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Washington’s Digital Citizenship Legislation Could be Model

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Washington state lawmakers passed digital citizenship legislation last week designed to help students better understand their lives online — one of the first bills of its kind in the nation.

The legislation, which next heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, would require state education officials to craft a model policy for instruction in digital citizenship, Internet safety and media literacy. The legislation calls for attention to ethics, etiquette and security online, including cyberbullying prevention and response.

The technology landscape continues to change quickly, and students need to know how to make good decisions about the media they consume and produce, said Marko Liias, a Democratic state senator and the bill’s lead sponsor.

“Our students are really entering this radically changed landscape without a lot of tools,” he said.

Liias said a wide range of stakeholders, including after-school programs, will have a chance to weigh in as an advisory committee drafts the policies.

“We want our local school districts to have a conversation with their community, to work with everyone who cares about kids,” he said.

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The legislation also would require school districts to review electronic resources and Internet safety policies and procedures annually, beginning during the 2017-18 school year.

Alongside schools, out-of-school-time organizations also play an important role in encouraging digital citizenship and media literacy, said Claire Beach, president of Action For Media Education, a nonprofit organization at the University of Washington.

“After-school programs can have these kinds of conversations more easily,” said Beach, who championed the bill and has taught in schools and at after-school programs. “There’s a little more freedom.”

Beach said both Republicans and Democrats were to quick to line up in support of the bill, support she believes reflects an ever-growing awareness that students can’t tackle technology on their own.

“People are feeling out of control about what we have created,” she said.

Digital citizenship has gained a legislative foothold in recent years, said JR Starrett, senior director of national advocacy at Common Sense Kids Action. The group is part of Common Sense, a nonprofit that rates and reviews media, and develops tools to help kids navigate media and technology, including curricula for after-school programs.

Washington’s more detailed approach that brings in a variety of stakeholders could be the next frontier.

“We feel it’s taking another step forward, a necessary step,” Starrett said.

Erin McNeill, president of Media Literacy Now, a group that advocates for media literacy education, also has seen increasing interest from lawmakers to introduce legislation that deals with digital citizenship or media literacy.

The terms digital citizenship and media literacy mean roughly the same thing, she said. The idea of media literacy has been around for decades and refers to understanding everything from billboards and movies to newspapers and social media; digital citizenship emphasizes the rise of new technologies.

While legislation typically focuses on schools, other groups also are adding their voices to the conversation about improving digital citizenship and media literacy, including the Girl Scouts of America and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills through programming, McNeill said.

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