My vision as a digital education leader in higher education is to prepare my students to become wise digital citizen advocates, thereby increasing their effectiveness as credible sources of reliable food and nutrition information in the digital world. To prepare my students for careers which reflect digital professionalism, they will be instructed on the following four professional values that are connected to the ISTE Standards for Coaches 7: Digital Citizen Advocates: integrity, professional competence, social responsibility, and self-awareness/self-care.
Professional value 1: Integrity
The first professional value that will shape my practice as a digital education leader is integrity. This principle includes educating students to become aware of how their digital profiles and communications on social media affect their personal digital footprint and its potential consequences (Commonsense Education). Issues pertaining to integrity in the digital world of dietetic students include the following: showing respect and civility in online discussions; refraining from posting or discussing proprietary, internal organizational information in social media posts; ensuring that students do not discuss confidential information or include photos of their patients on social media sites; and maintaining confidentiality of supervised practice environments by refraining from posting pictures from clinics and hospitals that may be considered private or containing sensitive information (Peregrin, 2018). This principle aligns with ISTE Standards for Coaches 7d: “Empower educators, leaders and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect” (International Society for Technology in Education).
The following principles and standards from the Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession are relevant to the instruction on the topic of integrity in students’ online presence:
- Principle #2 in the COE addresses “integrity in personal and organizational behaviors and practices,” and includes:
- Standard D: Respect intellectual property rights, including citation and recognition of the ideas and work of others, regardless of the medium (e.g. written, oral, electronic)
- Standard H: Respect patients/clients autonomy. Safeguard patient/client confidentiality according to current regulations and laws.
- Standard E: Provide accurate and truthful information in all communications.
- Principle #3 in the COE addresses “professionalism,” and includes:
- Standard C: Demonstrate respect, constructive dialogue, civility and professionalism in all communications, including social media (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
Professional value 2: Professional competence
The second professional value that will shape my practice as a digital education leader is professional competence. Deye (2017) defines digital literacy as “. . . the use and security of interactive digital tools and searchable networks. This includes the ability to use digital tools safely and effectively for learning, collaborating and producing.” This professional value includes teaching students how to become competent in digital citizenship and literacy through appropriate access, utilization, and referencing of online sources. Instruction in this area will ensure that sources of information students are referencing in their digital communications are accurate, truthful, and science-based, and that references are cited properly. Considering the vast availability of online resources, students will need to become more sophisticated in evaluating a broader scope of information, including research, government and professional sources, videos, infographics, podcasts, Youtube videos, and professional blogs to determine credibility before deciding to recommend sources to clients or to reference particular sources in their online communications (Helm, 2016).
In an era of evolving digital technology, it is essential that university dietetics programs incorporate teachings on digital literacy in preparation of student contributions to the collective digital media environment. This instruction is an important aspect of professional competence, as it will provide students with tools needed to critically navigate sources of information available on the Internet, and subsequently increase their competence as providers of evidence-based food and nutrition information to the public.
Paulus, Baker, and Langford (2019) assert that “. . . we should enable our students to use [information and communications technology] ICTs to create contributions to public knowledge while they are still in school. ‘. . . Students work best when they know their work is for their future beyond school…when they realize their work contributes (p. 55).’” An earlier start to contributing to the collection of digitally accessed, evidence-based food and nutrition information may further enhance identity formation as professionals while students are still in college. When thinking of outcomes succeeding instruction on digital literacy, a component of digital professionalism, Ellaway et al. (2015) state that “professionals should maintain the capacity for deliberate, ethical, and accountable practice when using digital media” (p. 844).
This standard aligns with ISTE Standards for Coaches 7c: “Support educators and students to critically examine the sources of online media and identify underlying assumptions” (International Society for Technology in Education). The ethical principle of professional competence is reinforced in Principle 1 in the Code of Ethics (COE) for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession, which is “competence and professional development in practice.” The following ethical standards may be applied to professional competency as it relates to digital citizenship:
- a. Practice using an evidence-based approach within areas of competence, continuously develop and enhance expertise, and recognize limitations.
- b. Demonstrate in depth scientific knowledge of food, human nutrition and behavior.
- c. Assess the validity and applicability of scientific evidence without personal bias.
Professional competence in digital education is also emphasized in the second principle in the COE for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession, “Integrity in personal and organizational behaviors and practices.” The relevant standard is as follows:
- d. Respect intellectual property rights, including citation and recognition of the ideas and work of others, regardless of the medium (e.g. written, oral, electronic). e. Provide accurate and truthful information in all communications (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
Professional value 3: Social responsibility
The third professional value that will shape my practice as a digital education leader is social responsibility. Due to rapid advancements in information and communication technology (ICT), dietetics professionals have seemingly endless opportunities to provide evidence-based recommendations, dialogue, support, resources, and partnerships via digital media that foster civic engagement, which may play a role in reducing health disparities afflicting communities. Students will be instructed on the various means by which digital technology can be utilized in dietetics practice to promote health of communities. In our duties aimed at addressing social justice issues pertaining to food and nutrition, dietetics professionals can utilize digital technology as a powerful tool for civic engagement to address the COE standards. In the COE, dietetics professionals are expected to adhere to several core values, including social responsibility. Principle #4 in the COE pertains to “Social responsibility for local, regional, national, global nutrition and well-being” (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). The following ethical standards reflect the core value of social responsibility:
a. Collaborate with others to reduce health disparities and protect human rights.
b. Promote fairness and objectivity with fair and equitable treatment.
c. Contribute time and expertise to activities that promote respect, integrity, and competence of the profession.
d. Promote the unique role of nutrition and dietetics practitioners.
e. Engage in service that benefits the community and to enhance the public’s trust in the profession.
f. Seek leadership opportunities in professional, community, and service organizations to enhance health and nutritional status while protecting the public (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
Virtual social support, whether organized as community groups with similar healthcare needs, one-on-one communications with a healthcare provider, or a community group including a healthcare moderator, may augment traditional healthcare, which may enhance the overall health and well-being of communities. Additionally, Newberry (2020) asserts that Facebook groups are being created to bring patients together with similar healthcare experiences to offer support, education, and opportunities for group discussions with healthcare moderators.
Therefore, dietetics professionals are charged with a social responsibility to provide their expertise in ways that enhance the health and wellness of communities. Digital technology tools that provide the ability to connect, engage, and support community members in new and promising ways should be introduced to dietetics students as having potential to aid in reducing health disparities in communities.
Utilizing digital media as a tool for civic engagement with a focus on community health aligns with ISTE Standard for Coaches 7a: Digital Citizen Advocate: “Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities” (International society for Technology in Education).
Professional value 4: Self-care
The fourth professional value that will shape my practice as a digital education leader is self-care. Due to increasing use of telehealth technology in dietetics practice, dietetics students must learn about the potential health effects of utilizing telehealth to assess, counsel and educate clients, as it promotes sedentary work habits and increased screen time. As the dietetics profession is increasingly utilizing telehealth technology to provide medical nutrition therapy services, students will be instructed on best practices to protect their physical, mental, and emotional health when engaging in this type of work as future practitioners. This professional value aligns with ISTE Standard for coaches 7B: “Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology – self-regulating time online to ensure well-being and physical health” (International Society for Technology in Education).
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession. https://www.eatrightpro.org/practice/code-of-ethics/what-is-the-code-of-ethics
Commonsense Education. Who’s looking at your digital footprint? https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship/lesson/whos-looking-at-your-digital-footprint
Deye, S. (2017). Promoting digital literacy and citizenship in school. National Conference of State Legislators, 25(7). https://www.ncsl.org/research/education/promoting-digital-literacy-and-citizenship-in-school
Helm, J. Practice paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Social media and the dietetics practitioner. Opportunities, challenges, and best practices. (2016). J Acad Nutr Diet, 2016, 116: 1825-1835.
International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Newberry, C. (2020). How to use social media in healthcare: A guide for health professionals. https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-health-care/
Paulus, M, Jr., Baker, B, Langford, M. (2019). A Framework for digital wisdom in higher education. Christian Scholar’s Review, 49(1): 41-61.
Peregrin, T. Promoting student integrity. Ethical issues in the digital age. (2018). Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 118(8), 1498-1500.