Digital Citizenship for University students

For this week’s blog, I would like to take the Portrait of a Digital Citizenship activity we took in class and try to discuss and develop it for university students.

Mary Beth, in her presentation to our class a few weeks ago, mentioned that she teaches how the Internet works for her high school students. She also said that educating kids about how the Internet (and technology in general) works is essential for digital literacy. The job done in digital citizenship for K–12 students can be a very important first step towards digital literacy.  I see this must be followed by further steps for students in higher education as well for the following reasons: (Please note, I work as an assistant instructional designer for a university-level curriculum and this is where most of my experience is.)

  • There is a continuous evolution of Digital tools; the Internet of Things, social media networks, virtual and augmented reality are just a few examples. Students need to continue learning about these tools as they evolve because they play a profound role in how we will engage with our societies in the future.
  • While the requirements and responsibilities of university students are higher, stereotypes like university students “are a tech generation,” “always-on social media,” and “addicted to technology” provide the wrong impression about students’ capabilities. But, do students really have the digital citizenship skills required for the 21 Century? Most students do not know much about cyber-security and many other crucial basic knowledge that is necessary when working with the above digital tools on a deeper scale.

I think educators should teach digital citizenship and literacy for their students (and possibly for themselves) at different grade levels and in many types of courses. According to Jenae Cohn, an academic technology specialist at Stanford University, “Students coming into college have increasingly diverse ranges of experiences with navigating different sets of digital environments.” Cohn likes to use the term “digital fluencies” which she defines as the spectrum between “the ability to use technology” and “the ability to critique it.” To illustrate the difference, Cohn explains it as the difference between just opening an Internet browser and understanding the intricacies of web browsing or assessing the design behind it. I suggest that university students are required to have such deep knowledge.

The Quebec Ministry of Education and Higher Education has defined a Digital Competency Framework. Below I will try to discuss some of these competencies, and I will give some examples of how this can be implemented in courses across the higher ed curriculum.

A fundamental competency for university students is to learn critical thinking (which is one of the top skills required for the future workplace). Critical thinking is so fundamental to allow students to solve complex problems and create worthy content. Students need to learn digital tools that will help them innovate, connect ideas and integrate information and content. Students need to learn how to analyze the content they explore online and to filter out “fake news.” Which what Krysta is trying to incorporate into her Social classrooms. Besides, students should have a basic understanding of copyright and licensing issues to protect their own digitally created content and protect others’ content.

Creative problem solving requires collaborative work through digital conversations (for example, video/ twitter) with colleagues from around the globe, which mandates some awareness of cultural diversity. Students should learn how to monitor and evaluate their online activities. That is, students need to learn how to craft and manage their online reputation– the bits of pieces of information they leave behind (pictures, presentations, comments, or status updates).

The above environment relies heavily on communication on the Internet. It is very fundamental for students to be aware of the code of conduct and of standard behaviours that allow such interactions. This stipulates basic knowledge on how to protect 1) devices (phone, tablets, and laptops) through teaching them about the basics of computer security and 2) personal data and privacy through teaching students how their digital identities can be collected or tracked and possibly provide some basic understanding of “terms of service.”

There are many other attempts to identify such competencies, one particular one I liked Bryn Mawr Digital Competencies Framework by Bryn Mawr College. I only hope this motivates further discussion of defining the details.

3 thoughts on “Digital Citizenship for University students

  1. Hi Nataly,
    I really like how you looked at this topic through the eyes of a university student! I would definitely agree that there is not enough preparation before the expectations at the university level. I still question my own assumptions about copyright and how to protect my own created content. I think this is a really important age group to not forget about! Have you found an increase in opportunities for new university students to learn about digital citizenship? I know I didn’t hear anything until I took my technology class in my last semester of my degree! Thanks again for this fresh perspective!


    1. Glad you like my post! Besides some classes in computer science, maybe Engineering and Education. I am not aware of any other courses. I hope there could be a digital citizenship course or how the Internet works that is mandatory to take for all university students like Engl 100, for example. Thanks

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dean Vendramin

    Great post. Totally agree with you point about university students entering high education with a wide range of fluencies with technology. Also agree with your suggestion that deep knowledge in the area of digital fluencies should be required as these skills are essential to work, training, and research in today’s society. Appreciate you drawing our attention to this group that sometimes we assume get it when it comes to using tech at a deeper level.


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