Rethinking Student (Digital) Leadership and Digital Citizenship

In our increasingly digital and connected world, it is imperative that we teach our children to be responsible citizens–both online and face to face.  Online*, this means that they share appropriate stories and ideas with friends and family, give credit where credit is due, treat others with respect and report inappropriate behaviour.  All of these things contribute to having a positive digital online presence.  But while Digital Citizenship is about being a good citizen online Digital Leadership goes beyond this.  Here is the post in which I clarify this thinking.


When I first thought about this idea, defined here by George Couros , and then Sylvia Duckworth and I collaborated to visualized this idea, I looked at them as somewhat distinct from one another. Yet the more I meet some of these amazing student leaders who use technology to share learning, promote important causes, etc*… , and the more I see students engaged in some powerful connected learning, I recognize that perhaps it isn’t a linear list afterall.  This is what I’m now thinking (perhaps I’ll see if Sylvia has a better way to visualize this!).

Rethinking Digital Leadership

And perhaps Digital Citizenship envelops or circles the whole thing??

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Digital Citizenship really needs to come first ? When I consider of some of some of the fear-mongering lessons and messages we give students without a balanced positive slant,  I really believe that these lessons should  (or need to) coincide with opportunities for digital leadership rather than be separated from them. We are kind of doing it wrong if we have a Digital Citizenship continuum in isolation from building in opportunities to learn in the space via connected experiences.  Check out this post by Andrew Campbell which also reinforces this idea.

I am thinking of this exciting project,  initiated by Calliope (founders Jennifer Williams & Fran Siracusa) of which I am honoured to be a part.

Inspire Passion via Online Collaboration

Students are inspired by Kharishma Baghani, a young Kenyan student who invented an inexpensive water filtration system and connect with her via Google Hangouts on Air (Stay tuned for lots more opportunities to do this live). Here is the GHOA with St. Cecilia School in Florida:

Students contribute their ideas to the collaborative Padlet.

Both of these activities provide opportunities for students to learn about ethical and courteous ways to communicate online (which should be an extension of how to cooperate and communicate face to face in the classroom).  Also, an explicit connection can be made to show how effectively Karishma is marketing the project, Matone de Chiwit (Drops of Life), and how well she is using social media Twitter and Facebook to promote awareness about her cause.

Teach Digital Citizenship with a Call to Action

As students learn more about this topic (through research), get to know and be inspired by Karishma, they are then encouraged to brainstorm ways in which they can use social media, and their own creativity to share their learning and promote awareness about water scarcity.

They will CREATE posters, podcasts, public service announcements, etc… And in this creation and sharing, there is the opportunity to talk about creation and credit of sources, of ways to communicate a message powerfully, of what information is private, how a message might be misconstrued on social media, how to use tone and persuasive techniques effectively. Any tool that is used for creation or sharing can be explicitly talked about (privacy settings, terms of use, audience, etc…) These lessons become authentic and in-the moment.

If students are under 13, the ability to share via a class Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account can provide a powerful opportunity to recognize the power social media holds, while ensuring that students are not only in a guided environment, but that you are not breaching terms of service age restrictions.  If students are over 13, they should be using their own names and developing their own online presence, with continued guidance and support from the teacher.

AND when communicating this process with parents, they will be able to see their children inspired to help others and using social media ethically and responsibly to do this!

This is my current thinking.

You may argue that this is what a student leader (remove digital) looks like and I would say, absolutely EXCEPT today any leader needs to know how to make use of the digital realm.  You may also consider that not every student needs to or has to feel like they need to change the world, as Dean Shareski suggests here.  I would say that students should be given lots and varied opportunities to be inspired by others and to know that they can if they choose to.

What am I missing?  I would LOVE to have you challenge my thinking or present alternative points of view as I continue to flesh out my ideas about this important topic!

And of course, if you are interested in joining the Our Blue Earth project, please contact me, Fran Siracusa, or Jennifer Williams!

*The italicized statements were added after reading Stepan’s comment below.


8 thoughts on “Rethinking Student (Digital) Leadership and Digital Citizenship

  1. Stepan Pruchnicky (@stepanpruch)

    Hey Jen,

    Thanks for pushing this post to me. I’ve read it (as of now) four times.

    Words like “digital” and “connected” always worry me. It’s not words themselves, but more so the words that we attach them to.

    For instance “digital citizenship”. Is that different from citizenship? Is it ok to be a jerk in face to face interactions but a nice guy online? Likewise leadership… when it’s digital, how is it different when it’s digital?

    Both qualifiers (digital and connected) seem to compartmentalize our humanity and identity. That doesn’t sit well with me.

    Maybe it’s better to help students be good people (I know that sounds trite… but it’s where I’m at) then talk about different ways that we can interact with others to share and amplify our very human voices and ideas.

    … and those are the kinds of “digital” and “connected” leaders that I really want to follow.

    1. Post author

      Hi Stepan,
      Thanks very much for taking the time to read (and re-read) my post! I will have to go back to my post and how I worded that…because I completely agree with you. I am in no way advocating that we compartmentalize our humanity as you so articulately suggest. But having said that, I wonder if we don’t spend enough time considering the online part (YET…). We explicitly teach cooperation, what it means to be a good friend, etc…in isolation, when shouldn’t we be engaging in conversations about what that looks like in both spaces? So until we do that, with greater frequency, I wonder if keeping the terms digital and connected or at least putting them in brackets for now is the way ensure that educators consider this parallel reality as well? AND I also think that teaching digital citizenship in isolation is not the way to go either. As a mom, I feel that I spend lots of time helping my girls navigate their friendships and face to face interactions as well as their online ones when they need it; but that is me. I understand how lots of these spaces work, and we are from a white middle-class family and we have lots of dinner conversations about about empathy, perspective taking, current events, etc…I don’t think we can assume that children are getting that same message. So in a global project, lots of offline instruction, cooperation, planning, etc…would happen but then students have the opportunity to engage in what this also looks like online? Does any of that make sense?

      Alec Couros recently shared this article with me: which I think you might find interesting. I will need to read it a few more times, but I think the idea is that the spaces in which we inhabit online are an “augmented reality” and thus can’t be considered separately. I hoping to delve into this idea and its implications on the topic of student (digital) leadership further.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and pushing me to think about this some more! I really appreciate it!
      🙂 Jen

      1. Post author

        Stepan, Rereading my post I can see why you would think I’m just advocating for digital more than face to face. Thanks for bringing that to light!

      2. Chewie

        I share Stepan’s concerns as well. Thanks for your thoughtful reply to his comment. I like what you said about examples and using them to explain how, say, cooperation work in face to face and online.

        I just came across your blog and am eager to read more of your posts. Cheers!

  2. adunsiger

    Jen, you’ve given me a lot to think about here. I think Stepan actually summed up many of my thoughts in his comment. As a Kindergarten teacher, I’ll admit that I’m actually struggling more with the digital realm than I thought that I would be. With students that are just starting to learn how to interact positively with each other, I think that these face-to-face interactions are SO important, and I’ve actually been, I think, even more thoughtful/critical of my digital choices than in previous years. The children use almost all technology in the classroom with an adult, and often, for the purpose of sharing their work with their parents and/or the world through Instagram and/or Twitter. What I like now is that students will call us over asking to take a photograph or video to share work that makes them feel proud and/or happy. Is this what digital citizenship looks like in K: the recognition that we are thoughtful (or even critical) about what we share with a global audience? Thoughts? I’m still thinking this one through …


    1. Post author

      Hi Aviva, A few things stand out most to me in your comment: the fact that you are thoughtful and critical about not only how but when to use technology to share learning, and that students are a part of the decision-making process and guided by a caring adult. Students in your class are developing important skills that they will take with them for life. What does sharing look like? What does kindness look like? etc… I think you are doing it so well and the fact that you continually reflect on your own decisions (openly on your blog) is a testament to the fact that you do understand that pedagogical documentation and sharing via technology can be a very powerful communication tool. Having said that, have you engaged in a connection with another kindergarten class via Skype or Google Hangouts? Have you brought in an expert? Do you have peer buddies in the school (older students), and would there be a benefit to also having virtual buddies? If so, would you say that this experience served to enhance your students’ understanding of a curriculum idea? Did it detract in any way from the way students interact face to face or enhance it? Is now (April) a good time to engage in such connections because you have taught them the skills to interact online, or does this depend on the group? I guess what I’d love to know from your perspective the extent to which connecting students to causes, to each other, and to experts is something that should be done beginning in Kindergarten. There are many classes and teachers who don’t feel comfortable using technology to share learning. Do students who do not engage in this opportunity in school miss out on important lessons? Obviously I am thinking through all of this as well which is why I really appreciate your comments. Haven’t had my morning coffee, so not sure how much of this makes sense! 🙂

      1. adunsiger

        These are some great questions, Jen! I think that a lot depends on the students. Our class would currently really struggle with a Skype call. The amount of sitting and listening time (with a little less “doing”) would be a challenge, and while I think that it’s great for children to hear from experts (inside and outside of the classroom), when the activity itself becomes almost a management nightmare, I wonder if the students are saying that they’re not there yet. I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about what the experts and what others share about what’s possible, and how sometimes our realities change the focus, the approach, and/or even the success of an activity that we think/hope should work, but doesn’t. Maybe questions like these are ones without easy answers and/or even the same answer for everyone. My problem is not about a lack of comfort in using and/or sharing with the use of technology, but it is about when our wants don’t always correspond with student needs. If we’re looking at putting kids first (which I think that we all are), then maybe we have to sometimes take a step back from technology, even when we personally see the value in it. This can be hard to do. Couple this with the up-regulating nature of tech — something that I’ve noticed more and more this year — and I’m rethinking its use (sometimes) in the classroom (or maybe it’s just depending on the nature of the students in the classroom). Thanks for making me think more about this. I think that I have even more thinking to do!



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