Conceptualizing and contextualizing digital citizenship in urban schools: Civic engagement, teacher education, and the placelessness of digital technologies


  • Ruth G. Kane University of Ottawa
  • Nicholas Ng-A-Fook University of Ottawa
  • Linda Radford University of Ottawa
  • Jesse K. Butler University of Ottawa


Digital Citizenship, Citizenship Education, Digital Technologies, Teacher Education, Urban Education


In September 2014, pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong mobilized to bypass online government censorships, connecting through their Smartphones using the FireChat app. In 2013, four Saskatchewan women used Facebook chat to speak out against the proposed Federal Bill-45, initiating the IdleNoMore movement. In each of these cases, digital technologies were used to bypass the “official” channels of civic engagement. In this way, digital technologies can provide spaces within which non-dominant social groups can network around – and mobilize against – the entrenched interests embedded in traditional media. At the same time, however, digital technologies can become obstacles to civic engagement. In the 2016 US election, for example, Facebook was at the centre of controversies over fake news and “digital echo chambers.” As citizenship educators, therefore how can we engage with digital technologies in a positive way, in order to create decentred spaces for civic engagement within the diversity of 21st century classrooms?  In what follows, we first review existing research within the scholarly and policy contexts of civic engagement in urban schools and 21st century learning skills. We then present the conceptualization of digital citizenship that guides our project, with particular emphasis on the different spaces in which urban youth can be (and are) civically engaged. Finally, we discuss the context of our project, present some initial findings, and reflect on some of the obstacles we have encountered so far. In particular, we discuss our attempt to develop faculty/school partnership model as a way making the curriculum more locally relevant and meaningful to learners.