We had the pleasure of interviewing Marialice Curran, the organiser of the first Digital Citizen Summit in Ireland recently. Hear from her what motivated her to implement this event around the world and learn what it brings to the fore.
What is your background?
I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Digital Citizenship Institute. My advanced graduate and doctoral studies on adolescent development at Boston College reinforced my commitment to service learning. I am very much lead by my hand, heart and mind! As a mother and a connected educator, I have also served as an associate professor, middle school teacher, principal and library media specialist.
I have developed and created the first 3-credit digital citizenship course for teachers in the United States. I co-founded the digital citizenship chat in Twitter (2011) and the Digital Citizenship Summit (2015). I have served on the leadership team for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Digital Citizenship PLN and is a researcher, keynote, international speaker and TEDxYouth speaker.
I have a wealth of experience which also includes me being an entrepreneur and puppeteer at the age of 11. Also I have travelled extensively with particular interest in the creative arts, middle level education, special education, teacher education and educational technology. I am committed to promoting social good using social media and technology. I believe in a community-driven approach to educating and empowering digital citizens to create solutions in local, global and digital communities. My personal mission is to turn negatives into positives and help to transform participants into designers, creative thinkers, global collaborators, problem solvers and justice-oriented digital citizens.
I have partnered with my eleven-year old son and we are now recognized professionally as a mother/son digital citizenship team. We model best practices while working with parents, educators, students and community organizations.
Is it a logical progression to what you do now?
My teaching career began in 1993 in a middle school classroom long before there were computers or mobile devices in the classroom. I taught social studies and language arts, and, although I love those content areas, I was always drawn to, and intrigued by, adolescent development. As Nancy Atwell stated in 1998, “Surviving adolescence is no small matter; neither is surviving adolescents. It’s a hard age to be and to teach. The worst things that ever happened to anyone happen everyday.”
Young teens have always gone to school to see and be seen, and all day long they recycle the same three questions: Who am I? How do others view me? Where do fit in?
My initial hook into digital citizenship began when students started asking those same three questions online, and I immediately saw the dangers. When I was a middle school principal there was a heavy focus on technology. A few years later, as an associate professor at the University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut, I created the first three-credit graduate course specifically around the nine elements of digital citizenship as part of the educational technology program in the School of Education.
This was just the beginning of my digital citizenship journey. When the college freshman, Tyler Clementi, took his life, I launched into action and created more digital citizenship courses and also began the digital citizenship chat on Twitter. I blogged about my transformation, “I did not know Tyler, but his suicide made me determined to focus on a solution. Tyler Clementi could be my son, your son. He was a brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend, neighbour, and most importantly, a human being.” This perspective launched me into uncharted territory. I am a mother. What if this was my son? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? How can I make a difference?”
My experience as an educator, coupled with an understanding of adolescent development, is at the foundation of why I wanted to create the Digital Citizenship Institute.
So many campaigns and news stories focus on the negative, dangerous aspects of technology that we try to protect our kids from. What inspired the Digital Citizenship Institute’s emphasis on embracing the positive side of technology and how we can use it for good?
By the fall of 2011, I created and developed a First Year Seminar course, Pleased to Tweet You: Are You a Socially Responsible Citizen? I connected my college freshmen in Connecticut with high school juniors in Alabama through a variety of social media tools to collaborate on what I thought would have been a student solution towards cyberbullying. Both classes went beyond that expectation as they defined citizenship in the 21st century through the iCitizen Project. Together, the students learned the difference between being an active citizen and an enabler of change, not just a resident or bystander. They focused on empathy and learned the importance of humanizing the person next to them, as well as the person on the other side of the screen.
This is when I changed. It comes as no surprise that student voice is the impetus for changing my focus from fear to empowerment. Learning alongside my students, my reactive approach became proactive, and I began to go beyond what to avoid and began to highlight what to encourage. Since the iCitizen Project, my digital citizenship journey has continued as I’ve engaged more students to be part of the solution by making digital citizenship a verb through live streamed events like The iCitizenship Town Hall Meeting, which was the first chapter and beginning of the Digital Citizenship Summit and the Digital Citizenship Institute.
Tell us what you do now?
I was the faculty member on record for our edtech programs at both the undergrad and graduate level for ten years and while everyone was focused on the tech, I saw that everyone was putting the cart in front of the horse, so to speak. Digital citizenship was an add on to edtech courses, conferences and curriculum and in many instances, was just a one-time assembly in schools. I was the first faculty member on record to create the first all three credit digital citizenship course in the US to begin to address the need to put a plan in place before the technology.
One course turned into the creation of other courses and workshops and events. By the fall 2011 semester, I created and taught a course, “Pleased to Tweet You: Are You a Socially Responsible Citizen?” and it was this course that was the beginning of carving out time and space to host the first conference focused solely on digital citizenship. Instead of being an add on, the Digital Citizenship Summit was an opportunity to change the narrative from a reactive and negative approach to a proactive and positive message that focused on local, global and digital communities working together.
Since the inaugural DigCitSummit in October 2015, we’ve held Summits in the UK, Twitter HQ, Nigeria, Mexico, Spain and will be at Trinity College in Dublin next month. As a direct result of the Summits, we established the DCI as a way to support not only the Summits, but to house curriculum, professional development and certify individuals, schools/districts/universities and organizations.
In the simplest terms, the DCI is committed to promoting social good through the use of social media and technology. We are a diverse group of individuals who think differently and believe in amplifying the positive and practical applications of learning in the digital age. We are committed to changing conversations and culture around the use of technology. We unite organizations, industry, schools/universities, parents and students by working towards solutions, promoting best practices and empowering citizens to be the digital change.
We view digital citizenship as an action, something that we need to practice and do every single day. In today’s networked world, this is our opportunity to put global education into practice to empower others to become change makers for using tech for good in local, global, digital communities.
Digital citizenship promotes the importance of being critical thinkers and solution creators who make a positive impact. In doing so, digital citizenship is about the heart of being human, creating ripples of good, continuously learning side by side and that when we work together, we are better together.
What are your plans for 2018?
In 2018, we’ll continue to work with local, global and digital communities to engage as many people as possible in our positive digital citizenship message. We recently trained and certified a government agency in Malaysia and we will be going hosting DigCitSummits back in Nigeria and Mexico, as well as hosting Summits in Australia, Kenya, Canada and our 4th annual DigCitSummit will be held this September in St. Louis.
How can people find out more about what you are working on?