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Digital citizenship

Learning in an online digital environment across different cultures has its own digital citizenship challenges. In the context of this resource, digital citizenship refers to behaviours, attitudes, habits and actions displayed while using digital technology to connect, communicate and collaborate.


Any global collaboration, in fact any online learning, can have digital citizenship challenges. These challenges can threaten to shut down innovative programs because of consequences that could have been avoided with careful planning and understanding of the implications of learning while online. All learners must understand that effective communication is important when connecting at a distance, and of course privacy for individuals and security of data are also important. This does not mean global collaboration needs to take place behind a wall.

Enlightened digital citizenship
Enlightened Digital Citizenship
© 2012 Julie Lindsay & Vicki Davis

The practice and concept of open (and visible) learning, mindful of appropriate global digital citizenship, is a consideration. Open learning is when the immediate and wider world can see the rich interactions, conversations and co-creations developing through the global collaboration. This means working out the best places for online gathering and sharing and showcasing outcomes, determined by the age level of the students. Finding a balance between private and public spaces for collaboration should be a goal of all teachers.

It is very important that teachers understand what could go wrong and prepare to avoid situations that are possibly unpleasant. The real focus on everyone, both teachers and students, and understanding HOW to learn while online and while using synchronous and asynchronous digital technologies.

Things to consider

How are you connecting yourself and your students online? How are you and your students connecting with your global partners? When moving into online spaces for collaboration identification of students includes how they set up profiles, naming conventions, and other guidelines for online chat, discussions forums, blogging and collaborative work. The message is – be prepared! For example, if a student uploads an inappropriate image for an avatar, have a system in place to remove this that does not include banning the student from the activity. Everyone needs to learn together how to communicate and create their own digital footprint - often teachers make more mistakes than students when online via inappropriate comments, postings and uploading of images and videos. 

Learning is supported by teacher activity and monitoring while in online spaces at all times. This means ‘flattening’ the learning so that students and teachers from all classrooms in the collaboration are able to connect and communicate and observe/monitor/report when something is not right. 

Become a digital citizenship teacher

Teachers are better able to empower digital citizenship and help students form educated opinions and behaviours for online safety when they are informed and confident with the technologies themselves.

Becoming an effective digital citizenship and global educator means to:

  • Research the technology and lead the way
  • Monitor and be engaged
  • Avoid the fear factor and make a difference
  • Model legal wisdom and choose your own copyright

Explore a wide range of cybersmart materials available from Australian Government: Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner to support cybersafety. Quizzes, resources and videos are targeted at a range of age groups, including:

Rooney (2014) states, ''Global digital collaboration goes beyond research. We found out more through the learning experience of meeting and sharing knowledge.'' Do not wait for students to 'learn' about digital citizenship before jumping into a global collaboration. It is through the hands-on digital experience, as Ann tells us, that students learn.  

Models for digital citizenship development

Teachers are encouraged to become familiar with current thinking and models for approaching digital citizenship in the classroom and across the school for local and global collaborative experiences. These can be freely shared with global partners, and as mentioned above, discussed with students and teachers across the project or collaboration in order to come to a common agreement on behaviour, habits, attitudes and actions.

In his book Digital citizenship in schools Ribble (2014) shares the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship available via the Digital Citizenship website. These include the typical 'digital access', 'digital literacy', 'digital etiquette', 'digital rights and responsibilities' and so on. Ribble believes a young people's ability to practice digital citizenship ought to include their developing awareness of social and political issues as well as their online participation in public life.

Digital citizenship in a global context is a focus of the Enlightened Digital Citizenship Model created by Lindsay and Davis (2012). It provides lenses for being better global digital citizens through ‘areas of awareness' including:

  • Individual awareness which means being aware of one's values and goals and to have the self-confidence to advocate for oneself online and speak out when issues arise.
  • Social awareness that allows the digital citizen to interpret situations and retain interpersonal skills with face-to-face and online friends and colleagues. Social awareness helps a person understand the norms of behaviour in social and vocational spaces. This must apply to learners and technology users of all ages, cultures, gender and situations.
  • Cultural awareness where being aware that cultural differences exist and being able to understand deeply the nuances of cultural differences is a vital awareness for effective online collaboration and citizenship. Understanding that the world is diverse and that other cultures have different religions, holidays, school practices and that it is important to find commonalities rather than focus always on differences.
  • Global awareness understands the regional nuances of other places in the world and causes the digital citizen to ask such questions as: What are the impacts of technology use and access in other countries and cultures? How can I connect and communicate with someone on the other side of the world? Understanding geography, politics, and local bandwidth concerns and the fact that one should understand these areas leads to a global awareness that makes one an effective digital citizen.

The blog post by Van Schaijik (2014) analyses these areas of awareness, taking them to the next level, and concludes, ''I think the term lends itself better to just being citizenship – to ask how do we act with others in ways that enhance the common good online and offline? Yes the technologies certainly make our task of collaboration transparent and easier to coordinate but ultimately it is about people. It is about building relationships for the common good and we do this by making connections online and offline and in the between''.

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