Friday, February 06, 2015

Rethinking Digital Citizenship

"Kids are growing up on a digital playground and no one is on recess duty." ~ @Kevin Honeycutt on Twitter
I've been thinking a great deal about digital citizenship recently, not unusual considering my role as the Technology for Learning Coordinator for our school's primary section. One of my responsibilities is to map the technology integration that is taking place in our school. While this is quite straight forward for certain aspects of the curriculum, I've been struggling a bit with the digital citizenship piece.

I recently had the privilege of facilitating a PYP digital citizenship workshop and thus an opportunity to examine this concept at some length. As we explored and discussed issues related to digital citizenship, some questions emerged. How is digital citizenship different than citizenship? How is digital identity different than identity? How is our digital life different than our life? And it's here where my struggle lies.

The term digital citizenship implies a duality that in reality does not (or should not) exist. We want to help our students to become good citizens - period. Working in an IB school we strive, "to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect."1 We help students to become responsible and foster a school environment that encourages empathy and independence. We guide them to attain the skills of evaluation and promote innovation and action. These qualities will enable them to become ethical leaders equipped to tackle the challenges they will most certainly face in the future. But the demonstration of these qualities should not be confined to our classrooms, schools and physical communities - they must be exhibited online and in virtual spaces as well.

What does this mean for our classroom practice?
As PYP teachers, firmly rooted in constructivism and committed to inquiry-based learning, we would never teach a lesson about respect then tick a box on a planner and say, 'Well, that's done.' We understand that students need multiple experiences uncovering what respect means in different contexts and that this understanding will develop and become more nuanced over time. And yet, when it comes to concepts related to digital citizenship, 'box ticking' rears its traditional head. While our hearts may be in the right place when we start the year off by having students sign an Acceptable Use Policy and engage in a few lessons about digital citizenship, if this is where the conversation ends, we are doing a disservice to our students. Why are we struggling to integrate these essential skills and attributes into our learning engagements?

I think one of the biggest obstacles to authentic integration of digital citizenship into the curriculum is the notion that it needs to be taught by a technology teacher. Students need to practice becoming responsible digital citizens as an integral part of their learning and this needs to take place when and where their learning is happening - not as a separate specialist lesson. When students are using digital tools to conduct research, this is when we might best learn about evaluating online sources, or explore the ethics of using online content, or how to appropriately cite sources. If students are collaborating with others using online forums such as Google Docs, Skype or Edmodo, we have a perfect opportunity to discuss how to contribute constructively and respectfully in an online environment. When students are creating digital media, why not explore copyright and creative commons licenses.

I think Howard Gardner best describes some of the challenges educators face in light of the digital media at our disposal as he shares ideas from the Good Play Project on this Edutopia video.

I am not suggesting that teachers need to become experts in all areas of technology integration; that's not only unreasonable, it may very well be an impossible task. I would, however, hope that all teachers strive to be knowledgeable about the world in which their students inhabit and try to understand what it means to be a learner in that world and in doing so model effective (as well as responsible and ethical) learning behaviours in all of their classes. 

1 "Mission." International Baccalaureate®., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jen

Excellent post and valuable points raised.

Year 5 at my school does a unit of inquiry with the CI 'Understanding (digital) citizenship empowers us to participate effectively in our world.' They start from the concept of citizenship. I wonder if it's time to remove the word 'digital' Last year the teachers needed it because the unit was ABOUT digital citizenship. I think this year they are BEING digital citizens. It's great to see teachers who are becoming more and more active online themselves taking ownership of this unit rather than depending on the technology teacher. Because the unit is in How We Express Ourselves, the focus is on creating more than consuming. Let us know if you have any classes who'd like to join a book club or engage in some other way!

Jennifer Fenton said...

Thank you so much for your feedback. I love the idea of including a unit in the PoI with a focus on citizenship and including the ideas of interacting with others and participating in digital communities. I think you have hit the nail on the head with the shift from 'about' to 'being'. I look forward to sharing this with the teachers at our school to see if we might consider something similar. I'll ask, too about a possible class who would like to connect.