Digital Citizenship Wrap-up

As I began this series on digital citizenship, I discovered that the subject encompassed much more than I’d previously thought, in particular, looking at the idea of the importance of access. Expanding on that topic later by looking at open source software, I discovered that open source and Creative Commons sharing are not only important in making copyright issues easier, but also serve a vital purpose in encouraging collaboration and community.

Looking at understanding search engines to curate a digital footprint and the responses to some cyberbullying cases, along with other topics, have enhanced and shaped a broader view of digital citizenship. Eventually, this all culminated in developing a concise mantra, 

Human Controlled Access in Community.

Based on that phrase, then, which more or less sums up my view of digital citizenship, I developed a website which looks at the four key words of that phrase, mapping them to the 9 elements of digital citizenship and a more in-depth written exploration built around the same phrase.

Digital Citizenship thoughts (Part 4)

As I read some of the stories about victims of bullying, I was struck by a common refrain of parents after the bullying was discovered. The focus was often on what the school should have done or could be doing. In particular, this line in a story really struck me, “the bully prevention law we spearheaded in Vermont that holds schools accountable [emphasis added] for preventing and responding to bullying.”  This troubles me, not because I don’t think there is a value to educating students about cyberbullying but because I think it’s foolhardy to place the responsibility for monitoring and preventing it on schools when they have limited ability to prevent the activity.

While it is likely that much bullying (online or in-person) happens as result of relationships established in the school environment, schools have limited ability to control what happens outside the school environment–and rightfully so. Parents and guardians need to be expected and empowered to get involved in their children’s lives. If they are allowed–like has happened with so many parental responsibilities that have been dumped on teachers–to relinquish that responsibility to schools, there will be less and less that can be done. At the same time, since it is easier to pass laws aimed at schools, more and more laws will be passed and parents will be more disengaged.


Digital Citizenship thoughts (Part 3)

In my time as a small-time software developer and IT professional, I have a long-standing love for open source software. The term “open source” is often used as a replacement term for “free,” and indeed that is how I became aware of open source. I was just starting out, didn’t have much money, and wanted to use software; I learned that I could often find free software by searching for open source alternatives to popular commercial software packages.

It wasn’t until later that I became aware of the more important sense of free, open source software through the Richard Stallman’s concept of copyleft–“a general method for making a program (or other work) free (in the sense of freedom, not ‘zero price’), and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.”  It is not an exaggeration to say that this concept–perhaps more than any other–has revolutionized the software development world and had a significant influence in other realms as well.

Copyleft uses the structure of the copyright system (a license) to ensure that software can be freely used, studied, distributed, and adapted.  Works in the public domain can be adapted and then released as closed source; however, under copyleft, those modified versions have to remain open source under the terms of the license. If this sounds like to a Creative Commons Share-Alike license, that’s because Lessig based it on the work of Stallman and others in the Free Software Movement and provided a mechanism to apply the concept to other types of works. 

Open source software is incalculable in its effects–the chances are good that the device you are reading this on is built on an open source framework (this includes Chromebook, Android, iOS, macOS). This website, like the vast majority of websites, is hosted on a Linux-based server. It uses an open source content management system, WordPress, which is built using the open source language PHP and open source MySQL database. The ability for software developers to take existing code, take it apart, and then modify it to suit their (personal or commercial) needs is what has built so much of the technology we now enjoy and rely on.

It is this same approach that undergirds the “maker mindset”  and constructionism , which is why copyright and access to information are such an important part of learning in the 21st century. Intrusive controls to copyright such as digital rights management (DRM) threaten that by giving publishers more power to limit how content is used and disallowing them from studying and remixing content to better understand it.   

A proper use of copyright and digital citizenship gives great importance to the author’s ownership of their content and need for attribution but also allows for others to appreciate, learn from, and build on that work to create a more rich learning environment.


Digital Citizenship thoughts (Part 2)

Understanding digital footprints is helped by at least a basic understanding of search engine optimization, something I’ve gained from a career in web development. Google’s major innovation was the PageRank algorithm, “a method for rating Web pages objectively and mechanically, eff ectively measuring the human interest and attention devoted to them.”  Dramatically oversimplified, PageRank considers the relative importance of each page and passes that rank through to all the pages that are hyperlinked from that page–simulating the importance that a standard user would give to the links from that page. Since that time, the major search engines have adopted similar search algorithms and built upon that. 

What that means for building a digital footprint is that there is, in fact, a way to build a digital presence by focusing on developing and being linked to from highly-ranked sites (like schools and colleges). Social media sites also tend to pass ranking, meaning that an ePortfolio, linked to from academic sites and regular postings from social media, is an excellent way to build a digital identity. 

My digital footprint: Eric L. Epps


Digital Citizenship thoughts (Part 1)

When I began looking into digital citizenship, my perception of the study could essentially be summed up as “don’t be a jerk online.” While of course that is a significant portion of digital citizenship, examining Ribble’s 9 elements–digital access, digital commerce, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security –has given me a more expansive view of what is involved. 

One area that has been of particular interest to me is digital access. Access to information and digital resources is more ubiquitous than ever, but we are far from the author’s ideal of equal access for all. While it is unlikely that we will ever see true equality of access, where everyone has the same level of equipment, internet connection, and training, but we should nonetheless strive toward that goal. While one-to-one laptop programs and the like seek to address this problem, they are definitely not the whole solution to the problem. The best computer with an inadequate or no internet connection is only so useful. If the resources aren’t available to provide laptops for every student, what can be done? I think that one way to provide for equal access in the face of inequality is to imbue the curriculum with flexibility. Allowing the student choice–aside from a host of other benefits–allows them to make the best use of the resources they do have and complete a project that shows mastery of the subject matter.