5 Tips to Help Students Become Good Digital Communicators

By Guest Author | October 13th, 2017 | No Comments

Susan M. Bearden is the author of Digital Citizenship: A Community-Based Approach, published as part of the Corwin Connected Educator Series. A former K-12 technology director and Senior Fellow in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, she currently helps edtech companies, schools, and districts incorporate Digital Citizenship into their curriculum.

Knowing how to communicate respectfully and appropriately in online spaces is a key component of Digital Citizenship. Despite all the hours that students may spend communicating with friends via text message, Snapchat, Instagram, or other social media platforms, they don’t necessarily understand the difference between formal and informal digital communications mediums. Online platforms like Edmodo provide teachers with the perfect opportunity to help students practice their online communication skills in a low-risk environment. Here are 5 ways to help your students improve their digital communication skills.

1. Discuss how in-person and online communication differ.

Communicating with people in online spaces is very different from face to face communications because much of our in-person communication relies on visual cues. Without the context provided by body language and vocal inflections, the sentiment behind online communications can be easily misinterpreted. For example, statements that would be understood as sarcastic or joking in a face-to-face setting can be interpreted as mean or offensive online, and requests or comments can come across or brusque or rude. Encourage your students to think carefully about their wording and consider how it may be interpreted by others in the absence of visual cues. Train them to add extra information to their messages to help clarify the tone. For example, instead of, “This project is due at noon tomorrow so don’t be late!” the reminder could be rephrased: “Thanks for your work on this project so far. Please turn in your section by noon tomorrow so well all get full credit. Let me know if you have a problem or need help.”

2. OMG, LOL! Teach students that language matters.

Today’s students spend a lot of time interacting with their peers in informal communication spaces and don’t often realize that the abbreviations and casual language they use with their friends are not appropriate when emailing a teacher or posting a response to a classmate’s post in Edmodo. Be sure to go over these tips with your students:

  • There is a time and a place for “text speak” and slang. Follow grammar and punctuation rules when communicating in online spaces.
  • Proofread messages! Misspelled words and bad grammar make a poor impression. This is especially important when posting from phones, where autocorrect may make an innocuous post embarrassing or offensive.
  • Don’t type in all capital letters — this is considered yelling online.

3. Remind students to consider carefully the audience and the communications platform being used before posting.

Posts on social media platforms — even those not meant to be public — may be seen by a much broader audience than originally intended. Stories abound of students losing scholarships or even being denied admission to college because of inappropriate content posted online. Remind your students that if it’s on the internet, it isn’t private — and digital content never really goes away. Even deleted content can be screenshot or archived. Consider using a tool like the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive to show students how deleted content can be backed up and accessed at a future date. I recommend students use the grandmother rule: If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read it, don’t post it on the internet!

4. Model the type of online interactions you want to see from your students.

Students today have no shortage of lousy adult role models when it comes to online communication, so it is up to you to model positive digital communication skills. That may mean taking an extra moment to respond thoughtfully to a blog post, demonstrating how to provide constructive feedback in Edmodo, and being positive and respectful in all online interactions. If you have a public social media account, such as Twitter, remember that students will probably find it–so set a good example! Be kind and respectful to others, even when you disagree.

5. Leverage mistakes as teaching opportunities.

Students will make mistakes when communicating online, so take advantage of these teachable moments. If a student makes an inappropriate comment in an online forum, explain why it is inappropriate and help them understand the potential impact on others. Like other forms of writing, kids need explicit instruction and feedback to polish online communication skills. Remind students that their online conduct will influence other people’s opinion about them and that if they wouldn’t say something face to face, they shouldn’t say it online.

At every grade level, students will benefit greatly from teachers who emphasize the basics of good digital communication. By being proactive, clarifying expectations in advance, and leveraging teachable moments, educators can help students leverage the power digital platforms at their fingertips in positive, constructive ways.

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