Reflections on the Digital Citizenship Summit

Dear Teachers,

Yesterday was a day I hope to remember for a long time. I had the extreme privilege of attending and speaking on a panel at the 2nd annual Digital Citizenship Summit and want to do some reflecting on that event while it’s all fresh in my mind.

The Summit took place at Twitter Headquarters and was moderated by CNN’s Kelly Wallace. This year’s summit coincided with Media Literacy Week and was co-sponsored by NAMLE. Before reading any farther, take a second to take the Media Literacy pledge (because face it, we could all do a little better about thinking critically about the things we view and post, right?):


So, back to the Summit. Over 50 speakers chimed in over the course of the day. Each of the featured speakers was introduced with their “6-Word Biography” which is an interesting thing to think about (the one I just came up with for myself is “Passionate advocate for #digcit and #diglit”). There were three student speakers – and of course they stole the show. If you want to follow some great kids on Twitter, ones who will com

-Olivia van Ledjte

pletely give you faith that we have reasons to hope for a better world, start with Curran Dee and Olivia van Ledtje. Timmy Sullivan was the other student speaker; he’s now a college student so doesn’t technically qualify as a “kid” anymore, but he’s got quite a social media presence.

The day was very well-organized, with groups of single speakers interspersed with panel discussions. I got to hear first-hand from many of the “Twitterati” of the #digcit world. Meeting in person people I’ve followed for a long time was definitely a high point. Diana Graber, Matt Murrie,  Sarah Thomas, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Nick Provenzano, and Kristin Ziemke are all as smart and engaging in person as their Twitter profiles led me to believe. And I finally got to meet the amazing energizer bunny of the #digcit community, Marialice Curran (my #digcit idol/heroine/superhero/etc). Meeting David Ryan Polgar and Kristen Mattson for the first time, and seeing Mike Ribble and Jason Ohler again after meeting them at ISTE last summer, was icing on the cake. There were participants from Canada, Spain, Ireland, and Australia. It seemed like a big dang deal, y’all.

There was no one in the room who was opposed to the idea of creating better digital citizens, of course, so there wasn’t anything close to a debate about the subject. But I was so pumped to hear from people who might have a different approach to the issue, and to participate in widening my own perspective on the subject.

A few ideas/highlights I hope to remember, in no particular order:

Curran Dee: Talk about digital citizenship the way you would talk about sportsmanship.
Olivia van Ledtje: Why aren’t there any girls featured on Shark Week?
Jason Ohler: Every technology both connects and disconnects us.
Nick Provenzano: “When I was a kid…” talk doesn’t do anything to further the cause of good digital citizenship.
Kristin Ziemke: Let’s move from a model of one teacher and 33 students to one that is 34 teachers and 34 learners.
Jocelyn Brewer: Think of digital media use in ways similar to your diet: Be sure to get protein (PLAY), Vitamin C (Creativity), and Vitamin E (Empathy)
Tiffany Shlain: People are hungry for a conversation about how to be a good person in the world, and what character means today.
Dr. Kristen Mattson: We need to give our kids opportunities to be in mentor relationships with teachers.
Sr. Nancy Usselman: Help children & teens to see their own human dignity and that of others.
Carrie Rogers Whitehead: Consider developmental issues when helping kids to understand issues of digital citizenship. This can be challenging because kids may encounter topics on the Internet that are beyond their developmental ability to grasp.
Dr. Michelle Drouin: Rather than thinking in terms of a digital footprint (which can be washed away) or a digital tattoo (which is truly indelible), consider thinking in terms of a digital billboard: it’s BIG, and it can be changed.
Kayla Delzer: Teach your students the proper use of technology and you set them up for a lifetime of success.

Additional takeaways:

Jason Ohler

Students MUST be a part of the conversation. As I’ve heard Jason Ohler say before, students will either game the system or frame the system. We heard from people who in the past made faulty assumptions about what students are actually doing with technology, without bothering to ask the students themselves. Once students are actively engaged in decisions about technology use, they are much more likely to monitor themselves and to rise to being the kinds of digital citizens we all hope for.

Focusing on positive uses of social media and the Internet is far superior and leads to better results than blocking use or using fear/scare tactics.

-Timmy Sullivan

We heard this from repeatedly from all participants, who included educators, policy makers, an actress and a PR specialist. All agree that shining a light on the positive aspects of social media are far more effective in developing good digital citizenship habits. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend that negativity doesn’t exist, because of course it does – but continually demonstrating the positive uses of social media normalizes that kind of use.

Mentoring students into positive digital citizenship habits should be a priority for all teachers. It seems rather obvious, but you can’t teach kids how to behave on social media without using social media to teach kids how to behave on it. Doing “analog Twitter walls” with sticky notes on the walls of your classroom might give kids a little bit of practice in the art before going live, but they don’t get the full impact of the global audience when their tweets stay inside their own classroom. Teachers are depriving their kids of interacting with classrooms around the world when they don’t actively seek out ways for their students to become connected.

Take advantage of your classroom’s social media use as an opportunity to teach and involve parents in the digital citizenship conversation. Parents often don’t understand social media or know how it can be used for educational purposes, and they may be leery of letting their students use it. However, once you communicate to parents what their students will be learning and how you will be actively monitoring and coaching its use, it’s a pretty sure bet they will be grateful for the support in teaching their kids how to be online safely & appropriately.

A few things I hope to see in the future:

I’d like to get a better “elevator speech” for the answer to the question, “What is digital citizenship?” Yes, it’s the safe, savvy, and ethical use of ICT and the Internet. Yes, it’s the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use. Yes, it involves the nine elements originally identified by Mike Ribble. But when my taxi driver asked about the conference I was attending, I didn’t feel like I adequately conveyed the full meaning of the concept. Thoughts on what we can do with this elusive mouthful?

I really hope to expand the conversation about digital equity and how equity issues relate to and affect digital citizenship. If students don’t have access, they can’t be fully participating digital citizens. It’s a civil rights issue, and we need to carefully consider what it means to any population to not have the same levels of access as other groups. If we truly believe in equity – digital or otherwise – as a fundamental right, then we need to act accordingly and intentionally.

With a few exceptions, the crowd was overwhelmingly upper middle class and white. I would like to see proactive efforts to include more people of color in the #digcit conversation. And while we’re at it, let’s bring the LGBT voice, the differing-abilities voice, the lower socioeconomic voice (see above) and the voices of other potentially disenfranchised groups to the conversation, too. Citizenship involves democratizing opportunity, so if we are who we say we are, let’s save a chair at the table for everyone. I’d also like to see more students and more parents attend.


It would be great to have time for participants to create some kind of action plan: “Based on this new knowledge, the thing I’m going to do differently starting Monday morning is…” It was a jam-packed day, but adding in a little time at the end for reflection and planning might help to solidify concepts and resolve.

Next year, the Summit will be held in Utah, and October should be a beautiful time to visit there. The number of stakeholders involved in discussions about digital citizenship seems to be growing exponentially, and it’s exciting to think about how big next year’s Summit might be. Hopefully I’ll still be a part of the conversation. What are you doing for citizenship – digital and otherwise – today? And what’s YOUR 6-word biography? I’d love to hear.






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