Tech and Society

New Infrastructure Takes Shape—Digital Citizenship

Over the last 10 years of partnering closely with experts in digital learning and social and emotional learning, SCE has witnessed practitioners and educators recognize that these soft and hard skills intersect, inform, overlap and enhance reciprocally.  A new infrastructure has been emerging—digital citizenship.
Moving forward, we need to operate with the reality in mind that today’s youth have never lived in a world where digital and online engagement has not been part of their daily lives. For the rising generation, being prepared for a successful future inherently means being prepared to thrive in digital space as well as in the “real world” simultaneously. They are digital citizens.

Hallmarks of digital citizenship

The ability and practice of thinking critically in order to use digital technology in ways which are effective, respectful and thoughtful
The practice of engaging or participating in digital spaces as a means to be an agent of change in the world
We are excited about not just how digital citizenship can encapsulate all the soft and hard skills necessary for successful participation in the 21st century, but also how it makes room to ensure that youth understand the rights and responsibilities participation in the digital world brings. We believe that a solid understanding of their rights and responsibilities is a crucial first step in preparing digital citizens to ultimately become agents of change.
For that reason, we have begun our research and funding in digital citizenship with efforts to try and get to the heart of what youth already know about their rights and responsibilities in the digital world and to learn what they are still grappling to understand.
To get it right, we knew we had to go directly to youth, and that our job was to listen… so that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
Through the lens of the youth perspective, it’s became clear that work to date in the field of digital citizenship has focused largely on the adult viewpoint of what youth need to be prepared; and as a result, has been either insufficient or inadequate. In short, we’ve figured out that there’s radical work to be done.  We’re ready for it!

What we’ve learned so far

This past summer we organized a series of listening sessions with youth across racial, economic, and geographic cross sections. We wanted to know about their online experiences. We asked questions like: How do you spend your time online? What impression do you get about online activities among your friends and peers? What do you get out of your time online and how does it influence your life and other activities? Who do you go to for advice? We were especially interested in the latter. We wanted to get a picture of where youth are on the subject of intergenerational problem solving. We knew that collaboration between youth and adults (both younger and older) was where we needed to head, we just didn’t know how far down the road we were from being on that path. What we learned in the listening sessions is this: digital citizenship, a still developing field, is in need of change.
In summary, teens told us:
Teens understand the potential to help (and hurt) others online
Teens are cautious about online connections and engagement
Teens are concerned about both safety and freedom
Teens care deeply about a wide range of social justice and community issues
Teens are curious and active online learners
Teens believe in their own potential to create change
Click here for more detailed takeaways from our youth listening sessions

Teens at Chicago Ideas Youth Kick-off delve into conversations about digital rights and responsibilities

With our eyes and minds freshly opened by early insights from the summer listening sessions, we were all the more enthused to delve further into the work through ongoing partnerships. Our first partner in this endeavor has been Chicago Ideas.
Chicago Ideas youth organizing is built on the principle that youth are the experts in their own lived experiences. They firmly believe that youth provide unique and incisive perspective on what change is needed—and what solutions have potential to be effective. We began working with Chicago Ideas youth membership as we completed summer listening sessions. Their youth members made key contributions in the development of a digital citizenship rights and responsibilities framework, identifying five vital aspects of digital citizenship for youth.

Digital Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities Framework

The above framework serves two purposes. Firstly, it helps to distill some of what we’ve learned is important and needs focus; secondly, it helps to clarify some of the questions we should be asking. The framework does not contain the full answer to the question of what does digital citizenship mean to youth, but instead it is a tool to facilitate our approach to seeking that answer. The rights and responsibilities framework is a guide to direct and deepen conversations. To support these youth-centered conversations, Chicago Ideas created a Youth Focus Group Facilitation Guide based on real world, ethical dilemmas that youth face online. This facilitation guide and the rights and responsibilities framework were used in break-out sessions during a teen-only kick-off event we sponsored in advance of Chicago Ideas Week. Each of the breakout sessions focused on one right and associated responsibility.
Visit Chicago Ideas site and read our guest blog for a list of takeaways from the youth kick-off. Some of their insights might surprise you!

What’s coming next

Chicago Ideas will continue to contribute to our exploration of youth voice through 2019. They will inform us through ongoing on-site programming at Ideas Days to be hosted at high schools across Chicago.
We will also be collaborating with two additional partner organizations in the next phases of our work exploring the youth perspective on digital and 21st century citizenship, Common Sense Media and

We are partnering with DoSomething on a nationwide call-to-action that will encourage collaborative, intergenerational conversations and problem solving around digital citizenship.
The campaign will inspire youth members to teach an adult in their life some important element of digital citizenship.  Participants will be supported with communication and action guides around how to have productive discussions about social media and how to report abuse.
Following the initial large-scale campaign in 2019, DoSomething will invite young people to submit their own strategies and ideas on creating a positive digital community. From those submissions, we will identify a cohort of passionate and inspiring young people to be part of a mentorship program with an experienced team of digital and community-building advisors. The program will focus on helping these young people sharpen their ideas by defining both the need for and the impact of their ideas and identifying the resources required for development and implementation.

Common Sense Media has helped bring the term “digital citizenship” into the common vernacular, and supports educators and parents in helping youth develop the skills to navigate the challenges of the digital world and harness its positive potential. SCE is pleased to partner with Common Sense Media and Project Zero on a new grant to identify the most pressing digital topics youth face today.
This partnership will ensure that Common Sense Media’s forthcoming middle and high school Digital Citizenship Curriculum is solidly based on the digital dilemmas that young people are experiencing today, as heard from youth themselves, and resonates with and engages them in a way that most effectively leads them to building the habits of mind and skills to use technology responsibly to learn, create and collaborate.

As youth evolve into the leaders, workers, innovators and citizens who will drive the future, they are becoming the standard bearers who will determine what it means to contribute not only to our local communities, but also to the global community. Technology isn’t going anywhere, it’s evolving alongside youth. The key challenge of the future where connection and contribution to the world around us is both digital and face-to-face is in understanding how youth will use technological tools to accomplish change as they grow, work and live in the world.
SCE is thrilled to be entering this space…the space to first seek understanding and then to use that understanding to fuel youth success. We know it’s a radical rationale (and only part of our larger approach to digital citizenship), but we believe it’s exactly the right place to start.
(Photo credits this page to  James C. Svehla/Chicago Ideas Week)