Nurturing the Mindful Digital Citizen

johntspencer-twitter-quote-DC John Spencer posed a wonderful topic for #rechat saturday morning (feb 23rd).  The discussion lead to whether or not we should distinguish between digital citizenship and everyday run-of-the-mill citizenship.  Most agreed that there really wasn’t much of a difference between the two other than WHERE citizenship happens.  What became more difficult was defining citizenship. John Spencer tried to get participants to go beyond the simple “be nice to each other” definition that frequents citizenship lessons.  He believes that good citizenship is not about “playing nice” but instead encompasses ethics, critical thinking skills, and autonomy.


I would like to go a step further with his definition and say that being a good citizen requires a state of constant mindfulness.  Teenagers have a hard time stepping out of their own first-person point of view (to make a video game analogy).  They aren’t equipped with a natural ability to step outside of themselves to view how their actions affect other people.  This takes time to develop and requires a nurturing environment.  Good citizens acknowledge diversity, engage in honest inquiry, act on ethical decisions, and make mindful contributions to society.   We don’t want to create students who parrot the actions/reactions of others (whether it be kindness or malevolence).  We want students to be able to make their own decisions and be conscious of how their decisions affect them as well as others.  We do want them to act out of kindness, but not because social norms tell them to do so, but because they understand the positive effects of benevolence.

So, how does this translate to digital citizenship?  We want students to be able to question content placed on the internet.  We don’t want them to accept information at face value.  We want them to understand that information on the internet has permanence and multiplicity.  We want them to learn to dissect, sift and sort through information to help them expand their vocabulary, broaden their viewpoints, and develop their own values.  We want students to understand the value in using information to explore and support their own ideas, but we also want them to respect the effort that went into making that content readily available to them.  Most importantly, we want them to be able to add meaningful content to the world-wide web.

As an English teacher, it becomes increasingly difficult to get my students to understand plagiarism and why I believe that it is wrong.  Plagiarism is so rampant on the internet that it is difficult for my students to do the right thing when it comes to respecting copyright.  Intentional copyright infringement is not only profuse on the internet, but teachers frequently break copyright law in the name of “fair use”.  Teachers seem to misunderstand or are not educated on true fair use guidelines as it applies to educators.  Even if we are creating content for educational use, we should model appropriate citations on worksheets, PowerPoint/Keynote Presentations, and handouts.  I don’t think teachers realize the true legal repercussions of plagiarizing and are putting students in jeopardy for ignoring the opportunity to teach students about TRUE fair use and creative commons licenses.  For those of you unsure of what fair use for educators truly means, check out the copyright guidelines from the United States Copyright office.  This PDF File presents the law specifically as it relates to teachers and librarians.  If you want something a bit easier to read, try this chart from the Know Your Rights brochure disseminated by the Association of Research Libraries.  Most importantly, teachers should continually look for content within the creative commons (you may also get creative commons licensed materials from Global Grid For Learning).  Websites like Wikipedia, Google, Flickr all curate creative commons content that is searchable.  Teachers who create their own content should consider sharing this content with

Our students are frail sponges absorbing the world around them.  If we want our students to become conscious, mindful digital citizens, teachers must also be mindful digital citizens aware of the digital footprints they leave for students to follow.  To take a quote from Shakespeare:

Then let them use us well: else let them know,

The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

[Emilia’s monologue, Othello, act IV scene iii]