What is a Global Digital Citizen and Why Does the World Need Them?

by | Jan 11, 2017

One of the questions we’re asked most often is “what is a Global Digital Citizen?” Being a Global Digital Citizen is about more than just being a citizen of Earth. These are leaders, learners, and creators. It’s a way of living well in a world that’s changing fast, and showing others how to do the same.

Carl Sagan once defined an ideal citizenry as people “with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” Global Digital Citizens are concerned with connection and contribution. They know our technology plays a part in a much larger communal picture.

With all this in mind, welcome to your definitive guide to understanding the Global Digital Citizen. First our definition, and then our explanations.

Two Citizens in One

When connected technology first started to appear in schools, educators quickly realized the need for guidelines for acceptable use. Digital Citizenship is a term that arose to describe how a person should behave in the online world. Frequently policies and programs created around digital citizenship are primarily the content of an acceptable use policy enhanced with an educational component focusing heavily on protecting oneself from online predation and cyberbullying.

Global Citizenship is a well-understood concept relating to how one participates in and contributes to the world as a whole. What then is Global Digital Citizenship and how do they relate?

Over the past few decades, we’ve experienced the creation, expansion and assimilation of the digital world. There was the digital world, which was accessible to a limited demographic, and the real world in which we all lived. Through the rapid expansion of wired and wireless data combined with the explosion of devices capable of connecting to this network, we now live in a new reality that contains both the digital and the real world. Digital connected technology is as much a part of our daily lives as the microwave and refrigerator, which are now also connected to the Internet.

As the digital world is part of our world, digital citizenship is now a component of global citizenship, and is in fact only one of the facets of Global Digital Citizenship we discuss below. It does, however, have the capacity for tremendous impact on who we are as members of the global community.

Therefore, Global Digital Citizenship addresses how we participate and contribute in the blended physical and digital worlds, and how we can leverage the digital world to grow citizens in this new reality.

Global citizen

  • sees the world as a community in which all people live and prosper together
  • understands their actions contribute to the values of the entire planet
  • concerns how we participate in and contribute to the entire world

Digital citizen

  • adheres to guidelines that govern the ethical and responsible use of technology
  • acts responsibly in all relationships and interactions in the digital world

When we mix these two together, it’s the perfect recipe for the Global Digital Citizen.


Tying the Digital and the Global Together

The Global Digital Citizen understands that we can govern technology for the benefit of both ourselves and others. It is a citizen that views the world as an interconnected community. Additionally, they realize we simultaneously share technological and human experiences regardless of culture, status, or political/religious beliefs.

So we define the best assets of the Global Digital Citizen using 5 tenets. Let’s examine why they’re crucial concepts for educators to teach and for students to adopt. We also have resources to help you guide students in developing these mindsets. These five tenets are the essence of what it means to be a great Global Digital Citizen. By using the examples and resources, you can move positively towards turning good digital students into great Global Digital Citizens.

Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility includes demonstrating how we manage ourselves in matters such as:

  • personal finance
  • ethical and moral boundaries
  • personal health and wellness
  • relationships of every kind, both online or offline


Why it’s important: For the student, this kind of responsibility means taking ownership of their learning. Developing a sense of accountability for lifelong learning in our students prepares them for the workplace. These are places where they must often think and act independently and take initiatives on their own. Encouraging this in the classroom as early as possible can help students develop high-level critical thinking and problem solving abilities to assist them in every aspect of their lives.

Some ideas:


Global Citizenship

The Global Digital Citizen understands that technology has dissolved boundaries between all the world’s people. We now communicate, collaborate, and celebrate across all levels of society. We are now all global citizens.


Why it’s important: Our students must realize, among other things, that we aren’t isolated from each other anymore. A deep understanding of this new global interconnectedness can encourage them to be aware of the issues, traditions, values, and cultures of other citizens. This leads to cultivating understanding, acceptance, compassion, and humility.

Some ideas:

Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship covers appropriate and exemplary behaviour in our online environments. It’s about working towards making our transparent digital world safe for ourselves and others.


Why it’s important: Just like with personal responsibility, this involves moving accountability for appropriate behaviour to our students. We teach them how to govern their behaviour, act in just and moral ways, and lead by good example in all online associations. In doing so they foster independence within themselves and hopefully light the way for others to do the same.

Some ideas:


Altruistic Service

Altruism is defined as “having a selfless concern for the well-being of others.” The Global Digital Citizen acknowledges that they share this world with many different people. These ideals apply to the people we know, but also those we don’t know. It includes embracing the opportunity to exercise charity and goodwill for the benefit of others.


Why it’s important: The practice of altruistic service provides opportunities for our students to create meaningful connections to the real world. It gives them the chance to reach out to others and do things that can make a person’s experiences better or easier in everyday life. This produces a sense of community and well-being for all.

Some ideas:

  • Create fundraising campaigns and other charitable acts with your students
  • Students can volunteer abroad using organizations like Projects Abroad or ISV
  • Students can work in their own community with local businesses to gain work experience and contribute to the well-being of community business leaders

Environmental Stewardship

This practice is all about common-sense values and an appreciation for the beauty and majesty that surrounds us every day. This facet of Global Digital Citizenship encourages exploring how we can practice the conscientious use of Earth’s resources.


Why it’s important: Environmental stewardship encourages every student to take a positive stand on personal, local, regional, national, and international actions regarding the preservation of what is essentially our “environmental community.” This facet of Global Digital Citizenship reinforces the idea that we have one world that we all live on. It’s vital that we respect it and take steps to ensure its beauty and longevity for all future generations.

Some ideas:

  • Explore websites like Endangered Earth, EPA, and EarthDay.org for information and learning resources
  • Ensure a good recycling program is in place at your school
  • Create a fundraising campaign to support an environmental group or your local recycling center
  • Create a “clean and green” school challenge and invite other schools to participate in developing school the most effective policies and activities

Why Does the World Need the Global Digital Citizen?

This is the fundamental question, and it’s a fair one. Why is developing Global Digital Citizens in our schools so important, to the present and the future? How can knowing and practicing all this help?

If you could sum it all up in one phrase, you could perhaps call it a quest for mindful leadership. We can address this using the essence of the 5 Tenets above.

Personally, we face the daily possibility of online fraud, identity theft, and online bullying. We place our entire lives and their contents in the digital stratosphere willingly, and often without considering the consequences. The dangers of this are real. What is needed is people who will advocate and demonstrate the kind of self-governance that will keep us safe from harm both online and offline.

Globally, even as technologically intertwined as we are, there is also a level of disconnection in our lives. We are more connected than ever and yet often less tuned into others than ever. Global Digital Citizens see the need all diversity has to be recognized, honoured, and cherished for present and future generations. They also see the need for harmony and connection in a world transforming as rapidly as ours.

Digitally, our Internet is unchecked and growing wild, which is a good thing. Online information is expanding at a staggering rate. Whilst I do not subscribe to the belief that the Web is a haven for cyber-criminals who can act in complete anonymity, just as in the real-world, online perils do exist, and the Global Digital Citizen sets an example to others on how to navigate them safely and securely. A good helping of common sense goes a long way in this regard.

Altruistically we have more means to help others thanks to technology. Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing help us give back to local and global communities. Social media can become a support network for those of us who are in physical, mental, and emotional need. The Global Digital Citizen can lead the way.

Environmentally we continue to face growing threats such as climate change, resource depletion, industrial pollution, digital pollution, and more. Global Digital Citizens seek to combat the biggest challenges to our environmental health. They foster solutions that work to the benefit of the entire planet.


Resources for Teaching and Learning

We’ve got some tools to help you as you talk to students about the Global Digital Citizen. Take a look at one of our most popular ones, the GDCF’s Digital Citizenship Agreements. These agreements set guidelines for ethical use policies with technology. There’s one for primary, middle, and senior school. You also get a printable and signable Global Digital Citizen Honour Code certificate to give to each student.

Next, check out the Global Digital Citizen QuickStart Guide. This is the final book in the GDCF’s Fluency Quickstart series. Explore the skills and mindsets that define the exemplary Global Digital Citizen. Use the Fluency Snapshot (also included) and six fun problem-based scenario ideas. You’ve got everything you need in one book.

Lastly, there’s no better place to create top-notch lesson plans for your budding Global Digital Citizens than the Solution Fluency Activity Planner. It’s a lesson-planning hub, professional development tool, and social network all in one. Sign up for free and get access to great tools and free premium plans to use in your classroom.



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