Understanding Digital Citizenship

(Note: There is some sensitive content discussed here, especially under item #4.)

I recently spent most of the day with Dean Shareski in Moose Jaw co-facilitating a couple of digital citizenship sessions. Here’s the wiki for the media literacy portion, in case you are interested.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about digital citizenship. I even dreamt I twitted about it last night (when Twitter is in my dreams, I know I need a break). Here is mostly what I have been thinking.

To me, the current approaches to digital citizenship seem to leave out important meanings of the term citizenship. It seems the Dr. Mike Ribble and Dr. Gerald Bayley are associated with the term quite frequently and they have a lot to say about it. At their digital citizenship site, it reads:

Digital Citizenship is a concept which helps teachers and technology leaders understand what students should know to use technology appropriately. But Digital Citizenship is more that just a teaching tool, it is a way to prepare students for a society full of technology. Too often we are seeing students as well as adults misusing and abusing technology. The issue is more than what the users do not know but instead what is considered appropriate technology usage.

This is as close to a definition that I can find on the site. From this, it seems that digital citizenship is about using technology appropriately, and not misusing or abusing technology. Not bad, but pretty vague.

So I explore the site a bit more, and there are “Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship“. OK, this is better. These include: digital etiquette, digital communication, digital literacy, digital commerce, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness and digital security (self protection). The item I am most interested in is the “digital rights and responsibilities”. Up until now, most of what I have seen related to digital citizenship relates only to safety, literacy and etiquette and the strategies we use in teaching these to children. While these approaches have merit, I still feel there is something significant missing.

So under “digital rights and responsibilities” it reads:

Digital Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to every student, administrator, teacher, parent or community member. Just as in the American Constitution where there is a Bill of Rights, there is a basic set of rights extended to every digital citizen. Digital citizens have the right to privacy, free speech, etc. Basic digital rights must be addressed, discussed, and understood in the school district.

Wait a minute … there’s the rights, but where’d our responsibilities go? I looked around … yet, no where in sight.

So I turn to a colleague down the hall … actually walked down the hall, didn’t Google him. Dr. Marc Spooner who recently wrote the paper, “Full-Spectrum Literacy, For Full-Spectrum Citizenship: Education as a process towards agency, engagement, and critical awareness and action“. Ironically, the title itself has told me more about citizenship than anything I’ve read so far under the digital citizenship label. In the article, Dr. Spooner writes:

A fully literate citizen is at once critically self-reflexive and critically reflexive of his/her collective and position within it.

This helps a great deal. Will get back to this.

Also helpful is the description of polis citizenship in Wikipedia. Most specifically,

The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one’s everyday life in the polis. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, it was a source of honour and respect.

I’m not sure if its my Greek roots or my leftist views, but this appeals to me as well.

So in bringing these two last source together (and I know I’m taking a giant leap here), I can say that digital citizenship can be extended to include;
1) A responsibility to critical interpret our place in the collective, especially in terms of power, authority, influence and position, and
2) An obligation toward bettering our (digital) communities through critical, ethical and moral decision-making.

Again, I know it’s a leap, but I may fill in the gaps later.

OK, enough theorizing. I’d like to give you an idea through examples of why I think this missing piece is critical to our understanding of digital citizenship.

1) Star Wars Kid: Perhaps the greatest tragedy for Ghyslain Raza is that he will forever be known as the Star Wars Kid. This young boy was a victim of a global, yet widely unintentional, bullying assault which prompted him to end his school year in a psychiatric ward. At the time, most could claim that they didn’t know better, and this is likely true. There had never been a viral incident like this, and some predict there will be nothing like it again. So what have we learned? Have we been any kinder to our youth or adults that make mistakes? Do we join in on the laughter? Do we act? What do we do?

2) LonelyGirl15: Controversy emerged when “Bree”, a supposedly 16-yr-old YouTuber who went by the screen name of LonelyGirl15, was revealed as a corporate hoax. Since then, other Youtube hoaxes have emerged including Bride’s Massive Hair Wig-out and The Pit Breakup. Types of democratic media (e.g., blogs, video) which have been instrumental in exposing the lies and biases of corporate media (e.g., RatherGate) are also being used in these same, coercive ways. While it may not be the end of the world when the content is light as in these examples, this can be much more severe when the topics are more critical (e.g., Global Warming is a Hoax, or Pro Suicide). Certainly, critical literacy is important here, but it’s more than that. If deception continues to be the fad, what are our roles and responsibilities?

3) Prison Thriller: A while back I blogged on the “Prison Thriller Video“. When I first saw the video, I didn’t think much of it, until I saw a post from Scott McLeod reporting on the “not so thrilling” background to this video. With media rushing at as so fast, it is so difficult to analyze anything very closely. Do we need to slow down and explore in more depth? And when we find cases like this, what should/can we do about it?

4) 2G1C: In recent weeks, the 2G1C video has been classified as a viral video, as well as a shock site. I have linked to the Wikipedia page about this video, I encourage you NOT to seek out the original, and I assume that after you have read the description, you will not want to. This is not a video I would usually talk about in an educational blog. I would not usually want to bring more attention to something like this. The problem is, it’s too late, and I don’t see any educators talking about this and what the implications may be.

The problem I see is that this video is becoming somewhat mainstream. Boing Boing (they’re ranked #3 in Technorati) has covered the issue several times. A search in Youtube, which will NOT bring up the video itself, links to over 6300 reactions. These are people watching the video, reacting to what they see, usually getting sick and disgusted. Most of these reactions are from young adults and teens. One individual even set up his grandmother to watch the video to tape her reaction. Horrible.

5) Facebook-like Petitions: A while back I asked a few questions about the Internet and prosocial change. I received many excellent responses (Dave Cormier’s for example) but one that has stuck in my mind was from Brian Lamb. He writes,

Is there any more anemic and ineffectual form of protest than a Facebook petition? The practice seems to be solely about a form of preening self-indulgence: “look at me,” the Facebook activist is proclaiming, “I care.” It reduces political and social engagement to a form of self-branding, no more or less significant that the lists of favorite movies, bands, silly quotations and virtual hugs and SuperPokes.

This quote pretty much speaks for itself in the context of this post. When social activism and engagement are reduced to these types of activities, what do we need to do to change this?

Of course, there are many more examples I can include. If you have your own that fit within (or outside of) this thinking, let me know.

I’m just beginning to rediscover what digital citizenship means. I know it needs to cover more than safety issues, literacy and etiquette. I know it is not just about our rights as online citizens. It needs to concern itself much more with social responsibility and social learning than is currently being addressed.

Internet, Democratization & Prosocial Change: I Could Really Use Your Help

I’ve been asked by a colleague to speak to students in the Graduate course, “Social Justice and Globalization from an Educational Perspective.” These are the two general questions I’ve been asked to address:

1) Is the Internet a democratizing agent?
2) How does/can technology be an tool for prosocial change?

While I have many ideas, trying to come up with answers to these questions by myself wouldn’t make much sense. I would really love to see what kind of responses I can get to these questions from my network. Please, if you have a few minutes, let’s attempt to get something going here. I’d love to show the group how powerful the network can be. Through the content of your responses, and in the very act of responding, I’d like to bring an authentic demonstration of the power of these connections and the strength of weak ties.

I hope to hear from you, many of you.