Rethinking how educators teach digital citizenship


As we close out ISTE’s Digital Citizenship Week, I wanted to pose this question: How can educators shape the digital citizenship conversation to include more than just a long list of rules and student “don’ts”?

Kristen Mattson’s new book, “Digital Citizenship in Action,” explores ways that educators can move past a view of digital citizenship education that has historically focused on danger and risk.

Even the most positive of current approaches to digital citizenship often focus too much attention on personal responsibility or personal gain. “Being a good person” is only part of what it means to be a citizen.

Mattson, a high school library media center director in Aurora, Illinois, suggests that there is more involved in true citizenship than merely having a portfolio that might impress colleges or future employers. True citizenship also involves relationships and responsibilities. So, digital citizenship education, Mattson writes, needs to evolve to focus on helping students become participating, contributing members of digital communities.

Mattson’s knowledge and ideas on this topic stem from work she’s done in the past, including her dissertation, “Moving Beyond Personal Responsibility: A Critical Discourse Analysis,” which was awarded the American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) John Laska Distinguished Dissertation Award in curriculum. During her research for the dissertation, Mattson analyzed how “digital citizenship education” is typically conceptualized.

Many packaged digital citizenship curricula, for example, use a deficit model, assuming that teenagers inherently approach technology use with intention to do harm.

In “Digital Citizenship in Action,” Mattson expands on her dissertation research and debunks the common perception that students “are up to no good” on their devices. She demonstrates that, with the proper guidance and scaffolding from adults, students can contribute rich ideas to online spaces and can make a real difference in their communities — in other words, to be fully contributing citizens.

Mattson encourages readers to think of digital citizenship as more than a list of “don’ts” or a series of conversations about personal responsibility.

The book also identifies easy ways to make small changes in a given curriculum and provides examples of activities that educators can try with their students. She invites educators to be co-learners with their students as they explore digital communities together.

The book is geared toward those who work with grades 6-12, due to Mattson’s background and research with middle- and high-school aged students. However, many of the suggested activities and strategies can be easily modified for younger grades.

Each chapter includes a comparison of traditional and participatory approaches to digital citizenship, thought-provoking questions, real-life examples of educators who are creating participatory opportunities for their students, suggested activities and encouragement and advice to help you get started with implementing the ideas and concepts.

Mattson encourages educators to move beyond their own comfort zones around internet and device usage, offering a variety of examples and scenarios in her book.

“Digital citizenship curricula,” she writes, “must strive to show students possibilities over problems, opportunities over risks and community successes over personal gain.”

The book invites us to explore the many ways that we can create involved and proactive digital citizens who are advocates for social justice and equity. Mattson’s clear examples and informal tone urge readers to learn alongside their students about how to best engage in digital communities.

In Mattson’s conclusion, she asserts that “digital citizenship education should equip students with the skills and competencies to be intelligent consumers, meaningful contributors and thoughtful collaborators in online spaces.”

If all educators were to take this advice to heart and apply the principles and examples that she has so ably laid out, the future landscape of digital spaces is likely to be much more democratic, civilized and constructive.

Mattson’s book is published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and is available for purchase.

Nancy Watson is a district-level Instructional Technology
Specialist in Plano, Texas, and is currently serving as co-chair of ISTE’s Digital
Citizenship PLN.