Digital Health or Digital Citizenship?


Photograph “Yeah!” by Jenah Crump Photography (Flickr) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.


I have a confession to make. I find the whole notion of digital citizenship to be quite clinical and cold. Take the dictionary definition of citizenship, for example. It is “the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen.” It doesn’t exactly read like poetry, does it? To me, it sounds more like a medical diagnosis.

 However, in a recent article by Jason Ohler, the phrase “digital health” caught my attention. He states

We need to talk to children about how to live digital lifestyles that are informed, safe, and healthy. We need to set this discussion within the context of encouraging students to develop the many social and professional opportunities that the digital world provides. This discussion needs to happen at school as well as at home.

There is something very appealing in Ohler’s words. Is it because he is speaking about a way of being and living, instead of a set of rules to be followed? Is it because his approach seems more proactive than reactive? Maybe it is just Ohler’s choice of language, but the idea of creating a digitally healthy society appeals to me.

Within our school, we are fortunate to have a Mental Health Capacity Building Initiative. A team of wellness professionals work with students and staff on four areas of a wellness wheel – physical (body), spiritual, (beliefs), emotional (feelings), and psychological (mind). When it comes to digital health, I see connections to all four spokes in the wellness wheel.

Perhaps our focus for teaching digital skills should be on health and wellness rather than rights and duties.

Ohler, J. (2011). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 48(1), 25-27.


About sandralbecker

An educator who is passionate about the creation of a school Learning Commons, which supports inquiry, critical thinking, and collaboration.
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4 Responses to Digital Health or Digital Citizenship?

  1. Sandra, first of all thank you for your discussion above about DC being much deeper than a set of rules for which to follow, which are often ineffective in teaching character and building independent, critical thinkers. Intentional, proactive digital citizenship teaching practices are needed (focusing on skill development and increasing knowledge) if educators are to be successful in both empowering and helping students along their citizenship journey. This is one reason why I was initially drawn to Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey’s (2007) work in their book titled, “Digital Citizenship in Schools”. Their approach was to inform, teach and guide students through all broad components of DC (which Ribble and Bailey refer to as the nine elements of digital citizenship). The elements are not a set of black and white rules, but rather a guide from which to include aspects from when supporting students in their learning journey. It is not a scripted program, nor a list of rules, but a guide of considerations that would address DC in a comprehensive manner.

    Thank you for bringing in the additional aspect of digital health, as the four components of the health wheel you speak about is consistent with Ribble and Bailey’s Digital Health and Wellness. However, thinking of this one element of DC, Health and Wellness, your wheel would be a nice complement as it draws attention to a more comprehensive wellness approach that can be attached to the use digital mediums. (There are many sources of wellness models in our province and elsewhere. Which resource specifically are you referring to in your writing above?)
    Although I see and appreciate your argument with the Wellness Wheel being the foundation, what aspects might be missed if we thought of digital citizenship/participation through only the lens of digital health?


    Ribble, M., Bailey, G. (2007). Digital Citizenship in Schools. Eugene: International Society for Technology in Education.

  2. kpunit says:

    Hi Sandra,
    A very interesting post!
    Your connection of digital citizenship to the health and wellness helps me to understand the concept better as it adds a dimension to the topic. Ethical and moral issue of digital citizenship stands out for me as it helps me delve deeper and think what lies at the base of it all. Wellness centers specific to educational institutions, is a new concept for me. The four areas of a wellness wheel as pointed by you intends to have a holistic impact on overall personality of individuals namely, physical (body), spiritual, (beliefs), emotional (feelings), and psychological (mind). I think this is very important. In a way, this seems to be the most logical way to probe into understanding and implementation of the issue. But is it really viable in every school context? What is overall wellness in terms of an exclusive online learning environment?

    • Kamal,
      I agree – when I thought about it, it seemed like a very logical way to think about understanding and implementation. Your questions also put forth the dilemma. How do you think about digital citizenship so that it does not become a prescribed program, but grows out of the needs of the school, the community, and the children it serves?

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