“Let’s not let students leave school in isolation, with only Friday on their minds. Let’s ensure they are well connected, independent, and empowered to learn anywhere, anytime.”Paul Moss

“Connected, independent and empowered” learners should be the aspiration for all students and every educator. As schools strive to provide students with greater agency over their learning, online connections become increasingly important. Students following their passions must connect with others who share that passion as well as experts in the field. The expertise teachers now need, is to help students locate, connect and contribute to online communities that can support them as they learn.

As we explore this learning model with our students, we quickly find the conversation about online collaboration shifting away from one of Digital Citizenship to one of Digital Presence. Digital Citizenship focuses on a set of rules and obligations that all responsible users adhere to. While students certainly need to be aware of ethical online behavior, some of the traditional rules of Digital Citizenship are actually counterproductive to developing a Personal Learning Network. Should students not tweet questions to political figures or university professors or researchers? Can they genuinely engage with other learners online if they do not share at least some personal information?

According to George Couros, “as kids, we were continuously told “don’t talk to strangers”, and this generation has been told the same thing. Times have changed and we have to really rethink this notion.” For Couros, our obligation is clear: “If we let our notion of what a “stranger” is and decide not to connect with these people, we are taking away tremendous opportunities from our students.  Instead of the idea that we “shouldn’t talk to strangers”, maybe we need to focus on Bill Nye’s notion that “everyone you meet knows something you don’t” and teach our students how to be safe in a world that is powerfully connected.”

We need to help our students understand how to manage the power of social media and in that process to curate and cultivate the digital presence they want. If we neglect this crucial role, we will fail to create the connected, independent and empowered learners we aspire to.


Paul Moss, “Why Learning Through Social Networks is the Future.” Teachthought, November 26, 2013.

George Couros, Myths of Technology Series: “Don’t Talk To Strangers”. The Principal of Change, April 4, 2014.

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