This is our last week in our course, Digital Citizenship. Every fifth week in each course we take in Lamar University’s Digital Learning and Leading program, we are asked to reflect and synthesize all of the information we have reviewed and determine how what we have learned can be used in our context. We further expand on these ideas to consider how what we learned can apply to education overall. Digital Citizenship introduced our cohort to a collection of valuable resources and new ideas when implementing technology in the classroom. Personally, my students have been able to use the tools that were available, in this case borrowed chrome-books, iPads, and sometimes their phones to conduct research and create portfolios of their work through a platform called Class DOJO. However, I have learned in this course that parameters, protections, and awareness of legal matters are just as much as important if not more so as understanding how to use the technology itself. Part of being a digital citizen is understanding that it is really no different than being a citizen. We should feel a responsibility to protect ourselves and others no matter the realm. Protections and a commitment to respectfully conduct oneself online must be in place along with a solid understanding of the technology being used. The idea that “anything will do” is not best practices. Technology isn’t merely a delivery method of information, but a tool that enhances students’ learning and helps them develop their creativity.
Durable Understandings of Digital Citizenship
Digital citizenship is a much more expansive and complex concept than I had imagined. It’s so much more than knowing how to use the Internet safely or building a social media profile. Yes, it is important to be safe when conducting oneself online but the concept goes much deeper. The concepts of citizenship highlighted the need for educating others about online behavior, and how to do it with a holistic approach. Simply because we now conduct much of ourselves online, in fact, it is an extension of who we are, it doesn’t change the fact that we are still citizens. We are just as responsible for our actions online as we would be in person. The Internet is a virtual extension of our physical world. I don’t cease to be a citizen just because I am online. The Internet unfortunately invites anonymity where some people masquerade as someone else. The anonymity (and pseudonymity) of the virtual realm is what creates unsafe spaces, yet these spaces were meant to extend connection. We must advocate for a space that encourages empathy, integrity, and equal rights for all. These are at the heart of being a citizen.
Digital citizenship is much more than merely being tech savvy, it encompasses all of the great qualities of citizenship and applying it in all situations. When our human interactions deviate between a digital world and a physical world, our responsibilities in how we conduct ourselves remains. Specifically, Mike Ribble (2015) helped map out my understanding of digital citizenship by providing a thorough synthesis of human behavior in the digital realm. His nine elements of digital citizenship becomes the very foundation in how all citizens have the responsibility to establish safe and healthy environments online. Ribble’s (2015) take on digital access creates the argument that when some are denied the rights to these resources (in this case, online information through technology) it violates their basic human rights. We are not merely digital citizens or citizens of our country, we are citizens of the world. Hugh Evans (2016) defines a global citizen as someone who is “not a member of a state, tribe, or nation, but a member of the human race.” As we become more and more connected globally, our citizenship expands and connects globally. Like Thomas Jefferson (1776) included in the Declaration of Independence in which its main purpose was to advocate for equality, he states that all have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Education liberates and sets people free, therefore digital access and connecting people to infinit information is imperative in transforming lives.
Citizenship ideology argues who we all should be together. Marti Weston (2013) suggests in a blog post with a simple yet profound question “Is it digital citizenship, or just plain citizenship?” He further argues that even as communities (both virtual and physical) in which citizens live may shift, the fundamental values of true citizenship remain. All humans are valuable and worthy of respect simply for existing, no life is more or less valuable than another. Therefore, it does not matter in which realm humans interact, this value that all deserve respect should be every person’s utmost priority.
I believe one of the first conversations I can have with my students regarding these principles is the principle of “respect” (Ribble, 2015). It is at the core of citizenship, and how we should interact with one another. The fundamental needs of all humans should be granted the same access and rights to nurture and support a healthy life. We could apply this to the digital realm in which our students have the rights to access information regardless of where they live. Access and respect go hand in hand as the first step in ensuring equal rights for all. It is everyone’s responsibility to treat others with respect (Ribble, 2017).
I believe my biggest accomplishment in this course is how quickly I was able to synthesize copyright laws and how I began applying them immediately to my context, especially now that all schools have moved to an online format. What I could use in class in person changed when I moved into an online teaching role. I am thankful for this course even though I found it to be by far the most uninteresting. I developed an appreciation for the intricacies of copyright laws and how technology and the digital realm has had such an immediate demand for the progression of these laws. Although some have changed, there are still several departments that need to advance with our digital age or be left behind. Before this class, my basic knowledge of copyright law only went so far as plagiarism and some shallow understanding copyright infringement. I was unaware that fair use provided an even deeper consideration with which works could or could not be used, and the protections around these works when used in an educational setting. I had never known that some copyrighted material could be converted completely and presented as new material. The moment I turned in my assignment that week, I felt a sense of relief. At first I thought it was because that week felt like the movie Groundhog Day, but as I reflect on it I do believe it is because I had gained a new set of skills regarding the law that I hadn’t had previously.
The most challenging part of this course was the amount of work required in one week and the timing of all of the work. This course began right on the cusp of the COVID-19 break out when all of us had to transform our classrooms in the blink of an eye from a physical environment to a virtual one. I had lost my routine of going to see my students every day and knowing what to expect after work. I’ve lost my social gatherings that kept me sane, and now have a new level of grief and anxiety about the state of our world. The work took much longer due to this instability, and it didn’t do my sanity any favors. Also, the type of work we were asked to do was different from the work I have been used to previously. Throughout the Digital Learning and Leading program, I had become accustomed to the COVA learning approach (Choice, Ownership, and Voice in Authentic learning environments). In my previous courses, there was a level of creativity and authenticity that I had never experienced before. School had always been a “list of checkboxes” until my first course in this program. It was the first time I felt like school could be relevant and gave me hope that education could really be innovative and individualized for every learner. It gave me hope in teaching because I realized if it could be ignited in me, then I could ignite that same passion for learning in my students. However, this particular course tended to give me some flashbacks of multiple“to do” lists. At times, it also felt a bit less authentic and struggled to find ways it would apply immediately to my innovation plan. Because this class had less COVA, it resulted in weeks of endless nights without breaks. I will say that overall however, I am thankful to have gone through this course simply because it helped me further learn how I learn, and prove to myself that I had the stamina to make it through. It helped me develop my thoughts on topics I found less interesting. There really wasn’t much about this course that wasn’t a challenge.
Best Work in this Course
My best work in this course would most likely be my responses to the case studies. I must say that I was apprehensive about my responses simply because I hadn’t ever responded to a case study before, much less in the perspective of a Technology Officer. It allowed me to empathize not only with who the case study was about, but those who are left to face difficult situations like those that happen every day. I remember staring at the screen and rereading the case studies over and over, walking away from my blinking cursor, and then finally succumbing to the dwindling time I had left and just writing my response. I continued to surprise myself with all that I had learned in such a short amount of time in order to thoughtfully respond to each case study. I believe we tend to not give ourselves enough credit when trying something new. We often know more than we realize, so sometimes we have to trust that our responses are valid and our perspective matters. I learned that situations like these are always complex. We can’t expect instantaneous results if we plan to carefully consider and understand every viewpoint. I have a new respect for my leadership because many of them are facing situations like these daily while balancing all of their other responsibilities as a leader.
Connecting Course Learning
This course has certainly helped me reflect on how I can help my students and myself become better digital citizens. Even before this class, though, I’ve never used the Internet or social media to spill my thoughts or engage in petty conversations. I believe I have always been aware that this digital realm is simply another way to connect to the world, and with such negativity trolling the media, I choose to use these platforms as one that spreads hope, love, and positivity. We need more reminders of all that is good and highlight those who are willing to lend a helping hand. With a digital world upon us and rapidly advancing by the day, we must progress with it and seek ways of becoming better citizens while educating others. In many ways, our society lacks empathy and sees vulnerability as a weakness, but we cannot focus on that. Like Ghandi (n.d.) said “be the change you wish to see in the world.” I may not be able to control what goes on around me, but I can certainly control my response to it. This is part of the message of being a good citizen, taking responsibility for your own actions, and modeling for others how to respectfully do the same. We also must understand that the lack of empathy in our society won’t go away by simply turning a blind eye to it. We have to be proactive to respond with grace, and be a light within it. I believe I have seen more acts of compassion in the last three weeks of our COVID-19 pandemic than I have seen most of my life. What people are doing for one another is proof that even if there has been a lack of empathy in the past, I believe we are beginning to see the light and priorities shift in the lives of many. There is a silver lining of hope, and it’s our job to promote that message.
We can’t “talk the talk without walking the walk.” We cannot simply teach good citizenship to our students, we must model good citizenship. We can’t model good citizenship without engagement, therefore we must be proactive and respectfully guide others with our message. Like Dr. Harapnuik (2015) has mentioned in previous classes, “your head won’t go where your heart hasn’t been.” If we have never connected with citizenship, it will be difficult to model it for our students. As an educational leader, I have learned that digital access is the priority. This issue encompasses equal rights and ensuring that everyone is granted the same access to information. There are so many of my students who do not have access to either a device or the Internet, or they have to share one device among several family members yet the expectation to complete the work is still the same for these students. My more privileged students not only have access to experiences like vacations to other countries, physical exposure to information, and enrichment courses that expand their learning, but also to devices that with a click of a button can give them information in an instant. My less privileged learners not only have less exposure to cultures and learning experiences, but often struggle to even access a device to connect them to it. The rich don’t simply remain in power just because of their financial leverage they have over the less fortunate, but because they have always had access to information that others simply couldn’t afford. The financially endowed aren’t necessarily smarter, it all goes back to access and their exposure to information and cultures at a young age. We must get access into the hands of all learners, not just the most fortunate. The first step my school can take to alleviate these issues is to develop a strong technology team and advocate for a 1:1 initiative for every student at their school. Technology is continuously advancing with innovative apps that help students connect and engage with the material, so as educators we must work to meet them wherever they are and develop programs to put these tools in the hands of our students.
Favorite Aspect of Course
My favorite aspect of this course (as with many of these classes) were the reflections. Although the reflections can be the last thing I am able to accomplish if there is another assignment involved, I am always thankful for the learning I gain simply by reflecting on these ideas and making them my own. Reflections are a powerful way to make the learning yours. We borrow this information and store it away in our heads and hearts until we are asked to reflect on why it was important for us to do so. I believe that it brings up the most interesting discussions and conversations post taking the class. I’ve had better conversations with my colleagues, friends and family simply because we were asked to take the time to synthesize and reflect on what we had learned. I also believe the act of doing a reflection develops the passion we have for what we do. Again, our “heads won’t go where our hearts have never been” (Harapnuik, 2015). We must use our heart to reflect on what was our takeaway from each module and course so we may accurately guide others. One of my favorite quotes I have held onto during this course was by our professor Dr. Meeuwse (2020) in which she encouraged us that “we are thought leaders.” Going forth, we must believe in the power of our voice and own this learning process. Our message must capture the hearts of our audience, and to do so there has to be passion and our own belief in what we are saying for it to make the most impact.
I have created a presentation to further reinforce the values of citizenship overall:
Evans, H. (2016, February). What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? [Video file]. https://www.ted.com/talks/hugh_evans_what_does_it_mean_to_be_a_citizen_of_the_world#t-1004729
Harapnuik, D. (2015). The head won’t go where the heart hasn’t been. It’s about learning. http://www.harapnuik.org/?p=5461
Ghandi, M. (n.d.) Mahatma gandhi quotes. Brainy quote. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/mahatma_gandhi_109075
Meeuwse, K. (2020) Class lecture.
Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.
Ribble, M. (2017). Nine elements of digital citizenship. Digital citizenship: Using technology appropriately. http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/nine-elements.html
Weston, M. (2013, October 16). Is it digital citizenship or just plain citizenship?. Media! tech! Parenting!. https://mediatechparenting.net/2013/10/16/is-it-digital-citizenship-or-just-plain-citizenship