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Digital Citizenship: Don’t Hate the Buzzword Hate the Game

In this recent twitter conversation regarding the terms digital literacy and fluency, Greg McVerry (Doug Belshaw peer and promising candidate for a “Who to Follow” post) chimed in with his take on the buzzword “digital citizen”. He let it be known that he had renounced his digital citizenship. He just “can’t stand” the term as he explains here in his original renouncement. He holds it akin to the current state of the controversial term “Digital Native”. He explains his reasoning further in a great resource-packed post about the Etymology of ‘Digital Citizenship” which provides his thought and research process for coming to this conclusion.

McVurry’s frustration with the current curriculum is that its presenting teaching Digital Citizenship as teaching Cyber-safety and security, and that its largely rooted in some blatant fear-mongering around using computers and the internet, and he is just not going to be a part of that.

“There was no mention of identity development, civic engagement, or agency. All things I would consider to be essential to online citizenship.”

McVurry’s, and others, want Digital Citizenship to speak to possibilities of the living, connecting, and (most importantly) creating content on the web for pro-activity, for engagement. I can get behind that.

Current Slices of Digital Citizenship Curriculum

After following links from McVurry’s original renouncement, I found myself stumbling upon recurring themes within current examples of the “Digital Citizenship” in (looks like mostly) K-12  based curriculum. One of the most cited resources is widely-used and respected ISTE Standards for Teachers, Students and Coaches.

digCit ISTE coaches
From the ISTE Standards for Coaches. I actually think that these standards are well written here, and have always referenced these standards as an Instructional Designer. Modeling is my fav.


Fast forward to me spending an hour googling: Teach digital citizenship/Teach digital citizenship to adults/Digital citizenship for parents…

Browsing through curriculum and template slides for teachers, parents and kids, it is clear that McVurry is on to something big here.

A large majority is geared towards how to stay safe. What NOT to do. I browsed through pages and pages of images and slides about safety and bullying, passwords and internet scams, and identifying reliable sources.

Take this (clever) post from Craig Badura of his prop for teaching digital citizenship in middle school:


Here the instructor provides a lock to “lock it down”, toothpaste to remind you once your content is out there you “can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube” (I think I heard that in the Aaron Swartz documentary, right Kitty?). A permanent maker since everything you do is permanent, and so on. You can see in the comments that fellow educators think this is creative and great! And it is–for teaching security and safety.

This is not a criticism of this creative, underpaid, K-12 public school teacher (and obvious contributing digital citizen), but a mere artifact of the current narrow focus of the curriculum around the term in the larger system.

I also do not want to undermine the vast importance of teaching children and their parents/teachers how to stay safe from predators and bullying, because those are very real, very important issues for which to provide awareness and education. But it is only one slice of the pie.

What’s missing here? Tools for the concepts of creation, creativity, and opportunity.  Here is my example in my double-dipped, remixed, Digital Citizenship Guide Kit.

Another example is here, where this open teacher has provided this slideshow of one-liners to use and remix when teaching digital citizenship.

The biggest gap in the resources I found was that there  is little geared toward just teaching adults for their own sake. Almost everything was inside the context of teaching teachers and parents how to teach children (and some cute pieces on how to teach children how to teach their parents).

From where I sit–tech support role at work/parent at home–I know there are adults that need this information for THEMSELVES, in context of their own safety, involvement, engagement and responsibilities, not just their children. Can’t we just call that out? Like “Here are some resources and information for becoming a more engaged digital citizen for YOU, an adult.” What are YOU creating? How do YOU engage?

Modeling and Mentoring: Guides Leading Guides

I did happen to stumble upon some resources on the outskirts of digital citizenship that just don’t call out the term. For example, this article on how a college in the UK (I should just move there, really) is Enhancing Student Services with Digital Media. This is great example of modeling appropriate behavior. I love to see this kind of support in Higher Ed. The staff and faculty are using the tools WITH the students WHILE teaching them, and the experience with the tools is hands-on and infused. That infusion is something that is lacking in many of the other curriculum strategies and templates.

Here is one example of a resource I did find that is more on track with what I’d like to see get out in the mainstream.

I also found a few good examples starting from Edudemics’ 15 Resources for Digital Citizenship for 2014, but again, you really have to weed through to get to the more robust, proactive teaching strategies.

In my opinion, calling out digital citizenship as something that is of importance because of the moral, civic and engagement possibilities, and less about safety and surveillance, and then teaching to THAT, is part of the mission I’d like to be a part of.

Don’t hate the Buzzword hate the Game

It is clear that the concept of “Digital Citizenship” is already woven into our nations educational system vocabulary, especially in the elementary and secondary realm, no matter how many vote themselves off of the island.

Doug Belshaw himself points out that:

“Co-created definitions have more power than those that are simply adopted or imported”.

Greg McVerry’s renouncement has sparked great conversation, and in itself is a protest that has raised awareness, and for that (and his many other awesome maker projects) he is himself being an exemplary digital citizen.

But I would like to see the Greg McVurry’s of the world stick with us here. Help us redefine this seemingly “vapid” term’s reputation. We know you are modeling and mentoring in your own genuine ways, but the use of the term isn’t going to go away by ignoring it.

If I may, offer up a current buzz-quote…

“Be the change you want to see”

Published inDigital Citizenship

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