Teaching Cyberethics and Effective Technology Use: Expanded Definitions of Citizenship


Jim Teicher

Instilling a sense of citizenship in youth, including an understanding of its responsibilities and rewards, is part of the mission of every K-12 school and district. Now, with the growing impact of technology on society and the importance of “cyber-security” on a national level, it is more critical than ever for teachers to revisit the practice of citizenship and apply it cyberspace.

Cybercitizenship goes beyond simply having students sign even the most carefully wrought acceptable use policies. What is needed is a practical agenda that will both mitigate incidents of unacceptable computer and network use and provide students with skills necessary to optimize the value of technology at school. What tactics can teachers use to promote responsible and effective technology use in an ever-changing electronic environment where many students are not fully aware of what constitutes responsible and legal behavior and where the ability of one individual to impact millions is possible?

A Holistic Approach to Promoting Safe & Ethical Behavior

The CyberSmart!® Curriculum, developed through the close collaboration of professional educators, curriculum experts and Internet industry innovators, provides teachers with a unique set of original standards-based lesson plans, and addresses this need. By advocating a comprehensive approach to Internet education, the CyberSmart! Curriculum, addresses character building and decision making with the goal of developing a savvy and responsible generation of young Internet users and cybercitizens.

Launched January 31, the CyberSmart! Curriculum is the first major initiative of The Cybersmart! School Program, a nonprofit organization devoted to empowering children to safely, responsibly, and effectively take full advantage of the rich content and communication capabilities of the Internet. Copublished with Macmillan McGraw-Hill, this K-8 curriculum is available free on the Web.

The curriculum is currently being used in one of the country's largest school districts, Houston Independent School District. Schools in New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida also participated in field testing.

The CyberSmart! Curriculum consists of 65 original standards-based lesson plans with downloadable student activity sheets. Lessons are non-sequential and are easily integrated into a schools current plan for introducing students to the Internet. Each lesson stands on its own, allowing a teacher to implement as few or as many lessons as needed.

Lessons combine an effective mix of offline and online activities. So, although the Cybersmart Curriculum is distributed via the Web (www.cybersmartcurriculum.org), it is not an online curriculum. Online lessons do require an Internet connection; however, offline lessons can be taught without computers or an Internet connection.

The curriculum is built on a holistic approach to Internet education, one that empowers children rather than just monitors them. The approach incorporates five areas of focus.

  • Safety: How to enjoy the Internet safely

    Lessons include tactics for dealing with online bullies, playing it safe with cyber pals, reacting safely in uncomfortable situations, and protecting private and personal information.

  • Manners: Social, legal and ethical responsibilities when using the Internet

    Students interpret their own school's acceptable use policy (AUP) and relate the privileges and responsibilities of cyber citizenship that AUP. Students learn to show respect for intellectual property when using the Internet for school work and consider permissible, as well as illegal or unethical, forms of copying. Older students learn that computers and electronic files are property and explore the reasons for, consequences, and ethics of teen hacking.

  • Advertising: How to identify commercial messages and protect privacy

    Younger students learn to recognize commercial intentions, and that many Web sites are intended to sell, advertise, or promote product or services. Middle school students explore why and how commercial Web sites attempt to attract and keep visitors and learn about Web site privacy policies.

  • Research: Strategies to effectively mine online resources

    This unit provides an age-appropriate introduction to the nuts-and-bolts of searching and teaches students how to evaluate the usefulness and appropriateness of Web sites, how to use the Internet for homework help, and how to effectively use school library resources as part of the research process.

  • Technology: Learning about the history, present, and future of the Internet

    Hands-on activities help students conceptualize the geography of cyberspace as it relates to their social studies curriculum and explorations of their neighborhood, town, state, and nation. Students contrast cyberspace with actual and fantasy places, learning that cyberspace connects real people. By exploring cyberspace in terms of real people communicating, these lessons encourage students to bring their real world values and concepts of responsibility into cyberspace.

Future CyberSmart! School Program activities will include expanding the curriculum and professional development programs.

Nurturing ethical and effective Internet skills must begin at an early age as part of a school commitment to prepare students to be responsible 21st citizens. We have learned all too well that children have the potential to do wrong online. As educators, we need to develop strategies for enlisting students, savvy and effective cybercitizens, as stewards willing and able to help current and future generations of computers and Internet users safely reap the tremendous rewards of global connectivity.

Jim Teicher () is co-director of the CyberSmart! School program with Mala Bawer () who contributed to this article.