8 Principles of the Enlightened Digital Citizen

Because of the high demand and interest in this article, I also created it in a downloaded and more polished PDF format. You can download that by clicking here.

With a growing number of K-12 schools moving toward blended learning, one-to-one programs, or simply greater use of technology-enhanced teaching; there is also the early discovery that it might be helpful to prepare students for such a shift. Some argue that students are already prepared, given the growing use of devices outside of school contexts. Others contend that students are already more savvy than most teachers. Much of this conversation ends up being placed into the broader category of digital citizenship.

Yet, I’m ready for a restart of how we use the term digital citizenship. Too often it is narrowed down to issues of online safety. Don’t give your passwords to people. Don’t give out personal information to strangers. Look both ways before crossing the digital street. Yes, those are certainly part of a safe life in a digital context, but there is so much more to digital citizenship than talks about safety.

Years ago, Mark Ribble wrote a doctoral dissertation on this topic and came up with a list of 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship. His categories include important topics like commerce, etiquette, laws, and more. It is a great starting point for the conversation, even an important foundation. I’m going to offer a slightly different take on digital citizenship, what I am tentatively calling the 8 Principles of the Enlightened Digital Citizen.

People First

More than networks, technology or content; the digital world is about people and connecting with different people. We connect locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Being an enlightened digital citizen involves starting with a view of the digital world as deeply human and personal. It is about people and the people with whom we interact matters.

Convictions Convert

We bring a set of beliefs, values and convictions to the digital world. Sometimes we find ourselves letting go of them in digital spaces. We would never think of stealing in person, but when it comes to breaking a property law online, we see it as akin to going a little over the speed limit. Yet, if we hold to core convictions, we hold to them across contexts. The enlightened digital citizen, therefore, seeks to live out his/her core beliefs, values and convictions in the digital world as well. That is hard work. It takes reflection and considering what it looks like to live out those convictions in new and different contexts, and it involves standing up for what you believe to be right even when others around you are not.

The Boy Scouts & Digital Camping

enlightened digital citizenYou’ve heard it. Always leave a campsite a little cleaner than it was when you got there. It isn’t just about doing no harm, but about leaving something positive behind. Citizenship is not just about following rules. It is about contributing good. The same thing applies to the digital world. A simple example is something like Wikipedia. Don’t just use it for information. Help edit, clean up, and add to the knowledge when you are able to do so. The same goes for other social networks and sites.

Work Over Credentials

Show your work. The digital world is changing how we think about people. One thing that it is starting to do is take us beyond formal credentials and accolades as marks of our skill and qualifications. We are coming into an era where you can skip the abstractions, showing and sharing your best work with the world. Learning to do this equips you with a core skill for work and life in the digital age. It also adds something of value to that digital world.

Networking Has Gone Global

There is something to be said for building positive relationships with the people in your local neighborhood and community. Yet, a part of digital citizenship is that you are able to connect with and learn from people anywhere in the world. Learn to connect with diverse people, people whom you can help and who can help you. Find people with shared passions. Also connect and learn from people who are very different from you. In the digital world, you are second or minutes away from an incredible spectrum of people and experiences.

Critical is Good

Don’t’ be negative. Be critical. Learn to critique and analyze what is happening and what you are experiencing in the digital world. It isn’t just the content or message. It is the medium through which it is communicated. Learn to read, write and analyze diverse messages. This goes for everything from commercials to the State of the Union address, television shows to social media messages, the search results on Google to YouTube videos. The Internet is not some neutral encyclopedia (although I contend that the old encyclopedias were not neutral encyclopedias either). Learn to dig in, analyze, and understanding the messages, biases, benefits, and limitations.

Digital Can Amplify Your Convictions

I wrote before about transferring your beliefs and convictions online. Now I take it a step further. The digital world can be a megaphone for your core convictions. Figure out how to use it is positive and acceptable ways to be a passionate and compassionate voice for the causes that are most important to you.

Safety Changes but Matters

Yes, safety is an important part of managing your online identity and life. Take the time to study and understanding what is safe and what is not, what is secure and what is not, and how this changes over time. A set list of rules will not work because the rules of the digital world are constantly changing. Find sources and ways to determine safety. As you learn, share what you know with others. It isn’t just about protecting yourself. Help the people around you.

There you have it. These are my 8 principles for the enlightened digital citizen. If you have suggested additions or revisions, consider sharing them in the comment section.


Posted in blog, digital citizenship | Tagged

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation; as well as Founder and CEO of Birdhouse Learning Labs. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.