Digital empathy is the ability to be aware of, be sensitive to, and be supportive of one’s own and other’s feelings, needs, and concerns online according to the DQ Institute. It is considered a key component of digital emotional intelligence. Digital emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, relationship management, and digital empathy. Although, each competency is equally important, it is digital empathy that guides respectful communication and collaboration.
During the school day, digital empathy can improve interactions between peers, teachers, and parents. For elementary students, an online exchange might take the form of an email message, comment on another’s work, post on class bulletin board, or digital collaboration between peers. In all cases, the messages must be interpreted and responded to respectfully. Understanding emotions is essential.
Based on the DQ Global Standards report, someone with digital empathy:
- understands how online interactions might affect others’ feelings or influence their thinking or behavior.
- respects others’ perspectives and emotions when interacting online.
- demonstrate a compassion for the feelings, needs, and concerns of others online.
How can you you build digital empathy in your elementary students? Below are 5 practical ways to enhance students’ ability to empathize when communicating and collaborating with others online.
1. Build Vocabulary
Students need to know how to recognize feelings in themselves and others. This begins with having the vocabulary to accurately identify emotions. You may wish to create a word wall of emotions to help students describe how they feel. Do2Learn.com provides a resource that sorts emotions by color. For example, blue are sad words and red are angry words. Numerous other instructional materials are available using the search term emotions word bank.
2. Validate Emotions to Enhance Digital Empathy
Once students have vocabulary to describe how they feel, they need to be acknowledge that their emotions are valid. This is especially important in online interactions. Do not dismiss feelings of unease, worry, discomfort, hurt, or embarrassment. These are alarm bells that tell a person something is wrong. Instead encourage students to prioritize their feelings. Establish a routine, whereby students notify a trusted adult, such as a teacher, if they feel uncomfortable from an online exchange. This will help them identify and manage threats or risks.
3. Teach Netiquette
Now that students can recognize emotions, they need a way to express themselves courteously online. Netiquette is a set of rules that guides appropriate behavior when online. It is a good idea to teach students proper manners when sending email and conversing online. According to Virginia Shea, there are 10 core rules of netiquette for communicating in a virtual world. It is advisable to be specific when explaining to students how to follow those rules. For example, tips such as AVOID SHOUTING with all caps; use emoticons to show emotion; and limit sarcasm as it is difficult to interpret.; will help ensure pleasant and polite online exchanges.
4. Form Connections to Gain Perspective
Since students now have the skills to communicate appropriately, it is time to have them recognize the feelings of others. Empathy requires perspective taking, which is a higher order thinking skill. Connecting a personal experience to another’s can help develop this ability. Have students reflect upon how they might feel in a specific situation. It could be an emotional response to a sarcastic comment, rude email message, embarrassing post, fake information, heated argument, or digital spying. By acknowledging their own emotions, it can help them understand others. Intentionally forming connections is one way for students to understand that there is a human on the other side of a digital interaction.
5. Develop Strategies to Self-Regulate Emotions
Students are now ready for self-regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to manage one’s own feelings. This means if an online interaction causes a student to feel upset they have constructive ways to calm down, and react appropriately. Coping strategies include: log off to create space to think, recognize that not every action deserves a reaction, and confide feelings face-to-to face with another person. These are just a few ways to empower students to control their response to negative events.
Computing Curriculum and Digital Empathy
TechnoKids Computing Curriculum has several technology projects that help elementary students build digital empathy. To start, students gain the skills required for online communication in TechnoInternet. Next, they learn how to exchange messages by posting encouraging and constructive comments in TechnoToon and TechnoPresenter. After that, they respect other’s viewpoints by co-creating digital projects in TechnoDebate. For a complete summary of TechnoKids projects and digital empathy refer to the document, DQ Competencies Correlation.