sparkelectronics-citizenship-fi“We shouldn’t assume people know what digital citizenship is.”

by David Ryan Polgar and Marialice B.F.X. CurranDigcitSummit.com

Digital Citizenship is huge.

Or so it seems by the countless articles we read on the topic each week. As plugged-in educators who are putting together the first annual Digital Citizenship Summit, we are swimming in a sea of amazing advice concerning cyberbullying, empathy online, public shaming, tech balance, digital tattoos, and more. To us, it often seems like everyone is well-versed in digital citizenship and everything it entails. They’re not.

Planning the Digital Citizenship Summit has provided us with a great deal of insight into how the digital citizenship community, and education world at large, can better promote the concept of digital citizenship. We have been able to see firsthand the major gap in understanding between digital citizenship evangelists and the general masses, and have discovered some potential ways to decrease the gap.

  1. We can no longer assume students know what digital citizenship is.

It is easy to get caught up in “echo chamber effect” online, where we are constantly surrounded by the topic of digital citizenship and then have our impression reinforced by other equally invested individuals. During our outreach, it has become apparent that the understanding level towards digital citizenship is highly concentrated in academic circles. One of our goals with planning the Digital Citizenship Summit is to increase overall awareness topic: what we have learned is that the community may need to focus more attention on adequately explaining what digital citizenship is.

Why is this a challenge? The very broadness of the term digital citizenship sometimes presents an issue. Terms such as cyberbullying, tech etiquette, or public shaming are self-explanatory in nature. Digital Citizenship, on the other hand, requires a certain level of background. The definition that we have been using is from Mike Ribble/DigitalCitizenship.net: “Digital Citizenship is the norms of appropriate, responsible tech use.” (Ed note: Here is another definition for digital citizenship.)

The communication breakdown that often occurs revolves around taking that abstract language and turning it into something more concrete. The general public is widely supportive of digital citizenship once they understand what it is, but that requires quick, concrete examples that can be visualized and appreciated.

The popularity surrounding Monica Lewinsky’s recent TED talk offers an illustration for the potential of digital citizenship. Everything she is discussing deals with “appropriate, responsible tech use.” The more that we can connect those issues with digital citizenship, the more the general public will understand its very significance.

  1. There is an incredibly passionate community waiting to be brought together.

The outpouring of support, advice, and collaboration after we announced the Digital Citizenship Summit has been incredibly heartening. People have seemingly come out of the woodwork. Which begs an important question: why were they in the woodwork?

What we learned is that the the community still operates around a few particular circles (often with an influencer at the center). It is easy to think that you know the entire community when in fact you just know your entire circle. There are a tremendous amount of untapped circles that can offer their voice in shaping the digital citizenship conversation.

Our goal with the Digital Citizenship Summit was to bring together those silos digitally through outreach, along with the #digcit chat (every Wednesday at 7 pm EST), and then physically on October 3rd at the University of Saint Joseph (West Hartford, CT).

There should also be ways to build upon best practices. By and large, the digital citizenship community is highly collaborative and looking to share material. An educator is Florida should be able to build upon the work of an educator in North Dakota. There is a still ways to go towards working in a more collective fashion.

  1. It’s time to bring in other stakeholders.

There are a wide variety of stakeholders who have an important role to play in shaping the conversation around digital citizenship. What we have learned in planning our event is that they are often not in direct contact. How do we bring together educators, parents, students, organizations, and industry? The dialogue between parents and educators, in particular, has been a major source of frustration and dispute around appropriate tech use.

One lesson we have learned is that we can increase the level of understanding amongst stakeholders by doing a better job communicating the value of digital citizenship with more approachable language. We also see a need to have the different groups come together in the same location. There will be massively different opinions, but we should embrace the diversity of thought as we shape the conversation.

Lastly, we have learned that there is still a significant need to bring together educators and industry. A common criticism of tech companies is that they often push out their products without adequately considering the societal impact. The digital citizenship community could offer a great deal of insight and advice towards what safe, savvy, and ethical tech use entails. Mr. Zuckerberg, tear down that digital wall.

Digital Citizenship really is huge. What we’ve noticed from our struggles and successes so far with the Digital Citizenship Summit is that with increased clarity and collaboration it will only get bigger.

“We shouldn’t assume people know what digital citizenship is.”; adapted image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics