Pew, almost two-thirds of American adults have experienced data theft or fraud. Further, 40 percent of adults struggle to remember their passwords and are, therefore, likely to rely on less secure passwords, repeat passwords from site to site, and write down their passwords on paper or digital note tools (like the iPhone Notes app).
Also related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, fake news is another troublesome trend. In another research study by Pew, only 26 percent of adults were able to correctly discern between the factual and fictitious statements. Interestingly, 44 percent of those who were confident in their technology skills were able to correctly identify what was factual.
The importance of information literacy extends beyond this, too. For example, people use social media to influence purchases: 40 percent of users research buying decisions with social media. And this number doesn’t even touch the number of ads people are susceptible to from influencers and brands.
With the proliferation of these tools, there are also deeply concerning trends around cyberbullying. Pew researchers found that 63 percent of teens and 40 percent of adults have experienced cyberbullying.
Education about these risks and considerations matters, with 95 percent of teens having access to a smartphone and nearly half being online constantly. Data also shows that 70 percent of teens access social media more than once a day, 88 percent of young adults use social media, and people typically belong to at least three platforms.
Moreover, as students broaden how they use digital tools in their personal lives, it is imperative that we help them develop strategies to protect themselves while also enabling them to enhance their online experience. Enter digital citizenship.
Digital citizenship helps students to understand their online rights and responsibilities and how to securely use online tools as citizens of our digital world. By developing digital citizenship skills, students learn how to manage the inherent risks of the internet and can instead build a positive and productive experience for themselves. To do so, digital citizenship can address this broad range of concepts:
Online Privacy and Security: Students develop strategies for keeping their online information secure. This includes building understanding of phishing, password best practices, viruses, and website security.'
Digital Identity and Footprint: Students manage their online presence by understanding their rights and responsibilities and build safe and positive online communities.
Information Literacy and Creative Copyright: Students practice online research techniques for using search engines effectively, identifying credible websites, and citing online sources.
Internet Safety: Students learn to practice strategies to stay safe online like identifying inappropriate content and unsafe connections. They also learn to identify, manage, and report cyberbullying.
Together, students learn how to manage their digital footprint and mitigate risk online by understanding safety fundamentals and developing online security strategies. They productively use to internet with information literacy – and digital literacy more generally. And by doing so, they can help protect those in their network, too.
Future readiness for 21st century citizenship is what will define students’ experiences now and as adults. It is a transferable skill that will stick with them despite rapidly advancing technology, shifting social media platforms, and new privacy risks. We said in our article about career readiness skills that the half-life of digital skills is five years. Digital citizenship will not expire.
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