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.

Further Learning

No comments :

Post a Comment