With the unavoidable increase of technology in the classroom and seemingly never ending opportunities for PD that go along with it, digital citizenship has emerged as a bona fide buzz topic. Indeed, I think I have seen more content, lesson plans and 'tips' on how to teach digital citizenship than I ever encountered as a first year teacher trying to wrap my head around ways to teach citizenship and character formation to my grade 6 students. Here's the thing: citizenship and character formation (perhaps interchangeable, perhaps not, depending on your perspective) seem to come naturally, or at least a little more naturally, to many teachers. Why? Because the teachers are living in the 'real world' where we benefit from treating each other with respect and dignity - civility at the very least - and also realize that there are certain measures that need to be taken to ensure the safety of person and property. In the real world, being a person of character and a good citizen has a fairly close connection to building a positive image of yourself. Character building and citizenship education are also wonderful pieces of any bullying-prevention program (Safe Schools Action Teams should be taking notes!). As I said, the fact that teachers are living in this 'real world' makes educating students about this reality a little easier.
As someone who probably uses twitter too often and has to consciously MAKE myself disconnect, I find the tenets of digital citizenship to be nothing more than common sense - no more difficult to understand than, let's say, why we should lock our doors when we leave the house every morning: it's more than possible that nothing will happen, but it's also quite possible that someone will clean you out (to be fair, though, even just checking to see if a stranger's door is unlocked takes a lot of nerve). Yes, strong passwords, common sense in what you post, compassion in how you treat others and avoiding the multiple ways that you can create a negative online presence for yourself (and worse) all make perfect sense to me as someone who spends a lot of his time immersed in some form of digital communication or interaction. I can build these kinds of lessons into my day to day teaching rather easily (much like we feel that we can model good interpersonal relationships, manners, or perhaps even common sense) since it's just a part of who I am and what I do in my day to day life it comes naturally. However, I'm aware that the reality is many students will require explicit instruction and guidance in these areas (which makes perfect sense) but, perhaps even more importantly, many current teachers are still functioning without digital citizenship skills, since they simply don't need them to get through their day to day lives - I would suggest that this is why a clear distinction and ready-made lessons are necessary when it comes to addressing digital citizenship.
Prior to writing this, my thinking was that digital citizenship is just the evolution of citizenship. We live in a world that is increasingly connected, a world where technology is ubiquitous and geographically distances of thousands of miles don't mean all that much (well, you do have to be aware of time zones, but you can collaborate with someone in Switzerland on a project rather easily if you like). As a blogger for various websites, I collaborated with people all over the USA, and as an educator who is striving to learn from sources beyond his own backyard, I interact with people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds (not just educators) on twitter, regularly. As someone who is passionate about many social justice causes and concerns I sign digital petitions that originate from any number of countries around the world and donate to various causes, based nearly anywhere in the world, often from my smart phone and, again, on a regular basis. Managing all of these digital interactions with civility, decency and in a way that allows me to maintain a positive reputation and contribute to the world in a positive way requires good citizenship. Period. Digital citizenship is not something separate from plain old (new?) citizenship. Educators who already interact with the global community in the way that I've mentioned will have no problem understanding my point in all of this. For others, however, this blog might not serve much of a purpose. In that case, allow me to refer you to an excellent summary of what we need to explicitly teach with regards to digital citizenship, by Vicki Davis: What Your Students Really Need to Know About Digital Citizenship | Edutopia.
For Catholic educators, the Ottawa Catholic School Board has put together a great website that aims to support digital citizenship education for Catholic learners: OCSB Digital Citizenship
Also, Ontario educators might be particularly interested in the work done by the Ontario Software Acquisition Program Advisory Committee (OSAPAC), who have put together some excellent digital citizenship resources.
Finally, if you take the time to read Vicki Davis' blog, you'll notice that my "Digital Citizenship is Just Citizenship" title shares a philosophy with Anne Collier. While I came to my conclusion without Ms. Collier's help, I will give credit where it's due - this is the age of collaboration, after all, and that's what a good (digital) citizen would do.