Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century

Teachers can’t just let their students loose on the Internet, points out MENC member Matt McVeigh. They need to help students navigate its sometimes dangerous waters. What’s “digital citizenship”? How is it supported through standards and the 21st century skills framework? What’s its impact on music education?

Digital Citizenship

Students have moved from being citizens in their classrooms, schools, and neighborhoods to being citizens in the growing digital community of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. “The terrain of this new community is both inspirational and challenging,” says McVeigh. “The nature of Web connections has created a complex new ethical climate. Students’ ability to both make positive contributions and act responsibly is vital.”

Technology in Education Standards

Technology in education standards have shifted to support digital citizenship. The International Society for Technology in Education issued new technology standards that minimize the importance of teaching specific software and increase focus on broader issues like responsibility, ethics, credibility of sources, and creativity.

These new standards promote teaching “safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information.”
McVeigh reports,

  • “Issues such as copyright, file sharing, and software pirating are framed in a way that students can contemplate the ethical dimensions of the digital world.
  • “These standards shift away from teaching students how to use technology in favor of an approach that teaches broader concepts through technology.”

21st Century Skills

“The 2st Century Skills framework dedicates one third of its components to information, media, and technology,” says McVeigh. Targeted skills include

  • assessing and evaluating information
  • interpreting media messages
  • using digital media to communicate, create, and manage information

Impact on Music Education

“Anyone can be our students’ teacher,” says McVeigh. “The consumption of music in large volumes is reshaping the entire music industry. It’s one of the largest areas of digital use. Active music students are taking their questions to YouTube, Expert Village, Twitter, and Facebook. This has broad consequences if our students aren’t taught to analyze the credibility of their lessons.” He encourages students to consider what online citizenship means and to make decisions that promote a positive digital community.

McVeigh suggests ways to teach digital citizenship while teaching music:

  • Embed discussions of credibility and responsibility into music lessons.
  • Use Facebook and Twitter to expand lessons in ways that demonstrate proper and appropriate use.
  • Invite students to participate in learning through digital media and supervise those interactions.

In spite of the opportunities, the digital world “exposes new risks and considerations,” says McVeigh. Rather than banning, overrestricting, or shying away from it, “guide students to be responsible users,” he says, and format lessons to “foster discussions that bring ethical questions into focus.”

This article was adapted from “21st Century Classrooms: A New Kind of Citizenship” by Matt McVeigh in Wisconsin School Musician (September 2009). Used with permission.

Matt McVeigh teaches band and jazz band at Woodworth Middle School in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He’s the Wisconsin MEA State Chair for technology. Visit him online at

–Linda C. Brown, October 28, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (