Youth and Digital Citizenship+ (Plus): New Report from BKC’s Youth and Media Team

As the digital transformation continues to change our society, economy, culture, education and all aspects of our life, the notion of digital citizenship has also evolved, adjusting to the risks and opportunities that the rapid technological change and innovation has brought.

Researchers, educators, policy makers and activists have approached to the concept of digital citizenship from different perspectives and disciplines, addressing both its theoretical and practical implications, and contributing to an expanding understanding of what digital citizenship is. Many national and global policies, frameworks, curricula, and investigations continue to address digital citizenship and network of themes and issues that connect to it (e.g. digital skills, media literacies, digital rights and responsibilities). Although there is still a lack of agreement on a single digital citizenship definition, there is a consensus around the importance of this concept for democracy. Supporting digital citizenship is critical for enabling the participation of people across the multiple dimensions of digital life. In order to participate in society, culture, economy and education we need certain kind of knowledge and skills, a combo of social-cultural-economic practices. It is not by chance that children and youth have been placed at the center of the digital citizenship debate. Educational interventions, including curricula and learning programs, are an essential part of the digital citizenship conceptualization and agenda because they address the younger populations, the future citizens.

Two weeks ago, the Berkman Klein Center’s Youth and Media (YaM) team released a new report: Youth and Digital Citizenship+ (Plus): Understanding Skills for a Digital World. After several months in the works, in this report we answer several key questions related to the evolution of the notion digital citizenship and the skills young people should learn to meaningfully participate in the digital world and grasp the opportunities available to them. The report provides an overview and analysis of the current discourse around youth (12-18-year-olds) and the concept of digital citizenship.

How is the concept of digital citizenship similar to or different from other concepts, such as digital literacy or 21st century skills? To what extent are youth’s voices included in the development, implementation, and evaluation of digital citizenship initiatives? Why has digital citizenship become central in discussions about youth, education, and learning in the 21st century?

We propose the notion of “digital citizenship+ (plus)” in order to open space where different stakeholders from different countries and disciplines can intersect and dialogue. We hope that the report may encourage different stakeholders, including policymakers, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and academia, to consider how we can, collectively, approach digital citizenship to more effectively foster the skills youth need to fully participate academically, socially, ethically, politically, and economically in our rapidly evolving digital world.

The report includes findings of a systematic review of 35 digital citizenship frameworks developed around the world by different stakeholders, encompassing national governments, international organizations, NGOs, academia. We analyzed and mapped this frameworks identifying 17 core areas of digital citizenship and skills for digital life, and determining the degree in which input from young people was including in each framework. Those areas are:

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI): The ability to understand the algorithms involved in the AI-based platforms one interacts with, and the ethical conversations happening around the development of these technologies.
  2. Civic and Political Engagement: The ability to participate in public matters (e.g., LGBTQ rights; peace building; addressing hate speech) and advocate for issues one cares about — using digital and non-digital tools — ideally to improve the quality of life in one’s community, from micro to macro levels (Levine, 2007).
  3. Computational Thinking: The ability to understand and apply computational concepts, practices, and perspectives. Computational concepts include concepts individuals leverage as they program (e.g., “sequencing,” or identifying a set of steps for a task; “loops,” or running the same series of steps multiple times). Computational practices represent the practices individuals cultivate while they program (e.g., “experimenting and iterating;” “reusing and remixing,” or creating something by building upon current ideas or projects). Finally, computational perspectives refer to the perspectives individuals develop about themselves, their connections to others (such as within the context of collaborative online communities), and the technological world more broadly (e.g., “connecting,” or understanding the power of developing content both with and for others) (Brennan & Resnick, 2012).
  4. Content Production: The ability to produce (digital) content using (digital) tools.
  5. Context: The ability to be aware of, understand, and interpret the contextual factors of relevance (e.g., cultural, social, local/regional/global) in a given situation — with a particular emphasis on the experiences and perspectives of underrepresented groups, whether in terms of age, ethnicity, race, gender and sexual identity, religion, national origin, location, skill and educational level, and/or socioeconomic status — and effectively engage in the situation.
  6. Data: The ability to be aware of, create, collect, represent, evaluate, interpret, and analyze data from digital and non-digital sources.
  7. Digital Access: The ability to connect to and access the Internet, individually or collectively (e.g., mesh technologies).
  8. Digital Economy: The ability to navigate economic activities online and offline to earn different forms of economic, social, and/or cultural capital (e.g., earning money, increasing social connections, building personal brands).
  9. Digital (Literacy): The ability to use the Internet and other digital tools and platforms effectively to find, interact with, evaluate, create, and reuse information (Palfrey & Gasser, 2016). The ability to comprehend and work through conceptual problems in digital spaces (Carretero, Vuorikari, & Punie, 2017).
  10. Identity Exploration and Formation: The ability to use (digital) tools to explore elements of one’s identity, and understand how the communities one is part of shape one’s identity.
  11. Information Quality: The ability to find, interact with, evaluate, create, and reuse information (broadly speaking; e.g., news, health information, personal information) effectively (Palfrey & Gasser, 2016).
  12. Law: The ability to engage with legal frameworks, concepts, and theories surrounding the Internet and other digital tools (e.g., copyright; fair use), and the ability to apply these frameworks to one’s activities.
  13. Media (Literacy): The ability to analyze, evaluate, circulate, and create content in any media form (e.g., print, visual, interactive, audio), and to participate in communities and networks. “Media literacies,” in the plural, include “media literacy” (Hobbs, 2010), what some researchers have conceptualized as “new literacies” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2007), and “new media literacies” (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison, & Weigel, 2006). That is, they encompass literacy approaches that not only focus on individual engagement with media (media literacy) but also competencies that address community involvement and participatory cultures. “Media literacies” also include literacies such as reading and writing.
  14. Positive/Respectful Behavior: The ability to interact with others (both individuals and the larger collective) online in a respectful, ethical, socially responsible, and empathic manner.
  15. Privacy and Reputation: The ability to protect one’s personal information online, and that of others. An understanding of the digital “trail” left behind as a result of the activities one engages in online, the short- and long-term consequences of this trail, the appropriate management of one’s virtual footprint, as well as an understanding of inferred data (i.e., new data derived from capturing and analyzing other data points, which may result in new knowledge about a person (van der Hof, 2016)).
  16. Safety and Well-being: The ability to counteract the risks that the digital world may come with to protect one’s physical and mental well-being (e.g., guarding against Internet addiction and repetitive stress syndrome). Online risks can be classified along three main dimensions: conduct (e.g., cyberbullying, sexual harassment/unwelcome “sexting”); contact (e.g., face-to-face meeting after online contact, communication with individuals pretending to be another person); and content (e.g., exposure to pornographic content, violent or aggressive content, harmful speech, content about drugs, racist content) (Livingstone, Kirwall, Ponte, & Staksrud, 2014).
  17. Security: The ability to protect the integrity of one’s information, digital devices and assets (e.g., login information such as passwords, profiles, and websites).

These 17 areas of digital life have also informed our team’s educational platform the Digital Citizenship+ (Plus) Resource Platform (DCRP), which offers 100+ educational tools (e.g., learning experiences, podcasts) that can be implemented in formal or informal learning spaces. The DCRP provides an interface for searching and exploring learning tools according to these 17 areas and skills.

It is importance to notice that the areas of digital life and skills usually go together. They do not exclude each other. On the contrary, applying these skill usually in the everyday life requires an integrative approach in which several skills interact. That is also why these 17 areas of digital life and skills could be organized in four main clusters:

  • Participation: a cluster that focuses on Internet access, skills to find, interact with, evaluate, create reuse information, and produce content online. It also includes competencies to protect digital devices and assets, and understanding and applying legal concepts to the digital environment. Areas: Digital Access, Digital Literacy, Content Production, Security, Law.
  • Empowerment: focuses on competencies that help youth participate in public matters and advocate for civic issues they are about. It also includes developing the abilities to be aware of and interpret the contextual factors of relevant in a given situation and effectively engage in it (e.g., cultural, social, local/regional/ global); and find, evaluate, create, and share information and other content in different media forms. Areas: Civic and Political, Engagement, Context, Information Quality, Media Literacy.
  • Engagement: Includes the ability to navigate economic activities online and offline; engage in data creation, collection, interpretation, and analysis; understand and apply computational concepts; and understand and take part in conversations around artificial intelligence. Areas: Digital Economy, Data, Computational Thinking, Artificial Intelligence
  • Well-being: A cluster that includes skills that help youth protect their personal information online (and that of others); explore their identity; engage with others (both individuals and the larger collective) online in empathic, ethical, and positive ways; and counteract the risks the digital environment may come with to protect their physical and mental health. Areas: Privacy and Reputation, Identity Exploration and Formation, Positive/Respectful Behavior, Safety and Well-being.

Despite covering several areas of digital life and skills, there are some that we did not explicitly mentioned in the report. For instance, social-emotional learning, historical context (where the Internet came from and how it works) and rights, as this review of the report has pointed out, where three possible missing pieces. Given the constant evolution of digital life and the rapid pace of technological change, more areas and skills would continue to emerge and would be included in new digital citizenship frameworks.

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