Civic Engagement & Digital Citizenship: A Critical Connection

Civic Engagement & Digital Citizenship: A Critical Connection

by Joy Wyckoff

laptopDigital citizenship is a practice that anyone who has ever done a Google search or created a social media account has dabbled in. A skill so important, but we have so much work to do to ensure all students understand its role. So what is digital citizenship? Well, it refers to the responsible use of technology on any digital platform. Now, why is that so important you may ask? Not only does digital citizenship prepare individuals with the skills needed to navigate the many challenges brought on by our ever-evolving digital world, but simultaneously allows us to embrace the opportunities brought on because of it. Given our current remote learning moment, digital citizenship is more important than ever.

This past summer, I served as an intern for the Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) where I conducted an extensive literature review on digital citizenship and youth practices. In the Digital Citizenship report, they provided thorough insight into how digital citizenship is more than a tool for young people to navigate the digital world, but rather a tool that educates students on the implications of their actions both on and offline, and the connection between the two.

Digital citizenship covers a broad array of topics, such as civic and political engagement, law, media and digital literacy, digital economy, privacy, security, positive and respectful online behavior, and overall safety and well-being (to name a few). It’s important that we teach these skills to our students as it’s affecting them right here, right now. If we just look at everything currently going on in the world, with COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, as well as multiple humanitarian crises, we can see that what’s going on is deeply affecting everyone. It’s vital that our students are aware of everything and stay up-to-date on these current issues, because it’s going to have the greatest impact on their futures, and obtaining digital citizenship skills allows them to do just that. We live in a time like no other, where all the information in the world is at our very fingertips. In what other time could you just casually pull out a phone from your pocket and search up any question you may have, to immediately get an answer within the duration of a few seconds? So, whether we like it or not, times are changing, and with it, the evolution of technology. Unfortunately, even today, people still don’t know how to utilize these extraordinary tools. But with the education of digital citizenship, we can flip this narrative.

Through digital citizenship, we can educate our students on how to contribute to public matters, such as LGBTQ rights, peacebuilding, addressing hate speech, and advocating for issues one cares about. We can teach them to engage with legal frameworks surrounding the Internet and other digital tools such as copyright and fair use. We can teach them to navigate economic activities both on and offline to learn different forms of economic, social and cultural capital, such as earning money and building personal brands. And we can teach them how to protect the integrity of their information, digital devices, and assets, such as passwords, profiles and websites(Youth and Digital Citizenship Plus, 2020).

People nowadays store their whole lives on their phone, and with one wrong site click or weak password, it could do a lot of damage. Knowing how to properly secure their information is going to become more and more crucial over the years. Especially since kids as young as elementary school ages are now having access to technology and participating in social media, so it's important to teach them this as soon as possible. There’s no point in ignoring this issue and pretending that it’s not going to affect these students as it’s essentially inevitable. They’re going to end up using technology one way or another, so we should teach them how to do it right.

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring different communities of different social, cultural, and regional contexts together to share their knowledge, ideas, and struggles. So let’s do it together!