Little Green Librarian

Blogging my way through a Masters in Teacher Librarianship at CSU!

No man is an island: A critical reflection


Image of a person surrounded by social media icons with the quote, "No man is an island" written below.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
John Donne

So often when we think about digital citizenship, the focus is on online safety. The ‘a-ha’ moment for me during this subject, however, has been the discovery that digital citizenship is actually about belonging. It’s an idea as old as the hills – we are not alone. John Donne, a poet writing in the 16th and 17th centuries, expressed this concept in the immortal words, “No man is an island” (Donne, 1623, para.4). Now that the 21st century is well and truly upon us, our sense of belonging has expanded beyond Donne’s perceived connection to every man on the continent. We now can conceive of belonging in a global sense. This sense of belonging is facilitated, of course, by the vast array of digital tools at our fingertips.
Digital citizenship as belonging
In a previous blog post (Roach, 2016, May 1), I reflected on the idea of digital citizenship as belonging to a digital community and explored the behaviours that would best reflect that connection to community. Lindsay and Davis (2013, p99) suggest that it is the relationships that are formed with real people that are the focus of digital citizenship. Safety in the digital environment is a part of this, but it is only a part.
Teaching digital citizenship
But how does this translate into the classroom? Lindsay and Davis (2013, p102) advise that it is the duty of teachers to actively and explicitly teach children the skills and behaviours they need to build relationships and communicate effectively online. This could begin with teaching young children the skills needed to build face-to-face relationships, then relating this to the online environment, increasing in complexity as children grow. O’Brien (2008, p126) warns, however, that interaction in the digital environment is not identical to interaction in the physical world, so care must be taken to ensure children are prepared for the reality of what they will find.
Building a digital learning environment
Explicit teaching of the principles of digital citizenship equips children to interact positively in the online world. This digital world is an increasingly important facet of classrooms around the world. However, reflecting on my own context and reading the literature with this in mind has taught me much about the challenges of building an effective digital learning environment. Crook (2012, p64) laments that there is a disconnect between the realities of participatory digital culture outside the classroom and the microcosms that we create inside the classroom. Bridging this gap requires a seismic shift in teacher thinking.
Tools or function?
One trap that many teachers fall into is believing that access to a particular tool, whether that is a particular device or particular application, is the key to enriching learning. Fisher (2012) argues that this is not the case. Rather than selecting a tool then determining how you will use it, Fisher suggests that a better starting point is the skills and learning that we want to take place. So, while this subject prompted me to reflect on the value of digital tools, such as Symbaloo and Storify (Roach, 2016, May 14), I have learnt that the specific tools don’t matter as much as the richness of the learning experience I design that uses them.
Role of the teacher librarian
The library is well-placed to support teachers as they shift their thinking about digital learning environments and digital citizenship. The library can also be a model of the possibilities. In my own context, I will be seeking new ways to engage with students and teachers as we journey together toward a whole-school digital learning environment. The future is looking bright!

Donne, J. (1623). Meditation XVII. Retrieved from:
Fisher, C. (2010). Do new tools = new learning? [blog post]. Retrieved from:
Lindsay, J., & Davis, V. (2013). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds: Move to global collaboration one step at a time. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.
O’Brien, J. (2008). Are we preparing young people for a 21st-century citizenship with 20th-century thinking? A case for a virtual laboratory of democracy. Contemporary Issues in Technology & Teacher Education, 8(2), 125-157.
Roach, K. (2016, May 1). What is good digital citizenship? [blog post]. Retrieved from:
Roach, K. (2016, May 14). Re: Module 2.5: Content curation [online forum comment]. Retrieved from:

Image: Created by the author using Adobe Spark –

What is good digital citizenship?


Image of a girl using social media on a laptop.

Good citizenship, as a concept, is hard to define. Is it a combination of characteristics? A list of actions? A set of values? We know that to be a citizen is to be a recognised member of a country, but how do we define and measure what good citizenship is?

When we apply these musings to the concept of digital citizenship and what it means to be a good digital citizen, our questions are answered in different ways by different people and organisations. There is no agreed-upon definition, nor are there any globally accepted benchmarks to measure digital citizenship (Greenhow, 2010 , p24). So, where do we start?


To be a citizen is to be a recognised member of a country, so we can extrapolate that to be a digital citizen is to belong to a community. When we begin by acknowledging that the purpose of teaching students to become good digital citizens is to teach them how to belong to the community that exists online, we inevitably begin to think about what that might look like.

Behaving like we belong

If we belong to a community, what does that entail? There is no one way to be a community member, but the following traits might be part of the package:

  • Interact with respect and kindness. I belong to my local neighbourhood, so when I interact with my neighbours I try to be respectful and kind, both in the way I communicate and in my respect of their privacy. This same approach can be taken in the online community.
  • Think before sharing. There are many aspects about my life that I keep private from my neighbours. I also don’t tell neighbours information about other people that I don’t have permission to share. Sometimes sitting behind a computer screen makes us forget that we are communicating information to real people about real people. It is important to remember that what we do and don’t say matters.
  • Be an active community member. Students should be encouraged to contribute to the online community by creating and sharing content, as well as adding to the conversation about content created by others.
  • Give back. Sometimes it can be easy to be an anonymous consumer of online content, but this is not a community-oriented mindset. Use of creative commons licenses and social media encourage sharing.
  • Acknowledge others. Plagiarism is rife online, so it is little wonder that students pick up on this behaviour and copy it. Yet they are angry (justifiably) when others take their hard work without permission or acknowledgement. Students should be explicitly taught how to acknowledge sources of information so that they can correctly reference the ideas of others.
  • Obey the rules. Most students wouldn’t knowingly break laws in the real world, but they regularly break rules and laws online by taking what doesn’t belong to them and engaging in harassing behaviour. Students can be made aware of the law and best practice when interacting online, then encouraged to interact thoughtfully.
  • Use good manners. Pleases and thank yous are magic words everywhere, and they certainly enhance online communication!

Useful resources for teaching digital citizenship


Useful websites for teaching digital citizenship


Greenhow, C. (2010). New concept of citizenship for the digital age. Learning & Leading with Technology, 37(6), 24-25.


Image source: Social by ijmaki. Public domain.

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