Digital CITIZENship

The digital world has broken down many walls (also classroom walls), built many bridges and has connected us like never before. The digital world is truly a global community, where we can connect, communicate, collaborate and create without the constraints of time and place.

image in the public domain, downloaded from pixabay

To be a citizen, is to be a native or naturalised inhabitant of a particular place or community, entitled to certain privileges. Since ancient times, being a citizen has meant to be virtuous and engaged. If we want to call ourselves digital citizen – of the native or visitor or resident kind – we must be prepared to take on the responsibilities along with the rights and opportunities.

I learnt from Jason Ohler when he looks at community and citizenship historically, and then applies the basic principles to digital communities and digital citizenship. Here is his reasoning:

  • “Citizenship requires individual ‘virtuous’ behaviour”
  • “Citizenship requires balancing personal empowerment and community well-being”
  • “Citizenship requires education (Virtuous behaviour is taught, not inherited)
  • “Citizenship requires participation”
  • “Citizenship is constantly evolving, and thus requires our ongoing debate”
  • “Citizenship must be inclusive”
  • “Citizenship is the result of media evolution”
  • “Citizenship is tied to community”

From: Digital Community, Digital Citizen (Ohler, 2010, pp. 33-35).

Ohler reasons that digital citizenship is all about understanding opportunities and responsibilities. He points out that digital communities differ from historical communities in that people join by choice, rather than geographic default. They join communities out of needs, curiosity and common interest.

I also learnt from Howard Rheingold, I also don’t believe that digital natives that are born with digital literacy and media literacy skills just because of the age they were born, reaching for iPads. I also do not believe that people are born good citizens. Rheingold (2010) sees participation as one of the five social media literacies. He links participation with citizenship: “When you participate, you become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer”. Or, as Putnum (2000) put it: “Citizenship is not a spectator sport” (p. 342).

The primary reason for the existence of schools is to educate young people to be productive, positive citizens. This is also true of being digital citizens. Ribble (2007) reasoned that digital citizenship instruction should include development awareness of social and political issues, not only learning correct behaviour in digital environments.

From the Partnership for 21st century skills’ document Reimagining Citizenship for the 21st Century I learnt:

Citizenship today means more than understanding the roles of government and voting in elections. It means making sense of local, national, and global events, trends and information, and acting safely, responsibly and ethically in online forums. Citizenship requires a wide range of knowledge, 21st century skills and experiences for effective and productive participation in the democratic process, community life, education and workplaces (p. 5).

They define a 21ST CENTURY CITIZEN as:

  • Informed, engaged and active
  • Literate in civics
  • Proficient in core academic subjects and interdisciplinary knowledge, such
    environmental literacy; financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy; and health literacy
  • Empowered with global competencies and 21st century skills
  • Capable of participating safely, intelligently, productively and responsibly in the
    digital world

I learnt from Lindsay, Crockett and Churches, that we need to develop global digital citizens: they reason that because technology has eliminated many boundaries to communication and collaboration, we can and must help students develop a sense of personal – and global –  responsibility and accountability (Lindsay, 2016, p. 22; Crockett & Churches, 2018, p. 24).


I have learnt that the CITIZEN in digital CITIZENship must be our focus as teachers, if we are to successfully prepare our students for the 21st century.


Crockett, L., & Churches, A. (2018). Growing global digital citizens: Better practices that build better learners. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Lindsay, J. (2016). The global educator: Leveraging technology for collaborative learning & teaching. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Ohler, J. B. (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Putnam, R. D. (2007). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community (Nachdr. ed.). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Reimagining citizenship for the 21st century: A call to action for policymakers and educators (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Comp.) [Pamphlet]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and other 21st-century social media literacies. EDUCAUSE Review, 45(5), 14-24. Retrieved from

Ribble, M., & Bailey, G. D. (2007). Digital citizenship in schools. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education.






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