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Digital Citizenship as a Bridge to Contemporary Teaching and Learning

By Matt Harris
Digital Citizenship as a Bridge to Contemporary Teaching and Learning

I have vivid memories of my educator training when we talked about the antiquated educational approach of putting students in rows to acculturate and prepare them as future factory workers. It was used as a counter example to the needs of good teaching practice in the 21st century. Of course, we never talked about the reality of contemporary society and the fact that our current pedagogic approaches have flaws equal to that of the factory-style classroom.
In both primary and secondary school, we teach a series of (often) discrete content areas that may or may not have applicability or value to students’ personal lives, passions, or future careers. Few really know whether knowledge about cellular biology or the quadratic formula will be useful to students as they move on to university or into the workforce. Yet, we still teach every subject as we did 100 years ago.
The real problem lies not in the applicability of knowledge, but in the separation of content areas and the resulting pedagogic weakness. I find it to be the norm that schools separate their faculties by department and content area rather than looking for cross-disciplinary projects to connect learning across the curriculum. A student studying writing mechanics will not have her skills (intentionally) reinforced in a class devoted to Geography or Math or Science. Further, our current teaching and learning model focuses so much on knowledge and so little on skill. We most often teach students the “what,” leaving the “how” and the “why” to the back burner.
Further, look at our assessments. We quiz, mark, and evaluate the knowledge students attain, not the process by which they learn or how they accomplish tasks. And as the old adage goes, “You assess what you value.” What does that say about what education thinks is important?
Now, let’s talk about the realities that await our students outside the classroom door. They are not expected to be experts or stewards of retained knowledge. Their success will not be gauged on discrete or summative assessments. They will not be asked to perform, instead being assessed on process in a formative nature. Their work and personal lives will be governed by communication, information literacy, creativity, task analysis, and collaboration.
This encompasses a subset of what are known as 21st Century Skills. These skills, and the ability to develop additional ones, are what researchers have been telling us are the important foci of education for student success in contemporary education.
I suggest that the real goal for our schools should be skills and knowledge taught as a holistic approach to living and learning.
Luckily, we live in a time when we have a tool to bridge our recent past with the needs of
contemporary teaching and learning: Digital Citizenship. Digital Citizenship comprises the skills, attitudes, and basic knowledge students need to acquire in order to be safe, effective, and productive users of the Internet for work and life.
Many people see it as a fancy way to talk about Internet Safety, but it is so much more. The tenets of Digital Citizenship include safety, information literacy, online persona, creativity, communication, commerce, and collaboration. Sound familiar? These are the skills students need in order to be productive. (Note: There are several definitions of Digital Citizenship. None are definitive. Mine is a mash-up of the current thinking.)
What makes Digital Citizenship so valuable is that it can be taught and assessed in schools. There are curricula, lesson plans, pedagogic frameworks, and standards-based rubrics for assessment on every area of Digital Citizenship. Which means we can treat it like we would Drama, Physics, or the Humanities and include it on the same report card.
However, Digital Citizenship is not merely a standalone subject. Much like reading for comprehension or expository writing, Digital Citizenship is a subject area that transcends all content areas. It can be taught as an integrated part of other subject areas or as an add-on lesson to any instructional unit.
As a connector of content areas that is assessable, as well as a set of real-world skills students will need and use, Digital Citizenship constitutes an ideal bridge thanks to which educators can move their practice into contemporary times. This allows us to draw upon the knowledge-based successes of 20th-century teaching and learning while affording students a strong skills foundation they can use to excel in their current and future realities.
For more information on Digital Citizenship, check out:
Common Sense Media -
Cybersmart -

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