Monday, November 30, 2015

We're Not Really Talking About Digital Citizenship

“The problem with Digital Citizenship is that we’re not talking about the same thing.” 

Image: Common Sense Media
Many of the resources that are available for teaching digital citizenship are fantastic, but don't cover the whole concept. They're a great starting point, but they don't cover the whole topic. One of the better set of resources is available from Common Sense Media. Their Digital Citizenship curriculum covers more than just safety and security online, which is certainly important, but it’s only one aspect of digital citizenship.

“So what does it actually mean?”

Whenever we talk about a concept, it’s important the the whole group is working from the same definition. A concept like digital citizenship is big, complex, and can mean something different for each person involved in a discussion. You can search for a definition, but there’s a lot of variation.

 Before meeting Tanya Avrith, I didn’t really know what digital citizenship was. I thought I knew, but my understanding was missing a lot of important stuff. I consider myself lucky to call Tanya a friend, and she’s been responsible for helping me go beyond what I’ve read, and think deeply about my own experience as a digital citizen.

Digital citizenship involves a set of ideas, behaviours, and principles that guide a person’s interactions with resources and other individuals in a digital context.


An analogy I particularly like is the “vaccination approach.” We give students a one-time lesson about digital citizenship, then move on to the “real” learning.

This is wrong on many levels, and I’ll take a shot at listing them here (get it?)

  1. Retention: students likely won’t retain a one-off lesson very well.
  2. Authenticity: we live in a world where the line between digital and face-to-face is getting more and more blurry. If we don’t have a classroom that reflects our students’ experience, it’s not an authentic learning space.
  3. Experience: as educators, we need to walk-the-walk if we’re going to talk-the-talk. That means we need to practice being digital citizens so we can teach from a position of understanding.
  4. Isolation: Digital citizenship isn’t a topic that exists on its own; it’s an integral part of reality. We need to teach it as an ongoing component of learning.

Here’s what Digital Citizenship means to me.

For my purposes, the best way to define digital citizenship is to explain what it looks like in action. There are four things a digital citizen does, and does well. They’re helpfully organized into the “4 Cs” of digital citizenship.


An individual needs to know how to consume information. This is more involved than just reading - there’s a whole skill set involved in being an effective consumer. Search literacy - the ability to leverage search tools and strategies to quickly locate relevant information - is a big part of this. We need to be effective consumers: to understand what resources are useful, and how to evaluate the source of information. This is an ongoing process of becoming a more effective learner. 

“Effective consumption tools enable students to focus deeply on educational content and examine in new and engaging ways.” 2


One of the best things about the internet is that it’s largely built by “us,” the consumer. Sure, there are a growing number of commercial sites out there, but I like to believe that it’s individuals and communities that are producing a lot of the content out there. Our students need to understand how to create: how to write, but also how to record video, the aesthetics of producing a slideshow, how to design a website, and how to consider the experience of their audience. The number of literacies involved in creation keep expanding as new opportunities for creation develop. Just look at some of the vines people have created to see how creation is changing as new tools emerge.

“When students are the ones creating, they have a deeper engagement and the learning lasts longer as it requires them to really think through the material to come up with ideas to express their understanding.” 2


Finding or making content is important, but just as important is the easily-overlooked ability to curate information. A critical skill in today’s world, curation is the practice of organizing information into a more usable form, a key to effective learning. There are many different strategies and tools available, but curation in any form is essential to being digitally literate.

“To be digitally literate, students must be able to organize and reflect on the content that they produce.” 2


It can be easy to forget that there are humans at the other “end” of the internet. Some of the most powerful examples of learning that I’ve come across involve human connections that wouldn’t be possible without technology. Connecting with others is a human fascination, and we can empower our students to have an impact on their world by encouraging connections with both experts and an audience. Technology is a tool that facilitates conversation, and we need to provide opportunities for our students to develop strong skills in developing and nurturing dialogue.

“Connecting students to the outside world  can be done by publishing their work to to the web, providing them with an authentic audience from whom they can receive effective and meaningful feedback.” 2

You never stop learning to be a digital citizen.

So why do I say that we’re not really talking about digital citizenship? Because if we are, then it’s an ongoing discussion. There’s no point where we can wash our hands and say “well, that’s it, my kids know how to be digital citizens.”

There’s no point where we can wash our hands and say
“Well, that’s it, my kids know how to be digital citizens.”

We’re all learning to be digital citizens, all the time. Unless you’re living without any technology (and if you’re reading this, that’s not the case), you’re always practicing how to be a digital citizen, in much the same way that by living as a part of a society, you’re practicing how to be a citizen. The society we’re in is defined less and less by geographical boundaries, and more often by the ways in which we choose to interact with others.

Let’s get our kids engaging in learning using tools that reinforce these concepts. I like to use another viral analogy, but this time in support of good digital citizenship practice. Instead of inoculating our students against the potential harm of going online, let’s infect them with the idea that any time they want to learn something, they’ve got tools at their disposal to help them find people and resources to help.

By making digital citizenship a core practice of how we teach, we can make effective learning go viral.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


I've been working on a post about community for a few weeks. During the course of the research and drafting, I was invited to join a community of educators who want to share. The timing couldn't have been better - I was thinking about the characteristics of a good community, right at the same time.

You can read the full post over at Maple Syrup Edu. I encourage you to check out the site, and to reach out if you'd like to contribute.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The More I Learn, the Less I Know

It's no secret that I love YouTube. Not just because I don't have a cable subscription, but because of how it has changed the way people think about learning. Want to know something new? Watch a lesson. Easy, fast, and it's free for users, while at the same time, content creators can earn money (what a great business model!)

One of the channels I love is Vsauce. Loads of great content, and I always feel smarter after I watch. Or do I feel dumber? This video is certainly worth watching in full, and I've embedded it at the bottom, but a couple of things stick out to me.

The less someone knows, the more they'll think they know.

First was the story about McArthur Wheeler. I haven't verified it, but it raises an interesting concept: the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Basically, the less an individual knows, the higher they tend to estimate their understanding. And I think that lends insight into my own experience.

The opposite is also true.

I'm good at learning. There, I said it. I love learning about things. I'm curious, and I follow that curiosity wherever it tends to lead (which is probably why I watch things like this video), and I think about what I'm learning. I enjoy it. There's a certain joy in finding things out. I freely admit that I'm really good at learning.Some of my friends tell me I'm really smart, but this makes me uncomfortable. I don't feel like I'm any smarter than anyone else - I just like to learn things, and I don't equate the two. The Dunning-Kruger effect may help explain how I feel.

Every time I learn something new, it leads to new questions, new potential avenues for learning, and new opportunities to explore. I'll never be able to follow all of them, and I lament those I miss as much as I pursue those that interest me.
There's a great summary near the end of the video. It goes a little like this:
"When it comes to understanding our world, knowing why is obsolesced by asking why. Knowing facts makes you 'bright,' but the equally quick - sometimes quicker - and most rewarding prize, is the dark. In admitting that you don't know everything, but that you'd like to know some of it."
This is why I'm an educator. Because I don't want my students to know facts. I want to make them hungry to know a little more.