06 December 2013

Global Digital Citizenship

In today’s world, the idea of ‘citizenship’ is in constant and organic flux, just as the notion of what it means to be literate in the 21st century is also evolving. Viewed under the cultural and global lens required for successful international school citizens, the definition is even harder to pin down.

We all have notions of what a good ‘citizen’ is, and teachers in international schools bring a myriad of ideologies and cultural understandings which simultaneously present opportunity and dichotomy. Rich and fertile in breadth of experience and belief, the knowledge and cultural understandings can, at times, be at cross-purposes with the culture of the country, which again might be different to the cultures of the classroom and the school community. In international schools, as Ferguson acknowledged in her post, “What kind of global citizens are teachers creating?” (25 November 2013), the nature of what global citizenship is is “arbitrary” - individual schools decide how to address citizenship and how to teach it. One overarching form of citizenship that does need to be addressed however, is that of digital citizenship. Many international schools deliver lessons using technology, meaning learners are constantly operating in the digital realm, and are ‘out there’ in a global sense. A major focus then, has to be in transferring the idea of citizenship from face to face behaviours to screen to screen behaviours.

Technology in the classroom does open many doors and allows educators the opportunity to to transform the educational experiences of today’s school children. Blogs, for example, allow learners to create an online portfolio that documents success, progress and achievement. It provides them with an authentic audience, which is a great motivator in terms of language use, length and quality of of work produced. Classrooms can easily (and often for free) conduct video chats with classrooms in other countries, and projects can be conducted online, asynchronously across continents, allowing us to break down barriers and help learners see that we are more the same than we are different. Even if this kind of teaching doesn’t happen in every school yet, many learners’ social interactions do. Without doubt, at least some form of our learners’ future jobs will be conducted digitally, meaning all educators have a responsibility to address digital citizenship. Navigating this new landscape can be daunting however, particularly when international schools are free to decide on their own citizenship content. A useful place to start is Common Sense Media, who offer a free Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum. Teachers can choose lessons for different age groups across a variety of topics including ‘Cyberbullying’, ‘Internet Safety’, and ‘Information Literacy’. They also offer professional development and certification for Digital Citizenship Educators, to help teachers gain confidence in skills in delivering these essential elements.

Today’s learners are considered ‘digital natives’, those who have grown in the digital world; compare this to the idea of ‘digital immigrants’, those of us who have made the transition into technology but don’t alway feel ‘at home’ there. Erroneously, because theses ‘natives’ are more ‘tech-savvy’ than older generations, Millennials (Strauss and Howe, 2013) can appear more knowledgeable and fluent in digital realms than those who teach them. Couple this with the fact that learners today have access to almost unlimited information, are online almost constantly, and are Internet contributors, the assumption is that they must be competent in terms of netiquette. Whilst Generation M are able to 'use' the Internet, they are in fact, ”definitely not information literate when it comes to scholarly communication” (Dawson & Campbell, 2009, p. 33). Whilst this notion seems incongruous, anyone involved with education and technology knows that in reality, learners are often not making great choices - even in social realms.

One problem is the very fact that they have only experienced technology in terms of leisure and social pursuits, and the change from using technology and the Internet as a social tool to one for educational purposes is a switch that can cause some teething problems. They make ill-informed choices about what to post in terms of content and language, and are not able to search efficiently; they never evaluate their sources, ‘cut and past’ occurs regularly, without any real understanding of why this is unacceptable, and they rarely, if ever, give proper credit. Educators need to address the fact that searching has become synonymous with "Google" to a generation who do not look beyond the first few hits the ubiquitous search engine returns. Even more, they seem lacking in media literacy skills that would allow them to effectively analyse and 'read' the media constructs and variety of texts they are presented with on a daily basis.

The Common Sense Media Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum goes a long way in addressing issues surrounding ethical online behaviours, and teaches important skills that will allow learners to operate successfully in the digital world both in and out of the classroom. If, as Shaw suggested in 1942, "England and America are two countries separated by the same language", this chasm can be also true of teaching today; global classrooms and non-global classrooms are two educational settings separated by the same communication systems. The world today requires us to have "a whole new set of communication literacies" (Davies and Lyndsay, 2012, p.92). As educators, we can help create globally aware citizens, but we need to explicitly teach this, and we need to provide plenty of opportunities to learn how to be open-minded digital citizens.

Common Sense Media Inc. (2013). Scope and Sequence, Grades 6-8. From Common Sense Media: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/scope-and-sequence#grades-6-8

Davis, V. A., & Lindsay, J. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds: Move to global collaboration one step at a Time. Victoria: Pearson.

Dawson, P. H., & Campbell, D. K. (2009). Driving Fast to Nowhere on the Information Highway. In B. V. (Eds.), Teaching Generation M: A handbook for librarians and educators. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Ferguson, C. (2013, November 25). Citizenship Hub. Retrieved from The Guardian: What kind of global citizens are teachers creating?

Strauss, W. & Howe, N. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York, NY: Vintage Original.

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