Becoming a digital citizen

DigitalToday’s information communications technologies have drastically changed many facets of human life, from education, health care, industry, economy, politics, governance, to entertainment.

This technological revolution brought about by the use of information systems has entered a new and dynamic phase that is now beginning to alter our institutions in ways that are unprecedented in the history of humanity.

Today, we talk about the “Internet of Things”, a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items — embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

Today, we utilise information technology to engage in almost all the things we do. This has given rise to the concept of “digital citizen”, defined by Mossberger, et al. as “those who use the Internet regularly and effectively”, in order to participate responsibly in social and civic activities.

Others view it as “the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community.” Other related concepts such as digital wellness and digital ethics have emerged to describe the same phenomenon.

This concept is becoming increasingly more important around the world, as more and more people interact digitally with technology.

It deals with the norms of appropriate and responsible use of technology; a way to prepare technology users for a society full of technology.

How should people act in the virtual environment, and what should be taught to the next generation.  With the movement in the direction of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), it has become necessary to address this issue critically.

Research shows that the youth of today are spending more time on the Internet than watching television.

Thus, the needs of today’s “digital natives”, are completely different from earlier generations. Research shows that they are technology oriented, globally minded, socially networked, and digital learners.

Call them Generation Y, call them the Echo Boomers, call them the Millennials; they are armed with smartphones, laptops, and other technological gadgets.

This generation prefers to communicate through e-mail and text messaging rather than face-to-face contact and prefers webinars and online technology to traditional lecture-based presentations.

They prefer to use technology to study at any time of the day or night, and telecommute from anywhere in the world.

In meeting their educational needs, we need to depart from the factory-model of education of the past which is teacher-centered to a new student centered model.

This requires a movement from an instruction paradigm, in which an instructor transfers knowledge to students, to a learning paradigm, in which a teacher’s role is that of coaching.

The result is a student learning how to learn and discovering knowledge with the coaching guidance of a teacher.

By moving in this direction, education becomes for most students institutions without walls. The computer will be the classroom, the lecture hall, the seminar room, and the library.

Students can be anywhere in the world, and be part of a learning community, a virtual community, with the computer keeping teachers and students in easy and regular communication.

This supports the research that affirms the raising of digital youth in today’s society.

Mike Ribble, author of “Raising a Digital Child”, is regarded as one of the godfathers of Digital Citizenship. He outlines nine core elements of digital citizenship.

First is digital access, the ability of individuals to have access to the technology.

This could be through an internet connection at home, the workplace or through kiosks, telecentres, community information centres, cyber cafés, and others.

It should be noted that not everyone has the same level of access to the technology.  The need to work toward equal digital rights and supporting electronic access is the starting point of digital citizenship.

Second is digital commerce, that is, electronic buying and selling of goods and the ability for users to recognise that much of the economy is regulated online. It addresses issues involved in online transactions such as the use of credit cards online.

There is the need for people to learn how to be effective consumers in a new digital economy.

Third is digital communication, which deals with electronic exchange of communication and the need to understand the different types of online communication mediums such as email, instant messaging, Facebook messenger, the variety of apps, and so forth.

Fourth is digital literacy, the need to understand how to use various digital devices and properly search for something on a search engine versus a database. With the emergence of new technology, there is the need for learners to learn how to use them.

Fifth is digital etiquette, the expectation that various mediums require a variety of etiquette and standards of communication.

As the use of technology widens, there is the need to learn online appropriate conduct. Thus, the need to teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens become paramount.

Sixth is digital law, the electronic responsibility for actions and deeds and the enforcement for illegal downloads, plagiarising, hacking, creating viruses, sending spams, identity theft, cyberbullying, and others.

It deals with the ethics of technology within society, the need for people to abide by the laws of society

Seventh is digital rights and responsibilities, a set of rights digital citizens have such as privacy, speech, and so forth.

Given the increasing use and availability of the technology, there is the need to address and understand basic digital rights within the online world.

Eighth is digital health and wellness, becoming aware of the physical and psychological well being in a digital technology world and the stress placed on humans by internet usage.

Users need to understand the inherent dangers of technology and the need for protection through technology and education.

Ninth is digital security, the need for people to take measures to be safe by practicing the use difficult passwords, virus protection, backing up data, and so forth. Protection of information from outside forces is important.

Today, a number of educators have embraced digital citizenship as a new way of thinking and it is being increasingly incorporated into school curricula.

This is based on the premise that the digital world may not be dramatically different from the offline (or regular) world.

Thus, the same manner of rules need to apply. The need for educators and parents to work together to prepare students to function within the digital world is imperative.

The tools have come to stay and there is the need to embrace them and adapt them since we’ll be using them in our daily lives.

ICT World with Dr. Osei K. Darkwa

The writer is the President of the Ghana Technology University College


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