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K-12 Students, Video Games, and Digital Citizenship

Howdy, Filamentarians! You probably don’t need us to tell you this, but we live in a world that is more online than ever. Tons of hobbies, learning opportunities, careers, and more take place at least partially on the web. Preparing K-12 students for their futures involves teaching them all sorts of technological competencies. Previously on the blog, we discussed media literacy and internet safety. Both of these topics are under the umbrella of digital citizenship – but digital citizenship includes so much more! Read on to learn what digital citizenship is and why it’s so important for K-12 students!

What is digital citizenship?

In the Safe Technology Utilization and Digital Citizenship in Public Schools bill, digital citizenship is defined as “the norms of appropriate, responsible, and healthy behavior related to technology use, including digital literacy, ethics, etiquette, and security.” Good digital citizenship isn’t so different from good citizenship in a community, town, or country. Digital Citizenship Utah expands on the definition above as follows: “However, just as good citizenship is more than not breaking the law, digital citizenship is more than just avoiding harms online. Technology can enhance and magnify the ability of youth and adults to contribute to and serve in the community and even in the world. But youth and adults need to work together to consider and create more ideas around how technology can be used for good — to facilitate collaboration, creation, communication, and positive contributions to family and civic life.” To put it simply, digital citizenship is about harm prevention, but also about positive contributions to our sprawling online worlds – which extend into all other parts of life as well. 

While the simple definition of digital citizenship is related to online conduct and etiquette, just teaching students “do’s and don’ts” may not educate them on the role of the internet when it comes to shaping culture, public opinion, and more. In an opinion piece for EducationWeek, Michelle Ciccone writes “…digital citizens must learn to not only be concerned with their own individual actions but also in how these actions fit together and interact within the larger ecosystem. Which means they also need to understand how that ecosystem works.” Ciccone states that because the internet landscape is ever-changing, so does education surrounding digital citizenship. She also writes that kindness alone can lack the power to create a better world if students are not informed about power structures on and offline. 

Teaching students what is appropriate to say and do online is only a piece of the work to ensure students are equipped to make the digital world a better one. To learn more about this expanding definition of digital citizenship, check out the video from ISTE below.

The good, the bad, and the gaming

In the aftermath of the 2020 pandemic, even more young people are turning to digital realms, like online gaming communities, for socialization. If you have participated at all in the digital world within the last decade, it’s likely no surprise to you that online gaming communities can contain toxicity, in part because they often provide a level of anonymity. 

As Tony Wan writes for EdSurge, “Especially in competitive online games, there’s a slippery slope where competitive dialogue devolves into cyberbullying and toxic harassment.” That’s not to say that gaming is inherently bad or good – games themselves are often just tools, and it matters most how they are used and how they are played. Wan asserts that even poor digital citizenship within online gaming can pose opportunities for learning and growth with the intervention of a parent or trusted adult. 

Paul Darvasi, an English and media teacher based in Toronto, says that parents and teachers can make a big difference in how students conduct themselves online. From guiding young learners through tricky interactions and conflicts to helping kids process their feelings about online interactions, adults can set students up for a healthier online life. Along the way, Darvasi notes, adults who are unfamiliar with technology and gaming can learn more about it through open communication with their kids. 

In addition to parents, teachers, and other adult role models, students can learn good digital citizenship from each other as they navigate communication online and while gaming. Esports teams are not only a great place to build STEM and other academic skills, but they also provide plenty of opportunities to learn soft skills and digital citizenship. When competitively gaming face-to-face, there are more opportunities to learn proper social conduct and how to be a good team member.

John McCarthy, a teacher, education consultant, and writer for Edutopia asserts that “School esports clubs can use the online behavior expectations outlined in the ISTE Standards for Students as a framework for helping students develop digital citizenship skills, in addition to providing mentorship on the future impact of students’ digital footprints and also building teamwork, communication and empathy.” The ISTE Standards for Students contains an entire section on digital citizenship that aims to empower students to have a say in their own learning. These standards on digital citizenship emphasize identity, safety, ethics, security, and critical thinking. To learn more about how these standards are implemented alongside esports leagues, check out the video below.

To reiterate, the most effective education on digital citizenship is one that includes mentorship from trusted adults, and an understanding of the internet as a place where communities, hierarchies, and misinformation exist. Mentors of K-12 students can guide them to become proactive digital citizens that use technology to make positive differences in the communities around them.  

Game-based learning for digital citizenship in the K-12 classroom

As mentioned above, games are tools – and they can be great tools for introducing students to topics under the digital citizenship umbrella. It’s one thing to hear a lecture about digital citizenship, or read a book on the subject, and another thing to practice it with educational games. In this medium, students can learn by doing, experiment, and fail without consequences to themselves or others. 

Digital citizenship is such an important topic for today’s K-12 students that our friends at BrainPOP have a whole suite of videos and games on the topic for students, and curriculum materials for educators. Among the suite of games is Newsfeed Defenders, a media literacy game we created with our friends at iCivics. In the game, players moderate a website. They must work to maintain the reputation of their site by reporting spam and misinformation, while also featuring quality articles that will increase engagement. Newsfeed Defenders teaches students about the sometimes thin line between engaging content and misleading content on the internet. 

Another game used to teach digital citizenship is Google’s Interland, which was developed with ISTE’s Standards for Students in mind. Interland is a whimsical 3D journey through simulated cyberspace for elementary school students. Four different mini-games educate students on various topics included in digital citizenship. “Reality River” helps students grow their confidence in recognizing inaccurate or dangerous information. “Mindful Mountain” teaches players to use caution when sharing sensitive or personal information on the internet. “Tower of Treasure” introduces students to best cybersecurity practices. Lastly, “Kind Kingdom” encourages young learners to communicate with respect and empathy while online. 

Games like Interland are just the beginning of more robust, game-based learning opportunities for young people navigating their lives online. Carolyn Sykora, ISTE’s senior director of standards, told Google,“‘Building these skills in our students will require ongoing attention as new technologies pose challenges and opportunities for students both at home and at school.” As our world changes, so does the internet. And as the internet changes, so will our standards for good digital citizenship.  

Technology (like games) has a unique opportunity to teach K-12 students about digital citizenship on the same exact platform they will be exercising those skills. Through a combination of learning materials and adult leadership, students can be prepared for a digital world of cyber bullies and phishers and rise above them, becoming the positive change-makers of their online and offline communities.

As you can tell, digital citizenship is essential for the well-being and safety of K-12 students (and everyone else) everywhere! Are you interested in making the internet a better place for young learners? Creating an educational game is a great way to contribute – we’d love to hear from you and help you turn your ideas into an impactful game-based learning experience!

More on games that make the internet a better (and safer!) place:

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