Thursday 22 May 2014

Digital Citizenship - A challenge, responsibility & right

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This was published in Australian Teacher Magazine June 2014 Edition

Who is a Digital Citizen?
“A digital citizen refers to a person utilising information technology in order to engage in society, politics, and government participation.” wikipedia
I like this definition. It surpasses the narrow interpretations of digital citizenship that have dominated educational discourse. It is a definition that touches on the true potential and importance of the internet. It raises issues such as equity of access and voice. It is a definition that challenges us as participatory members of our community, nation and world. I am going to use this definition as a springboard to engage in an exploration of contemporary issues and the implications of digital citizenship.

Information Technology
According to Moore’s Law, I.T. transistor counts double approximately every two years. This observed trend has continued for more than half a century. I.T. devices are getting smaller and more powerful at an exponential rate. Many of my childhood fantasy sci-fi technologies are now realities. 3D printing, virtual reality, wearable technology, invisibility cloaks, augmented reality, robots, robotic suits, self driving cars, quantum computers, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence are all realities today. The fantasised sci-fi future of my childhood has arrived. The technological singularity, as Mr. Kurzweil predicted, truly is near. And the greatest catalysing advancement of our times; the I.T. primordial soup that spawned these diverse technologies, is the internet.

ICT & social networks are changing the world. News disseminates directly between and through citizens rather than being filtered (or constructed) by sanctioned mainstream media channels. Communication is instantaneous and constant. Video conferencing in real time with someone on the other side of the planet is common place. Political and social awareness has rapidly increased. Governments have risen and fallen due to information shared/leaked online. The Higgs Boson “God particle” was found by a global network of online scientists collaborating (thousands of them). Learning is now available to anyone with a connection. The information age has enabled the age of learning.

The Learning Age
The days of the Industrial education system are numbered (over). The bell tolled for ‘chalk and talk’ the day the internet was born. The new ‘ism, Connectivism (a learning theory for the digital age), posits that learning is more critical than knowing. Connectivism holds that learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources. Learning occurs within a network and is socially and technologically supported. In our current education system, many standardised tests and assessment procedures focus on memorisation of information that (in the real world) can be accessed at any time from the internet. With facts a click or a voice command away, should we now be focussing more on the innovative use of those facts? On critical thinking, innovation, collaboration, networking, creativity and real world applications? The ecological, social, economic & political problems facing coming generations need innovative thinkers and makers. “The principle goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” Jean Piaget.

Question Everything
How do we discern reputable sources of truth? Australian media ownership has been described as one of the most concentrated in the world. 11 of the 12 capital city daily papers are owned by either News Corp Australia (Murdoch) or Fairfax Media. How does this type of ownership concentration affect freedom of information and news coverage in Australia? The recent March in March (15 -17 March) attracted tens of thousands of Australians who gathered across the nation's capital cities demonstrating a vote of no confidence in the current Abbott Government. The event however went largely unreported by Australia's newspapers (including The Herald Sun and The Age) and mainstream Australian television. This is concerning. Conversely, social media networks such as twitter and facebook prolifically communicated pictures and news from the march directly between attendees, supporters and their networks. Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on March 20th this year blocked access to Twitter after it was used to disseminate leaks implicating his inner circle in corruption. The block was later overturned by Turkey’s Constitutional Court for violating free speech. These examples demonstrate the power of social networks to bypass censoring mainstream media channels and bring important information to the public. Social networks can also propagate disinformation however. Just as we should question mainstream media, we should employ critical thinking when engaging with online information. Researching an article’s sources and stakeholders is a good place to start. Google recently launched its Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum. This is an excellent resource; providing lessons for students that target critical thinking, managing online identity and identifying online scams. Class 1 in the series, titled “Becoming an online sleuth” provides activities to guide students in evaluating the credibility of content online.
Find it here:

BYOD and Digital Citizenship throughout the curriculum
Facilitating focussed digital citizenship sessions for students is great. Embedding digital citizenship throughout your curriculum is even better. At my school we support BYOD (Bring your own device) for years 3 -12. We allow students to bring their personal devices to support learning. We support any brand and operating system. To enable this we migrated our teaching, learning, administration and communication systems to Google Apps for Education. The benefits of this cloud migration have been tremendous. Learning anytime/anywhere, flipped learning, project based learning and collaboration are all much easier with BYOD and Google Apps. The number of devices at school exponentially increased overnight. We provide school devices for those who cannot bring one. Communication, creativity and collaboration increased. Paper handouts decreased. In our planning for cloud migration, faster networks and BYOD we foresaw the need to support our technological evolution with a Digital Citizenship Program (DCP). Having more devices connected to the internet and the wealth of information available is awesome. The potential for bullying and online scams is not so awesome. So we developed a program of digital citizenship and literacy that was embedded in our curriculum. We created a Google Site and constructed courses that linked directly to curriculum and school goals. We purposely created the program to be easy for teachers to facilitate within their time and curriculum restraints, organising it into key learning areas and linking resources relevant to subjects. The program covers topics such as critical thinking, access, commerce, communication, identity, health, law, ethics, literacy, security, rights and citizenship. In the two years we have been facilitating BYOD and digital citizenship we have experienced very few bullying or other internet related issues. Our program works. In fact the program was so successful that we decided to run a Digital Citizenship conference. The first digital citizenship conference was run at St Columba Anglican School Port Macquarie in July 2013. Various schools (Public, Catholic and Independent) sent delegates to learn how to create programs at their schools. The success of that conference led to us running the conference again in Sydney at St Andrew’s Cathedral School in November. The demand for school based digital citizenship programs is growing. Meredith Ebbs (eLearning Integrator) and myself now work regularly with schools helping them develop and facilitate programs. For more information visit

BYOD and Social Networking Policies
Another key ingredient of our school evolution has been the creation of effective and explicit policies covering BYOD and social networking. With the advent of mobile networks the old school I.T. control paradigm crumbled. Mobile devices with (3G/4G) have direct connection to the internet that bypasses school filters and firewalls. Policies can prohibit use of these networks but policing such policies is problematic. Also, you can have the tightest, most restricting network at school, but at home (for most students) the internet is unrestricted and filter free. Are locked down school networks in place to protect students from harm or to protect schools from the threat of litigation? We need to help students develop into discerning online citizens who can make good choices regardless of whether they are at school or at home. As an educator, I feel it is within my duty of care to help students become responsible and safe digital citizens. Good policies enable schools to ease up on overly restrictive network filters and allow students to better utilise the benefits of the internet and the information it offers.

Learning Communities
Our digital citizenship program is collaborative. Teachers, students and parents all contribute to its development and evolution. We run parent eLearning and digital citizenship sessions every term. Our school blogs and social networks encourage communication between everyone in our learning community. Digital citizenship is a challenge, responsibility and right for everyone. Not just students.

Citizens stand up
Developing critical thinking and an online voice is one of the great challenges of our time. Current issues such as security agencies spying on citizens without permission (Snowden leaks), the Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) which increases corporate control and threatens our rights and environmental destruction for profit all deserve our attention and action. Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the world wide web) believes a global bill of rights is needed to preserve an open and neutral internet. Now more than ever we need to question everything and start working for the benefit of all humanity, including future generations. Australia and the world is facing some daunting problems. With the help of technology, the internet and online collaboration perhaps we have a chance at fixing them. If you want to continue the conversation you can find me at