Sunday, October 25, 2015

Citizenship is Citizenship. Digital or Otherwise.

What does it mean to be a Citizen?
13/52 : Charte canadienne des droits et by Eric Constantineau -, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License 
 Eric Constantineau - 
I’m going to start off this blog post with the classic start-with-a-definition-model that I learned from my grade 8 students. So, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Citizenship is:
·       the fact or status of being a citizen of a particular place
·       the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community

When we look at digital citizenship there really should not be any separation from the meaning of “citizenship”. To be a “citizen of a particular place” can be extended to the digital realm, as in Social Media. And “the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community” can also just be extended to on-line communities. So why is there always this separation of the “digital” from “citizenship”?

Makes sense, right? To further explore this question, let’s look at how Ribble defines digital citizenship, “Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.” If you take away the “with regard to technology use”, does it not overlap the citizenship definition? Perhaps the key to exploring digital citizenship is to stop emphasizing the digital component, and instead just look at what it means to be a good citizen or even... a good person.

This is why as part of my major project with Genna Rodriguez, we looked at the Essential Skills of 21st Century learning as having “Citizenship” as one of its components and not digital citizenship, as we felt that on or offline, people need to embrace the philosophy and fundamentals of what it means to contribute meaningfully and ethically to society and the world with or without technology. This philosophy can also be seen in Jason Ohler’s article, “Character Education for the DigitalAge”  Ohler emphasizes this as a way of teaching digital learning and not separating the digital world from the real world. The part of his article that really reinforces the path we are taking for our project, can be seen in the following, “If we want to pursue a future that celebrates success not only in terms of abundance but also in terms of humanity, we must help our digital kids balance the individual empowerment of digital technology use with a sense of personal, community, and global responsibility.” To help students become better citizens in the online global community, we need to help them see the importance of being a good citizen face to face. As teachers we have the opportunity to show students that bridge of the online community with that of their face to face community, and how this civic and global mindset can be present in both spaces.

Larry by Trev Grant, on Flickr
   Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  Trev Grant 
Just like Ohler, Michael Fullen also makes a call for educators to embrace character leadership with students. Over the course of this term, I have been researching his work as part of my major project with Genna Rodriguez. In his paper, "Towards a New End: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning", Fullen calls for a need for schools to examine “new pedagogies for deep learning”, skills which would “prepare all learners to be life-long creative, connected and collaborative problem solvers and to be healthy, happy individuals who contribute to the common good in today’s globally interdependent world" (p. 2).
Fullen’s definition of citizenship is “global knowledge, sensitivity to and respect for other cultures, active involvement in addressing issues of human and environmental sustainability.” (p.3). Note that Fullen’s definition is quite different from those explored earlier, as it explores a much broader notion to include environmental sustainability. I like this definition. Why? It acknowledges respecting other cultures and the earth. There is a deep connection to what makes us human, that respect for others and the environment.

Michael Fullen's "The New Pedagogies" - This Video is a brief overview of the 6C's and applications to learning. 

I had been considering how to combine this global perspective of citizenship with one that also examines the digital realm, so this was the explanation that I had created for our major project, “Citizenship is knowledge or sensitivity to show respect for other cultures and active involvement in addressing global issues. As well as understand human, cultural and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior.” It is not succinct, but neither is anything else I write.

So when you look at Fullen’s and Ribble’s definitions of citizenship (yes, Ribble’s does incorporate that “digital” component), there is such a huge gap in what it means to be a citizen. So the question is, how can we connect Fullen’s definition with that of Ribble’s? Or perhaps the question is, what would be the benefits of doing so? If we were to focus on a positive and more global-minded definition, would that encourage everyone to think with more compassion and empathy online?   

Brick City citizens by ¡Viva la Cynthia!, on Flickr
 Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Â¡Viva la Cynthia! 
Fullen in his work also states that Character Education should be explored when looking at elements needed for deep learning. Fullen defines Character Education as “honesty, self-regulation and responsibility, perseverance, empathy for contributing to the safety and benefit of others, self-confidence, personal health and wellbeing, career and life skills”. (p.3)
Teaching character learning would really connect to citizenship as it would look deeper into how we should treat one another.  Lewinsky, Turkle and Jonson all explore the importance of demonstrating compassion and empathy and the importance of this extending to the digital world. Harmony McMillan in her post, “Lessons from a 4 year old Conversationalist” also had shared these observations and notes a need for teachers to “help our students learn to see past a Twitter handle or a Facebook profile, and truly see the story behind the flat screen.” Harmony nails the importance of teaching empathy to that online platform, when she implores us at the end of her post, “What kind of learning opportunities are you creating to help your students develop empathy and compassion?”  I see a connection to her approach to that of Fullen’s definition of character education, as her exploration of digital citizenship also includes the need for “empathy for contributing to the safety and benefit of others”.

Maybe in exploring with students how to be more empathetic and the importance of taking care of each other, we can create that concept of digital citizenship that focuses on ways to help one another as part of what we integrate into our teaching with the Digital Citizenship Continuum. AshleyDew and Branelle Zenek, both comment in their blogs the importance of teaching students’ empathy in Social Media, and the power of focusing on the positive in online communities. I also appreciate Ashley’s comment, “that we need to spend less time focusing on the negative and instead focus with our students in how we can make a positive impact on online spaces”.

The LEGO Movie Collectible Minifigures : by wiredforlego, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License by  wiredforlego 
Going forward, we need to look at redefining Digital Citizenship so that it incorporates definitions for both Citizenship and Character learning. In doing so, we can help elevate the online platform and more fully realize opportunities the Internet offers in bringing together global communities. 


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