My exploration of digital citizenship through reading and reflection frequently brings me back to considering how society perceives the digital communities in relation to traditional communities. Acceptance of communities that form and gather through digital platforms as valid communities allows society to more easily extend face-to-face community standards, norms, and expectations to those online communities. So long as we treat online communities and connections as “virtual” or not-“real”, members of those communities may not feel the need to conform to social norms that are applied to other parts of their non-digital world experience.
For many of us, our online social networks intersect with our face-to-face networks. Some relationships begin in the physical world and are maintained through digital tools, while others are formed via online networks, then eventually transition into face-to-face relationships. Other communities exist solely online. As educators, we need to acknowledge that these spaces are valid, important, and transcend the method and platform of interaction; therefore, it is in the best interests of our students to provide them with real and meaningful experience in a safe learning environment to explore the appropriate and safe way to engage in these parts of our world.
Marialice Curran’s reflections on her work with the iCitizen project showed how students could develop a strong sense of their voice and representation as global citizens who are responsible to both their local, global, and digital communities (2012). When concepts such as empathy and social justice were explicitly taught, and these concepts modeled for students, they were able to apply these ideas as they grew as global actors and leaders through problem-based learning experiences (Curran, M., 2012). Developing empathy across cultural, political, and economic lines through social media networks, Curran’s student groups developed a mature, socially-responsible, and open-minded world view (2012).
Jason Ohler also takes the approach of viewing the digital world as an extension of a student’s whole life (2012). As digital technology is so integrated into our daily lives, we cannot separate citizenship from digital citizenship. Character education means engaging students in conversation about what it means to be a good person regardless of whatever physical or digital space that you may occupy. Engaging students in the process of defining what their community norms may be encourages buy-in and ownership, and even a greater understanding of why these norms are so important (Ohler, J., 2012).
Embedding ongoing messages and modeling digital citizenship, literacy, and safety best practices is good reinforcement of best practices for our students. Explicit instruction on safety, consumer practices, literacy, and participating in a globally connected online society is necessary to help establish the norms for our global online society. The social standards that we instill in our students are the qualities, values, and practices that they will take with them into the world. We, as teachers, should take advantage of this important opportunity to shape what is to come.
Curran, M. (2012, June). iCitizen: Are you a socially responsible digital citizen. Paper presented at the International Society for Technology Education Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX. Retrieved from (PDF: icitizen_paper_M_Curran.pdf )
Ohler, J. (2012). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, 77(8), 14-17. (PDF: Ohler_Digital_citizenship_means_character_education_2012.pdf)
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