Unit 6: Citizenship

The concept

Usually, we call this section of the course ‘digital citizenship’. But lately we’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of that term. Is ‘digital citizenship’ any different from citizenship, nowadays? Online technology is so ingrained in our lives, surely the term is outdated, a bit like ‘telephone citizenship’, or ‘letter writing citizenship’?

So let’s think abut the topic in this way instead: How does the digital world impact on our own citizenship?

Online communications can connect us with those we know, or people that we’ll never meet in person. They can lead us to spend more time alone (physically, anyway), let us form select groups, or show us that we are a tiny part of a massive network. Sometimes they can do all of that at once. The rules or customs of interaction might differ slightly to when you meet someone in person, but fundamentally our interactions are quite similar. (Etiquette is a part of citizenship, after all, but not the whole story.)

But here’s the big difference: identity. Across a range of websites and platforms we can cultivate different personae to suit the situation. We might share aspects of our private lives, or present a more professional image, or try to be anonymous. These personae can change from site to site. Think about your own online personalities for a moment – are you consistent across every site you use, or do you change your image for different purposes?

So, what impact does this have on our role as citizens? Do the rules change when we are online, compared to offline? And most importantly, who decides on the rules that relate to citizenship anyway? If you had to define what makes a good citizen, what would you say?

You might say that a good citizen contributes to the common good, considers the needs of other citizens, communicates and works with others, plays an active role in the community and does no harm to those around them. A bad citizen might do the opposite – they might steal or take without contributing, keep to themselves, have no interest in others and hurt those that they do interact with. This can happen online or offline, but online the scale of this behaviour can be magnified.

Technology expands our reach beyond our physical surroundings, letting us connect with people across the world.

Our words, attitudes and behaviour can spread across time and place, and often, it is stored permanently online for all to see.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that so much material about ‘digital citizenhip’ is focussed on the negative. Anyone can have almost instant access to people’s bad behaviour online, and easily publish the evidence. Silly mistakes or poor judgement used to be much easier to hide, but an online mistake is more likely to spread. Think about the worst mistake you ever made, or the silliest thing you ever did. What if it was done online, and the evidence remained? It’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

It’s no wonder some educators consider throwing up the digital walls and fencing students in. The danger seems too great, the consequences too far-reaching. The risks seem to outweigh the benefits, and the impact of online mistakes on the reputations of our students too great a risk.

But that’s precisely why educators need to have these conversations.

 The task

Reflect on the following questions, using some of these resources listed as prompts. Please feel free to share your own resources on the topic in the Edmodo or Diigo groups as well.

Consider your own attitudes to online citizenship. How do you manage your privacy and reputation? Why?

Track down a person under the age of 18 (or a slightly older one if that thought scares you too much). Discuss their attitudes to privacy online: are they concerned about their online reputation and do they take steps to protect their privacy? What tools do they use to stay in touch? Do they have multiple personae? How would they feel about using the same tool for their personal lives and their learning?

Consider the relationship between digital fluency and citizenship. If one of the powerful aspects of online platforms is the way we can connect with others, then is it okay to try and lock students into walled digital gardens?  How far does an educator’s responsibility stretch? Do they need to teach students to be responsible and informed users of social tools? Is this limited to the tools that we encourage students to use, or does it extend to the tools that students want to use? For example, should we be teaching responsible use of Facebook, or is it better to model behaviour in a platform like Edmodo and hope that it rubs off?

Tim Kitchen: Why the internet demands vigilence

Will Richardson: Teach. Facebook. Now.

Jenny Luca: Managing your digital footprint with Year 8 

Keep track of your thoughts and reflections as your think about these questions and examine these resources. They’ll go into your reflective blog post for this unit.

Go to the next task – effective learners

Go to the Unit 6 overview