A digital what…?

Earlier this week I was approached and asked to run a short session on Digital Citizenship as part of a staff professional development day.  My first inclination was to run for cover! Still, I allowed myself to be talked in to it and was then faced with the challenge of defining what a digital citizen was…..http://internetsavvy.wikispaces.com/

Of course there are lots of definitions out there – one I liked came from here:

Digital citizenship is the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.

But that didn’t seem to be quite the full picture and it didn’t help me much when I was looking for a framework to explain the ideas to a group of people for whom even using Moodle (my institution’s LMS of choice) could be a step too far into the digital world.

A light bulb came on when it occurred to me that I would have much less of a problem in discussing what ‘citizenship’ was – so what was it about the ‘digital’ word that made such a difference?  That lead me to re-visit my own ideas around digital natives/immigrants and the improved concept of digital visitors/residents that has been suggested as an alternative.

In trying to imagine different categories of behaviour that might be of value in assisting understanding of the digital space, I came up with four:

  • Tourist  – a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure
  • Visitor – a person who visits, for reasons of friendship, business, duty, travel… (where visit is defined as a stay with (a person or family) or at (a place) for a short time)
  • Resident – a person who lives somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis.
  • Citizen – a person recognised under the custom or law of a state that bestows on that person the rights and the duties of citizenship. (That may include the right to vote, work and live in the country, the right to return to the country, the right to own real estate, legal protections against the country’s government, and protection through the military or diplomacy. A citizen may also be subject to certain duties, such as a duty to follow the country’s law, to pay taxes, or to serve in the military.)

Although it may be difficult to define all the subtle differences between these terms, I believe instinctively we have an understanding of them.

To me, a tourist is a superficial visitor to a place – someone who from within a fairly safe bubble can observe, get a taste for a place without needing to get to grips with any underlying issues and then leave.

A visitor on the other hand is someone who either has a specific purpose in being in a place or has some personal connection to it.  Although the stay may also be fairly short, the visitor may well have the chance to step beyond the confines of the bubble for a while to view the place through the eyes of those who have a more permanent connection.

A resident of course is someone who lives in the place and enjoys many of its benefits as well as being aware of underlying issues, tensions or concerns.  Many residents will have a rich and varied experience within the community and make their own contribution to its success.

A citizen is generally also a resident but one who not only contributes to their ‘place’ but also carries a number of responsibilities, such as voting, military service, jury duty etc.. for its success. In return, the citizen can expect protection of their human rights.

So how does this transfer to the digital space – in fact does it provide a meaningful framework?

  • Digital tourist  – a person who is ‘visiting’ the digital space for pleasure, perhaps an occasional user of Facebook, or a news site.
  • Digital visitor – a person who visits the digital space primarily to connect with ‘real-life’ friends or who is required to visit for business (even though they may prefer not to!) In general it is one who views the digital space as a collection of tools. Such a person may well be aware that there are issues but not feel confident or knowledgeable enough to discuss them.
  • Digital resident –  a person who views the digital space as primarily a social community of which they are a part.  Someone who contributes to the social space with people who may or may not be ‘real life’ friends and treats the digital world as an extension of their physical world. Such a person see the tools merely as a means to an end and will generally experiment with new ones.  They are likely to be aware of many of the issues related to the digital space but not feel they have a role in addressing them.
  • Digital citizen – a digital resident who is aware of issues and concerns of importance to the digital community but who also takes on certain responsibilities within it.  This could be moderating a public forum, an editor of wikipedia or wikieducator, being active in digital pressure groups or educating others about them.

Interesting questions for me are: What kind of ‘digital’ are you? What kind of ‘digital’ would you like to be?

As Michael Feldstein notes , what is important:

 is the link between your decision to be either a resident or a visitor and your ideology of education.

dewey-quote1and as he goes on to suggest:

If you believe that education is private affair between you, your books, and your professor, then you’re not likely to see the value of Facebook, Twitter… or some other social networking platform in furthering your education….It seems to me there’s a reason why there’s a high degree of overlap between people who are attracted to social networking, PLE’s and the like, and people who are interested in supplanting traditional pedagogies and institutions with more self-directed networked learning… I used to think that blogging, Twitter, and Facebook were all idiotic, narcissistic wastes of time….I came to realize how the utility of the tool is not so much in what it enables me to do but in how it changes the way I want to be. I learned new behaviors and habits that I found to be productive and fulfilling…I think it’s no surprise that people who are digital residents also tend to see technology as a catalyst of educational reform.

Do these definitions make any kind of sense for you? Do they help us to understand the relationship between our ‘real’ and our ‘digital’ lives? I would love your comments to help me refine my understanding and to assist in providing useful and meaningful definitions.

Finally, I would like to ask: What kind of ‘digital’ do you think we each need to be to be an effective 21st century educator?


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