Everywhere Citizenship


Terry Johanson’s post The Ocean and the Tide has me thinking about the whole idea of being “online” and what it means to be a citizen online and if it is really any different from being a citizen anywhere else. When I visit another country, I have to be aware of the expectations, rights and responsibilities of that place. We’re not in Saskatchewan anymore!

Stormy Waters

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Catching the Wave

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I Sea Blue

I’ve been thinking that, for many people, being online is similar to going to the ocean. Depending on your view, the ocean can have images like any of the three above. The third, is from the window of the bedroom my oldest daughter had while visiting in Sweden – she awoke each day to such site of the ocean. Having been to the ocean a few times myself, I’ve noticed that people usually approach it in a couple of different ways. The first is that you can sit on the beach an look out at it. You can enjoy the waves as they come in and the sounds, you can watch the sun, you can sit at night and watch the reflection of the moon and stars and their glimmering reflections. A second way is you can take a trip on a boat. You can go fishing or sailing or just float out on the ocean, enjoying, or maybe not, the feel of the ways as they gently rock the boat.  You can take a tour, try to avoid the 3 hour ones, or enjoy a cruise. Or, you can go into it. You can immerse yourself in the water. Most people tend to stay near the beach, not venturing too far into the depths, who knows what might be there? Maybe a shark! Yes a shark! It could happen … but not likely. The infographic below shows you the likelihood of a person being killed by a shark – yet many people are deathly afraid of the perception of the danger that they will be attacked by a shark. Why is that? Could it be that the media has done a great job of making us believe that shark attacks are regular? Could this be the same for going online? As citizens, we need to be able to distinguish between what is valid and what is hype. As a citizen, we need to inform ourselves through multiple sources of information, ask questions, be careful about what we believe and what we take as being “the truth”.

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It’s not one of Spaceman Spiff’s  Worlds

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Spaceman Spiff

People sometimes view the online world as if it is some kind of “other place” where there are dangers lurking and you must tread cautiously, where time seems to have no meaning and you can lose days being sucked into something that is disconnected from the rest of reality. All these can indeed happen but they are not different than the “dangers” that are in the world around us. However, the images that are usually public aren’t of the millions of interactions daily that take place safely and without problems. They are of the ones, few in number, that show the lesser side of humanity much like most of our network news focuses on the negative things that happen. I’ve sure many of you have seen many embarrassing moments on social media and there are many stories of the negative impact of social media and being on the internet. These are things that will be there forever. Luckily, for many of us, the embarrassment doesn’t cause too much harm. As Alec Couros points out in the post Safety and Social Networking,

The various scandals around social networking abuses have garnered lots of press in the past couple of years. Predators, bullying, slander, and harassment of all kinds on sites such as MySpace and Facebook are increasingly the subjects of horror stories and play into a renewed wave of fear about the dangers online.

These things do happen and there are many instances of people’s lives being ruined because of such things. That’s why it is so important as educators to begin helping our students understand that being a citizen online is no different that being a good citizen anywhere.

Vast, Deep and Wide

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I view being online like being in the ocean. Getting caught in a storm on the ocean would not be  a nice experience. I think we’ve all seen a movie or two of a ship lost at sea in a storm. Horrible and terrifying come to mind. The internet and being online can be like that if you aren’t prepared and don’t follow some guidelines or rules. We can prepare ourselves and help students and parents have a better understanding of what to expect and work with other educators to help prepare ourselves so that, hopefully, we don’t end up like that ship, being tossed around. And if it does happen, maybe there are some things that people can do to be prepared in order to ride out that storm.

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Just as going to the ocean or another location that is different from our own, we need to prepare ourselves for what we will encounter. Knowing that we are going to encounter some different things and preparing ourselves for this shouldn’t be something we ignore or leave to chance. When our family goes on a trip, we plan ahead. Having  young children means that we have to ensure there are things they can do and that the different attractions have rides or amusement for all the children. It’s no fun if you can’t ride and have to spend all your time watching others have fun!  It’s about being active citizens in the true sense as we are participants in a world that has many different places visit. Maybe it’s the ease of entry that makes us somewhat complacent, I mean anyone can go on the internet from almost anywhere.

Being Aware and Prepared

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Being on/in the ocean can be an incredible experience. I remember my first experience snorkelling. At one point I was surrounded by a school of fish. There I was among them. They swam past my mask and seemed to flow over my hand as I tried to touch them. It was awesome.

I also remember getting caught in an undertow and almost being swept into a coral reef! I was scared, almost frantic, as I tried to escape the tow. I am a fairly strong swimmer and have snorkelled before but I wasn’t experienced with swimming in the ocean in a coral reef area. I thought I was safe but almost ended up in trouble. But, although it scared me, I learned from it. The next time I went snorkelling, I did some pre-snorkelling observations to make sure I wouldn’t get caught up again.

If I gave up snorkelling because of that one moment or the fear there was a shark, I wouldn’t have been able to see a large tortoise up close and swill beside it or look at the coral or encounter a moray, which I knew enough about to stay away from! I can’t wait for the next chance to go swimming in the ocean so much so that I have been looking into becoming certified to dive. It will mean taking some time to learn about it, I mean you can’t just go jumping into the ocean and diving without some preparation!

Digital Citizenship

I believe we have reached a point in time where, in order to progress, schools need to change many of the current structures. One of the main structures is the way schools currently treat citizenship. In most schools, it is part of a curriculum or class. With the way that our schools are changing, this aspect of children’s social life needs to be a critical part of their learning and become embedded as part of the learning they are doing each day. Poster like the one below are a great starting place about discussing citizenship because they can be used to discuss not just what you do online but what you should be doing as a citizen.

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Such discussions can go beyond just is it appropriate online but can merge with what it means to be a good citizen anywhere. By building our discussions around such things, teachers and students can explore what it means to be a good citizen, any where and any time.

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I am a husband, father, son.... I am currently working on my PhD in Education - Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is teacher professional development and social media integration. I have a beautiful, supportive wife who has been my partner for 28 years. We have 8 wonderful children who are amazing individuals. Together, we are exploring the world around us, sharing our stories, and enjoying the journey!


  1. I love how you have teased out the metaphor of technology as the ocean! I am just finishing my #DCMOOC post 2nd week, and it is eerie how similar our minds are processing the ideas around digital citizenship – right down to the citizenship tweet. Online action and reaction cannot be ruled by fear. Rather, we need to act and react from a place of empowerment, goodness, and generosity. Thank you for your clear thoughts, Kelly!

  2. I appreciated your analogy at the beginning where you compared the internet to the ocean and peoples approaches watch, wade, float or dive in, it gives a great visual that many of us can relate to. In addition the concept of the threat of a shark as compared to actual shark attacks can help us to step back and critique what the media feeds us.

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