ETAD, Learning, Technology

Rethinking Digital Citizenship

I think the idea of Digital Citizenship is out of date. 

I know that this is a controversial statement to make but let me explain my thinking.  I think the idea of Digital Citizenship was created to help explain and understand the differences between citizenship in the “real world” and citizenship in the online world.  I feel that this distinction was necessary and might still be necessary, for those of us who are not digital natives.   We are adults who have known a time before the explosion of the internet, social media, Skype, Google, YouTube….  For us the need to categorize and separate “real” citizenship from digital citizenship has been important in making sense of this new world.  

“Real” citizenship is important and has been for centuries.  It allows human beings to function and thrive as a species.  It provides people with the norms for engagement, the ability to interact, a structure for security and the rights and responsibilities that we hold so dear.  We give this type of citizenship top billing, and make it all important.  By so doing digital citizenship becomes an add on…an extra…something you can take or leave.

But what if we switch the lens?  What if we don’t look at citizenship through our adult eyes?  What if we try to look at it from the perspective of a child?  I think of my 5-year-old daughter.  She is growing up in a world where technology is common place.  She has never seen a world where smart phones did not exist.  She has never seen a paper newspaper in our home.  She has never gone to a video store to rent a movie.  She has never known a time where talking to grandma didn’t include a video as well as voice (she is a Facetime wiz).  

Through her eyes she sees the use of Twitter…blogging…commenting on others ideas…emailing…texting as a part of life.  These are not new for her, these are the way the world interacts.  For her the distinction between “real” citizenship and digital citizenship does not exist.  It is all just citizenship.  Being digital is a part of being a citizen.  It is not an add on or an extra…it just is. 

My job as her parent, is to guide her in becoming an ethical and contributing member of society, but this society is not limited to the “real” world.  For her real includes digital and as such I need to guide her in her citizenship online as well.  All of the things I inspire to teach her are the same no matter which world we are talking about. 

My wish for her is that she grows up to be a learner, a leader, an ethical person who makes a difference in this world, and this world includes digital.   

In order to do this I need to  look through her eyes, embrace the world she knows, and not be limited by an out of date construct. 

My dream for my daughter’s citizenship. You will notice that the word digital does not exist. This is because it is not an add on. It is a part of each and every aspiration.



10 thoughts on “Rethinking Digital Citizenship”

  1. Thanks Jenn for taking the beginning of our personal inquiry into Digital Citizenship and doing an such an amazing job of capturing the learning thus far. I really appreciate your synthesis and the necessity of shifting it from what we see as adults and look at citizenship from the eyes of our passionate learners.

    What a powerful statement:

    “It is all just citizenship. Being digital is a part of being a citizen. It is not an add on or an extra… it just is.”

    I was thinking that perhaps another step in this inquiry might involve asking these same young learners to help us craft the meaning of ‘citizenship’?

    I think it just might be their worldview that we need to clearly see. If they can shape the definition it will cause a tipping point that is worthy of their roles as citizens.

    As always, your thinking propels me from where I was to where I want to go.

  2. I’m slapping myself in the forehead as I finish reading your blog. Of course! Of course! I love the observation and the twist on how we look at citizenship, and I think the graphic of your daughter at the centre of a bunch of characteristics of an effective citizen is very nice. I might add some things like “literate”, but that’s the fun of it. This is a concept that can grow new spokes.

    Speaking of literate, we will consider media literacy later in the course, and we often hear people refer to digital literacy. Much like your example here, I wonder if we shouldn’t just start thinking of “literacy” and let go of the adjectives.

  3. I have never really thought of “digital citizenship” until I saw your post. Your topic is extremely interesting since being a “digital citizen” has its definite bonuses… but… on the other hand, like being a “regular” citizen it comes with responsibilities that are often abused by others. Looking forward to seeing where this will go!

    1. by the way “Anonymous” is me, Faron! I guess I could have easily hid behind that name, but, I feel that would not have been a very responsible thing for me, a digital citizen, to do! Getting used to wordpress … be patient with me — I’m using Blogger!

  4. I love the way you described digital citizenship as just part of being a citizen in a digital world! My project has a focus around teaching digital citizenship to young learners and I’ve always wondered where it begins and where “real” citizenship begins. I’m wondering if this connects to the concept of global citizenship as well? Do students today have a different understanding of being part of the global community just like the digital world?

  5. Well done! You are a great mom and educator to be able to think like that!. Another perspective I have is when I talk to the students I teach (middle years) I often forget that although they are “connected” and living in a digital world they do know a world where they rented movies, used predictive text etc. They are really fun to talk to because they can relate to me as an adult in some ways as well as your 5 year old daughter in a lot of other ways. Ohhh! the life of a tween/teen. Living the fine line between childhood and adulthood.

  6. Predictably, I’ll be the only person who disagrees. While my daughter of 11 can’t imagine not being digital, much of our society can, and we are still arguing about it being bad for students to be found online or be unsupervised or unfiltered.

    I think we’ll still have to say digital citizen while adults mistakenly think digital is different. Once we know disconnected is unusual and we as teachers believe we have responsibility to teach students how to participate powerfully online, we’ll be able to just think about citizens. Until then, we need the “digital” for the cognitive crutch.

    1. Thanks for the comment Wendy. I agree with you that we probably still need the “cognitive crutch” that the word digital supplies. However, I find it freeing and important to understand that it is just a crutch and that this crutch is only necessary for the adults.

  7. Wonderful words of wisdom Jennifer! I appreciate your view on how ‘digital’ is a part of life, not what we need to integrate in. That is the outlook I want to use in my classroom, as well as how I want to raise my kids.
    The fact that our students/kids are raised with the technology and it is us that needs to understand how to incorporate it responsibly in their lives by modelling and guidance.
    Look forward to discussing this more!

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