Digital Citizenship as an Instructional Designer

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Not being a teacher or instructor with students and a classroom (virtual or not), it might seem like digital citizenship has very little to do with my job as an instructional designer. I view it very much as the opposite, however. For me, digital citizenship is incredibly important. I work with subject matter experts who are developing courses or teaching them. They may or may not have much pedagogical training. They usually know what they would do in a face-to-face classroom but that may or may not include any thought to the impact that their choices have on a student’s digital life. My role is to support these instructors and developers with the intent of giving students (and instructors) the best possible experience. That means thinking hard about what could negatively impact students and talking with instructors about those issues and digital citizenship is usually on my mind.

One aspect of my role is ensuring that the course material is presented properly. For me, that includes modelling good behaviour like properly sourcing images and obeying copyright. Sure, many of our courses are behind a login and are considered to be slightly closer to a physical classroom than an open website like, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard copyright compliance. I very much believe that if we expect it of students, then in creating the course it should also be demonstrated. For me, that is part of digital citizenship, to not pass off responsibility to someone else for behaving appropriately. I don’t accept that kind of excuse from a student so why would I accept it from an instructor? Moreover, much of the work of actually putting images and copyright sensitive material into a course falls on me as an instructional designer. I need to model that behaviour to show instructors what they should be doing all the time and what they can and should expect of students.

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It is also part of my job to push instructors to consider ways of teaching they might not have thought of previously. For me, that includes thinking about things like NCTE’s 21st Century Framework to consider what skills students could be learning or demonstrating in a course beyond the field-specific objectives. Encouraging instructors to consider remixing as an acceptable form of assessment would be something I could do. Why shouldn’t a student demonstrate knowledge in a less traditional format? The inclusion of creativity and student choice can have a huge impact. After all, I would think that part of the reason that Henry Jenkins finds participatory culture is not currently leaning toward political or social activism is because students have had their interests dismissed as not relevant. If the things you love and are interested in are not connected to what and how you learn formally, then it can be more difficult to recognize that the same skills can be used for social change. This ability to transfer skills and knowledge from one area to another is sometimes tied in to assumptions around digital natives (which do not exist). Too many assume that students will just obviously see how they could use skills in one area for learning in another area. Unless someone helps them develop that knowledge, however, students have learned that their knowledge and skills are in silos.

This is really the source of my final project. You can find resources for students like Define the Line or the Digital Citizenship Project but all too often the assumption is that digital citizenship is just not the problem of universities. It might come up in a professional course (e.g., Education will talk about it, Business might in terms of marketing, Nursing may talk about confidentiality) but it somehow is not important in more general terms for instructors and students unless it directly relates to the content of the course.

That is where I come in. Because I believe that modelling is incredibly important both in terms of Social Learning Theory and Illich’s learning webs, I feel like instructors need to be aware of their own choices. They need to think about how they perform being in a discipline but also think about how they ask students to perform the same thing. Ross has discussed some of the dangers of having students perform publicly and reflect on their position while being in an unprotected situation. While we caution students to think carefully about what they post that could hurt them, do we always think about what we ask them to do and the impact that could have? To me that is also part of digital citizenship but it can be all too easy for instructors to forget that a paper assignment handed solely to the instructor or even a class discussion now held in an online forum is no longer the same in digital environment. While authentic assessments are fantastic, there are risks. I am taking some of those risks right now as a student who is also an employee of the university (and not covered by academic freedom).

My role becomes that of doing the legwork to know the issues and bring them up in a context that may be new to instructors. So I check sites like Keep Learning to see what other faculty and those who support them are struggling with, I read work by Audrey Watters to think about the way that the technology industry and education combine or should combine. I am responsible for finding ways to express issues to instructors and think through implications of their pedagogical choices to ensure that they are aware. They still have final decision but I need to ensure they make informed decisions whenever possible.

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And so I also try to model behaviour. I try to show instructors what is possible, what they could be, what they could choose. Because at the end of the day, I want us all to have a good experience and for me, digital citizenship is a big part of that.

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