Digital citizenship is essential for all people living in a digital economy. Since the economy shapes our lives and our communities, we cannot take part as active citizens in the important events around us without digital skills. Without any tool to identify fake news on social media (essentially if we are digital illiterates), we can make bad decisions and don’t even realize that. Without being aware that social networks are both a great tool to keep in touch with friends and the hunting ground of cyber predators that target vulnerable kids, we cannot protect our children.
I am not trying to demonize technology. Quite the opposite: I firmly believe that we should seize all the advantages that technology has to offer nowadays. However, we should also be aware of its perils. Moreover, I think that it is worth mentioning that technology in and of itself is neither good nor bad. How people decide to use it makes it a good or a bad tool.
Let’s go back to digital citizenship, an important topic to address for all stakeholders — teachers, administrators, students, parents, policymakers, etc. Since it is quite a new concept, each party involved tends to have its own definition and its own strategy as far as implementation is concerned.
Digital citizenship: a conceptual model for developing a K-12 curriculum
A very comprehensive model that addresses teaching, learning, and assessment was designed by the Council of Europe. Three key elements are essential for the definition of digital citizenship: digital engagement, digital responsibility, and digital participation.
Based on these three components, the authors have come up with a very comprehensive definition:
Digital Citizenship may be said to refer to the competent and positive engagement with digital technologies and data (creating, publishing, working, sharing, socializing, investigating, playing, communicating and learning); participating actively and responsibly (values, skills, attitudes, knowledge and critical understanding) in communities (local, national, global) at all levels (political, economic, social, cultural and intercultural); being involved in a double process of lifelong learning (in formal, informal, non-formal settings) and continuously defending human dignity and all attendant human rights.
Let’s see the four main components that are essential for designing a K-12 digital citizenship curriculum:
The starting point of a digital citizenship teaching program is a set of core values that any responsible and educated citizen should embrace: valuing human dignity, cultural diversity, democracy, justice, equality, and the rule of law. Students who are educated in the spirit of these values will be responsible digital citizens.
Responsible attitudes are a consequence of the authentic internalization of core values. Attitudes that should be cultivated in a digital citizenship program are openness to cultural diversity, different beliefs and ways of seeing the world, respect, civic-mindedness and tolerance of ambiguity.
In a digital economy, being an autonomous learner is very important. Having the same profession for decades is already a thing of the past. We will most likely change several professions or several fields of activity throughout our lives, so it’s essential to embrace a lifelong learning attitude. Multilingual and multicultural communication is a must for any digital citizen. With English as a de facto international language, and Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic as some of the most powerful languages on the internet, being confined within the frontiers of one language and one culture is no longer an option.
Knowledge and critical understanding
This broader category refers to knowledge and critical understanding of the self and of the world (politics, law, human rights, culture, media, economy, the environment, etc.). Being able to understand the main topic of the current debates: climate change, economic and health crisis, tolerance and cultural diversity are prerequisites of a responsible way in which a digital citizen can interact with technology.
To sum up
Digital citizenship is essential for any individual today if they want to embrace technology and make use of all its advantages. Stakeholders involved in the educational system, who design and implement policies, should understand the deep roots of all the processes involved: proper values and right attitudes help shape the necessary skills one needs to develop knowledge and critical understanding of the self and of the world.