Citizenship is a term that will have very different personal meanings to all of us. From the whenua we come from, to the land we live in, one thing remains the same – we’re all part of a bigger networked, global ‘village’. With easily accessible, borderless spaces online, there has never been a more important time to reflect on what it means to be a responsible digital citizen, both in Aotearoa and the wider global community.
One of three overriding themes for CORE uLearn19 is Kirirarautanga | Citizenship.
He hapori e ngaruru ana i te ao kōtui, he wāhi, hei tāpaetanga, hei tūrangawaewae mō te katoa.
Thriving communities in a networked world, where everyone has a place, everyone contributes, and everyone belongs.
Derek Wenmoth (2019) writes in his blog about ‘Auahatanga | Innovation’, if we want our young people to be innovators and change agents, who can begin to mobilise in response to the growing concerns they have about the problems they see looming on the horizon, then we will need to empower them to be the change agents that make a positive difference in the world they live in – both in person and online. And Richard Culatta (CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, ISTE) also echoes these thoughts in relation to the use of digital technologies and the way they influence our participation as citizens in society:
Preparing a generation of effective digital citizens is the most important thing we can do to ensure a democracy for the future. (Rethinking Digital Citizenship, Youtube, 11.08)
Social networks and online communities break down barriers of geography, time, culture, and identity. Relationships are formed and boundaries overcome where people join together online through common interest (hobbies), circumstance (possibly not by choice), place (location), action (cause) and practice (job related). Most work for good, while some violate the rights and well-being of others. Shortly after Twitter was launched, it gave millions a voice on a global stage. The platform didn’t differentiate between the social good or the defamatory, offensive content. Thirteen years on, and in light of recent events in Christchurch, many countries are now calling for social media controls where giants like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are held to account for the management of offensive and harmful content online.
While algorithms do their best to ban illegal material, questionable and undesirable content remains readily available, regardless of the age, culture and gender of its consumers. As a society, we must critically reflect, not just on the technologies, but rather on how we’re choosing to use them. As educators, we need to nurture our young people into becoming discerning users of these spaces. In addition to teaching about online safety, we need to teach what safe, ethical and responsible use of digital technologies looks like.
Digital technologies provide us with ways of connecting and participating in society that we’ve not experienced in the past. Digital citizenship (underpinned by digital fluency) is defined as participation in civic, cultural, economic and environmental opportunities online. (A definition of digital citizenship, Netsafe, 2018, Enabling e-Learning: Digital Citizenship). In this Youtube video (11.08), Richard Culatta talks about digital citizenship not a set of rules for what not to do, but about using technology to:
- make your community better
- respectfully engage with people who have different beliefs from yours
- be able to shape and change public policy
- be able to recognise the validity of online sources of information.
Everyday we see social media and web platforms used for social good where social impact enhances the lives of others, champions a cause, or inspires a collective call to action. We witnessed this in 2011 when 10,000 young people mobilised a volunteer army during the Christchurch earthquakes. The impact of their social action lives on with founder Sam Johnson (28) who has started a company to connect younger community members with lonely elderly folk. As Sam says,
The student army was never really about shifting silt. It was about connecting people and helping people out. Christchurch Student Volunteer Army founder’s plan to combat elderly loneliness
On the flip side, social platforms have been used to incite hate, validate radical propaganda, sway public opinion, and interfere with political outcomes. Here six degrees of separation becomes a seamless, ubiquitous network of association where confirmation biases misinformation, and thousands (potentially millions) of people are presented with falsehoods they start to believe, adopt and share.
To make sure we are ingesting truth, and not propaganda with a strong political slant, it is important for everyone to independently verify information gathered through social media and many news sources with a known political persuasion before presenting it to others as fact. Unfortunately, few people do this research.Are You In A Social Media Echo Chamber? How To Take An Objective Look
If social media can shape our collective thinking, then a digitally-savvy person will need to be able to question the validity of information sources and distinguish fact from fiction. They will also need to be media literate. As educators, we can teach our students how to understand different types of media and the messages they’re sending. If we don’t, young people are left to navigate this on their own.
This is too important to leave to chance. After all, the obligations, rights and actions of citizenship permeate every part of our lives. If we all took a stance by respectfully engaging with others from different practices, cultures and world-views, social media platforms could become a space where trolling would be discouraged and hate commentary ignored. Collectively we could create a tipping point, and become part of the solution rather than perpetuating the problem. When we teach students about wellbeing, we need also to talk about the consequences of using technology in ways that impact negatively on the wellbeing of others. Discussing technology use “for good” will help them to see its potential as an influential channel where voices, including theirs, can have a positive impact on shaping public policy. When they understand this power, and mobilise it, then we will genuinely see change for the better.
Whether you see social media use as a problem or an incredible resource, there can be no denying that it is firmly entrenched in our society. Learners of today value their online interactions as highly as their offline conversations. Our role as teachers and educators has never been more crucial in helping them find the balance, behaviour, and beauty that exists in all their lives (James Hopkins, CORE blog, I am a citizen of Facebook).
As educators we want our young people to find that balance, to have a sense of belonging (whanaungatanga) and wellbeing, to be part of safe, respectful, thriving, networked community online, that reflects us as Kiwis on a global stage. As global citizens, we could help positively shape spaces online – where diverse language, culture and heritage would shine. This won’t happen if we don’t actively teach what digital citizenship means to us, both in Aotearoa and a global context.
In the broader sense of the CORE uLearn19 theme Kirirarautanga | Citizenship, we can also use the following focus questions to deepen our understandings, ignite new ways of thinking and inspire new ways of working.
- What does it mean to be a citizen in Aotearoa, in an inclusive modern society?
- What does collective responsibility for all learners look like?
- How do we teach our learners to be active, responsible ‘digital citizens’?
- Whose responsibility is student wellbeing? How might we create supportive systems and contextual wellbeing?
- What impact is globalisation having in our local context? How do we maintain our identity on a global stage?
How do you promote good digital citizenship in your classroom? Do you want to know how to promote better and safer practices? What is one deliberate act of teaching you pledge to help promote good digital citizenship in your classroom?
edSpace is CORE Education’s online network for educators to connect with others, discuss strategies, and share information – join edSpace. Once you’re there, head to our uLearn discussion forum, to discuss more about Citizenship.