Sunday, December 6, 2009

Digital Citizenship: Digital Communication

Where do you start when talking to students about Digital Communication? Our students are so much more adept than the average educator at using methods of digital communication in most aspects of their life. While most teachers use e-mail, some probably text or IM in their jobs or personal lives, some are parts of social networks and even some have their own blogs and wikis. The dilemma arises not with how to use these technologies, but the clarity with which they are being used.

There are many articles that speak about digital communication as a hybrid of written and spoken communication. What happens is that digital communication has the speed and ability to converse like the spoken word, but lacks the "in person" ability to read facial expressions and body language as well as with digital communication there is no volume to hear inflections in a speakers voice. It is unlike the written word, in that digital communication can be reactionary and does not give the receiver of the original message time to think about a response, write it down and then deliver it. Because of the speed in which digital communication can be sent, it can, at times be too quick.

Due to these gaps in communication, there have been accommodations that have been made to digital communications that help the author to convey emotions. There are acronyms, emoticons and the use of "all caps" to show vocal levels. I must admit, that these accommodations do not solve the problem in professional communications and are rather colloquial in nature. While these tools may make social interactions more clear for participants, it does not, in my mind, help clarity in professional communications.

In teaching this to students, I have taken the definition of Digital Communication" from Baily & Ribble's book, Digital Citizenship in Schools. I have put together some information on my school's digital citizenship wiki, including some types of digital communication and links to acronyms and emoticons. My goal will be to heighten awareness of the dangers of digital communication, to think before speaking/writing and to remember that there will always be a record of what is sent. Much like we teach our students to think before speaking, to not be mean or hurtful in their personal interactions, to write with purpose, we need to continue these tenets into their digital communication. Until we can begin to treat all of our digital communications in the same vein as we treat our "real life" communications, there will continue to be gaps and confusion in all forms of Digital Communication.

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