Is It Digital Citizenship or Just Plain Citizenship?

dewey quoteAs the lives of my students, online and off, grow more complex by the day, I spend a good deal of time helping them learn more about digital citizenship. Today the digitally connected, always-on world presents students, teachers, and parents with confusing questions and baffling behavior expectations.

But wait a minute!

Is this digital citizenship or just plain citizenship? Building strong 21st Century citizens is of paramount importance whether we are living our lives offline or on, and we need to avoid using old-fashioned compartmentalized instruction in a connected world.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines citizenship as “The qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community,” and helping students shape themselves into responsible community members is what caring adults do. We model appropriate behavior and help children learn how to participate as respectful and ethical members of society. No matter where they work or play, our citizenship goals are the same.

Perhaps it’s time to think of citizenship lessons as a single package that helps students learn about and embrace the full range of life experiences and community expectations — content that everyone shares responsibility for sharing with children. The communities where we shape and sharpen our citizenship skills may change, but values that we apply — online and off —  are the same. Parents and teachers need to talk about citizenship all of  the time because the digital and non-digital worlds intersect at just about every point in life — at home, in the car, during meals, at the beach, and in every single classroom.

Every teacher, parent, and adult leader needs to include the basics of citizenship — digital or otherwise — in conversations with children. It’s not necessary to understand every fact about digital life — only that these issues are important to include. Until we incorporate the digital world right along with the day-to-day citizenship conversations, our children may not really understand that the same  behavior expectations apply.

Weave Digital and Non-digital Life Together in Conversations 

  • Talking about how to play together? Include conversational references to online games and apps right along with block building, sports, and board games.
  • Discussing the importance of making good choices? Refer to social media or app sites along with the behavior decisions on the playground.
  • Conversing about laws and why citizens do (or do not) follow them? Add the the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) to the conversation, perhaps noting how half the people follow it and the other half do not. Or maybe even talk about texting-while-driving laws and how many people don’t follow them.
  • Focusing on rude behavior? Include day-to-day examples online and off.
  • Explaining how to care for equipment at home or in the classroom? Don’t forget to include iPads, iPod Touches, tablets, and cell phones.

Unless everyone is on the job, all of the world’s technology teachers working full-time can’t build strong online citizens. By focusing on the whole citizenship picture we can better help children connect key values with behavior in their online and offline worlds.

It’s not digital citizenship — it’s citizenship. Let’s ensure our instruction is appropriate for our students’ connected world.

6 thoughts on “Is It Digital Citizenship or Just Plain Citizenship?

  1. Where I have seen digital citizenship infused into classroom curricula, it has been much like you describe. Various communities have been described, for example your family, class, school, sports team, etc. Each has a set of rules, expectations, rights and responsibilities. Communities can be face-to-face or digital. Creative expression can be in writing, art, photography, movies, dance, etc. Any of these can also be done and/or shared digitally. As we teach and explore various topics, it isn’t that difficult to layer in a digital element.

    • Thanks for this great comment. I agree, that it shouldn’t be that difficult to incorporate a digital element into conversation, but it is a habit that we need to help teachers, parents, and adults in general develop as they go about daily conversations and lessons with children and adolescents.

  2. When I would talk to my students about “digital” citizenship I would get a glazed look and their eyes would roll to the back of their head. It finally occurred to me that they do not see the delineation between the two worlds that adults see. With this in mind, I began to tell them it is all about being a good person and making good decisions…online or offline. I began to create activities that revolved around creating a positive personal brand image…telling them what they can do vs. what they shouldn’t do. I really do not believe that they understand why adults draw a distinction. Their world with connected devices is far more seamless to them; whereas, adults tend to compartmentalize. In the end, we stand to lose authenticity and the opportunity to connect.

    I think that we do our students a disservice when we draw the line between the two worlds by labelling one as digital. This is the world they are living in and the world that be must prepare them to live in.

    The other point I wish to make is that poor online citizenship is not about technology per se. Technology allows for unwanted, undesired, faceless interaction, but it boils down to behavior. If you are going to bully someone online then chances are you are a bully; therefore, that behavior will play out in one form or another. Technology simply makes it a bit easier. But, it is behaviorial.

    • Thank you for these thoughtful and engaging comments.I agree that our job might be marginally easier if we could keep the conversation focused on citizenship and behavior rather than segmenting the lives of our students into digital and non-digital environments. Of course, this means fusing the citizenship message into all courses and school activities, not just those offered by the technology faculty.

      • Interesting that you should raise this point. I have been asked to give several parent presentations on this topic only because I am in technology. This year, we integrated tech into the classrooms; thereby eliminating standalone tech classes. With that, has come my crusade to instill digital citizenship/citizenship lessons, activities, and modeling across the curriculum. Previously, this was limited to Tech classes and a few Life Skills classes. I am hoping that by doing this that it become more meaningful, seamless, and authentic.

  3. Pingback: Observations from FOSI2013, Post #1 « Media! Tech! Parenting!

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