by Jason Ohler
In many parts of the world, one of the most universally available international experiences is traveling the World Wide Web. It’s hard to believe, but the Internet and the world of ubiquitous connectivity have only gained widespread adoption within the last fifteen years. Yet they are so embedded in our everyday experience we can’t imagine life without them.
It is because the Web is so pervasive and invisible, and provides access to so many different kinds of experiences, that we have developed such a keen and sometimes urgent interest in understanding how best to help students navigate this new world. In the educational arena, this interest has been given the name “digital citizenship,” a reference to our belief that the Internet offers a kind of community experience. Our goal as educators is for students to become the kinds of citizens who know how to interact safely and responsibly in this new community without losing the sense of hope and creative possibility that the Internet inspires.
In a few words, our goals for our students are as follows. We want our students to be safe, ethical and responsible; inspired, innovative and involved; passionate, reflective and empathetic; and informed, savvy and ultimately wise. We want them to interact in this new land as skilled researchers, participants and leaders. As we move forward blending and balancing our lives in the real and online worlds, here are some points to consider to help us realize those goals.
Digital citizenship and character education need to inform each other.
We tend to think of digital citizenship as a technical matter. However, the foundational issue is character, and the digital citizenship movement needs the foundation that character education provides. Yet the digital domain introduces new situations and considerations to issues of character that are complicated and challenging, and bring a breadth and depth to issues of character that are quite new. Character education and digital citizenship need to join forces. Our focus needs to be on how character plays out in both worlds, and how students blend those two worlds into a single, integrated, healthy approach to life.