Becoming a Digital Citizen

My Grade 6 students have been learning about Canadian Citizenship.  They have examined the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees opportunities and protects the rights of all Canadians.  They have learned about the responsibilities of citizenship, such as obeying laws, demonstrating respect towards others, and participating in the democratic process.

This week, I began a graduate course on Digital Citizenship, which has many similarities to Canadian Citizenship.  Citizens in the digital world are provided with opportunities and freedoms, and must also demonstrate responsible behaviors.  Hollandsworth et al make a similar comparison, noting how “…digital citizens have the same basic rights: to privacy, free speech, and creative work rights, ” as American Citizens. (2011).  But digital citizenship differs in the fact that there is no single charter to outline all of the rights and responsibilities for online citizenship.  The ever-changing nature of technology would seem to make it nearly impossible to create such a charter.  But if we tried, what would it include? Ribble’s Nine Elements offers a list of possibilities.

For individuals not born in Canada, the requirements to become a citizen include such things as being at least 18 years of age, having lived here for at least 3 years, and having sufficient knowledge of Canada to pass a test.   There are no such criteria required to become a citizen of the digital world.  Like a birthright, simply having access to the digital world makes you a digital citizen.  But if we were to develop a list of requirements for digital citizenship, what criteria would be deemed essential? Skills with multiple literacies and critical thinking would no doubt be included.

But the biggest question may be around how schools and communities can work together to make digital citizenship happen.  As a digital citizen participating in an online learning environment, perhaps I may find some answers!



Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., & Donovan, J. (2011). Digital Citizenship in K-12: It Takes a Village. Techtrends: Linking Research And Practice To Improve Learning, 55(4), 37-47.

Pacino, M. A., & Noftle, J. T. (2011). New Literacies for Global, Digital Learners. International Journal Of Learning, 18(1), 477-485. 

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5 Responses to Becoming a Digital Citizen

  1. Your comparison between citizenship in the digital world and Canadian citizenship is very interesting. I appreciate the similarities that you underlined. In both cases, citizens are offered access to certain resources. However, I struggle at seeing how digital citizens must “demonstrate responsible behaviors.” In fact, there are entire digital communities (e.g. 4Chan, Anonymous, certain online commerce sites) that are very supportive of behaviour that are unacceptable in Canadian society. While Canadian citizens can appeal to the judicial system to enforce the Charter of Rights (if I understand correctly), there are no enforceable rights online. This is why good behaviour becomes an important choice. Perhaps it is also why cyber-bullying is so difficult to regulate. In my experience, online communities tend to self-regulate, by enforcing their norms on newcomers, or withering if behaviour drives away participants. Would you agree that what is acceptable behaviour offline is generally also acceptable behaviour online? Are there behaviours that could take place online that have no equivalent offline and should be taught separately?

  2. kelasher says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you for your reply. I do see your point about how digital citizens do not necessarily have to demonstrate responsible behaviours. Perhaps it is more a matter of demonstrating behaviours that adhere to the laws of our society. Fraud, solicitation, and even harassment occurring in online environments are equally as punishable by law as when they occur in offline environments. As you note, however, behaviours online can be difficult to regulate and monitor.
    Based on my own, admittedly limited online experiences, I do think that what is acceptable behaviour offline is generally acceptable behaviour online. There are certain nuances in online communication that do differ from face to face interactions. For example, a carelessly crafted email message or tweet can have an unintended impact that may not have occurred in a phone call or face-to-face conversation. I also think that drawing comparisons between offline and online behaviours should be an integral part of any instructional approaches to teaching digital citizenship.

  3. kpunit says:

    Hi Kim,
    Another interesting blog post!
    I liked the comparison that you have made and pointed out that there are criterion that need to be fulfilled to become a Canadian but there is no criterion or obligation needed to become a digital citizen. Perhaps this is why sometimes it is simple to be irresponsible for things that come easy in life.
    I think the task starts at the fundamental level. Teachers and parents are the first line of action that can influence what digital citizenship really entails. More than any other skill, ‘good’ digital citizenship must be modeled. Only then the distributed leadership model as explained by Ohler (2011) can make better sense and have added advantages. Through the reading this week, I have learned that digital citizenship means much more than digital rights, laws, responsibilities but respect for others as our influence becomes more and more global. At the beginning of every school year I used a banner in my classroom that said “Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself”. As I read and try to learn more about digital citizenship this wording sounds much more powerful.
    Ohler, J. (2011). Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 48(1), 25-27.

  4. Skye says:

    Hi Kim! What a fascinating way to compare Digital Citizenry with Canadian Citizenry! It made me think beyond our borders and into the global community! When we define DC from a Canadian perspective we neglect to acknowledge that countries around the world may have a very different idea of what DC should include or exclude. What “freedom of speech” or “freedom of expression” means to us may be very different to what other countries deem acceptable. One might believe they are just giving an honest opinion when another might believe they are infringing on the rights of another by stating that opinion. It begins to encompass race, religions, genders, etc. So where do we draw the lines? I can’t help but think of all the interactive gaming that goes on where individuals go around shooting each other… This is not acceptable to do in the real world but we are allowing it to go on in the cyber world. Why is this okay? Addictions are a major concern in the real world but how do we deal with digital addiction? Is it as much of a concern? Why/why not?

    • kelasher says:

      Your comments raise some great food for thought! Digital addictions, games that glorify theft and murder – how can we begin to teach digital citizenship when there does seem to be this double standard for behaviours that are acceptable in one realm but not in another? The discrepancy between cultural norms surely must cause conflict in situations where individuals from different countries come together in online environments. My initial understandings about Digital Citizenship seem to be only the tip of the iceberg!

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