Digital Citizenship Is More Than Living By a Set of Rules
I’ve avoided responding to an email from a school district leader asking for resources on digital citizenship that he can give a principal to work on developing. I could have shot him back a list of resources including a Symbaloo that I put together or a LiveBinder that dates back to 2010 but I didn’t. Of course anyone can Google those things. My fear is that no matter what I send, what will be extrapolated is a set of rules to implement. This fear reveals two things. First, I have seen too many poorly designed acceptable use policies disguised as digital citizenship plans. And secondly, I have not done a good job at creating resources that really get to the heart of teaching digital citizenship. If I had, I wouldn’t be concerned about the first fear.
The concept of digital citizenship continues to be refined. Initially, we were almost forced into a first responder sort of mentality. Digital citizenship was addressing a crisis and it was necessary to restore normalcy in the connected classroom. First responders by nature are protectors, they uphold laws and keep us safe. Think about the citizenship lessons you received in school. (I may be dating myself here.) I recall Never Talk to Strangers; Stop, Drop and Roll and of course Just Say No. And because part of my childhood was spent in California, I have a fond memory of Smokey the Bear and billboards urging me to remember, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” (Although, that message actually dates back to my parents’ childhood.) I think of this metaphor of first responders in connection with the definition that Mike Ribble initially drafted for digital citizenship. It is the idea that the adults (teachers, technology leaders and parents) should know what our young learners need to know in order to use technology appropriately. From this most rudimentary metaphor, I think we can still takeaway a valuable point. We must be the first ones to take the responsibility for learning what it means to be a good digital citizen in order that we can then teach what that means to our students.
A slightly improved analogy is that teaching digital citizenship is like issuing a driver’s license. This approach has been around a few years and even this week at SXSWedu I’ve heard it applied. In this more proactive approach to digital risks and digital reputation concerns, the adults’ have devised tests to ensure young users know how to respond to situations. Prior to being set free with technology, students would learn how to identify situations that would be considered inappropriate use of technology and be able to determine the best course for action. Teachers would show students that learning how to use technology appropriately is to their advantage because they will be informed and protected from potential problems. Ultimately, the students were to realize that it was more than a matter of passing a test—just like driving a car, technology use is a privilege not a right. This concept of digital citizenship has been spreading since the explosion of accessibility. In the last five years, there has been a subtle shift from responses such as lockdowns of digital content and rationing digital access to seeing technology as a vehicle for developing 21st century skills. In fact some of the best discussions I heard this week opened with acknowledging that students need access to less filtered roads in order to develop their skills and habits. One concern lingers for me. I’d still like to see a more holistic approach to digital citizenship, which is after all much more than a set of rules. Educators and students both need to have spaces to learn. And learning includes making mistakes. If we are using the metaphor of a driving license, the thought of our young drivers in training experiencing a crash is not acceptable.
This last fall I came across a new metaphor that incorporates what past comparisons have been missing. Stephen Carrick-Davies proposes the Rubrik’s Cube in this presentation. His points immediately resonated with me. The short list of correlations that I’ve been sharing with others is that digital citizenship involves many sides. And here’s the thing–there are certainly rules but it’s also about choices. It much more than a pure literacy. It includes ethics. I confess in 1982 that I did pop apart a cube to restore it to the solid pattern, but no one was hurt in the process (now when my sister tried peeling off the stickers to reapply them that caused some damage). I love this one: every age can learn. In fact, it is about relationships and learning from each other. My grandfather was the one who gave us our first cube, and the three of us spent hours together showing each other what we had figured out. And finally, it can be personalized; it can define you. This is where we get the concepts of digital footprints or tattoos. Plain and simple, digital citizenship is a challenge, but it’s one we must engage in.
Today I am really looking forward to the 3:00 SXSWedu session “How to Build a Culture of Digital Citizenship.” The description promises me that I will hear how a city’s DOE has changed policy, integrated digital citizenship in schools and involved families. I know I will learn something that will help me shape my response to that email that remains in my inbox.