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Investigating Adolescents’ Digital Citizenship through Social Media: (Trans) Formation, Digital Literacy Practices and Influential Factors

Project Scheme:
General Research Fund
Project Year:
Project Leader:
Dr GU, Ming Yue Michelle
(Department of English Language Education)

The internet's anonymity and unrestricted access facilitates both (a) hacking, online aggressions, and cyberbullying of adolescents and (b) opportunities to learn, socialize, and accept one another. 

Teaching students to participate in online communities and society (digital citizenship [DC] education) can help them (a) protect themselves from such harmful behaviors and (b) maximize their positive affordances. To provide such education, we must understand the ethically, socially, and culturally meaningful literacy practices that support positive DC. Past studies primarily examined the DC views of individuals (mostly adults rather than adolescents) but not how they actually enact their DC through digital literacy practices across social media and/or social networking contexts, or the factors that influence their DCs. Without such knowledge, properly preparing our young people for DC will be extremely challenging. 


To fill this research gap, this mixed-method DC study of late adolescents (from secondary 4 to 6) will examine their evolving DC and digital literacy practices in social media and/or social networking, and explore the factors that influence them. We will recruit 810 diverse adolescents (stratified sample across grades [4, 5, 6] and cultures [local Chinese and ethnic minorities]) to complete the survey, 36 of whom will participate in the qualitative phase. Multilevel structural equation modeling of their survey responses will determine the factors (individual, parental, and interpersonal) that influence their DC. 


The qualitative part will adopt multiple methods: semi-structured interviews, student videos of digital activities, focus groups, and document analysis. 


The first semi-structured interview will investigate each student’s DC views and practices/activities. Then, each student will visually/video record their digital practices/activities for four months, share their representative practices/activities with us, and discuss them during the second and third interviews. Focus groups of three to four participants will then discuss their similarities and differences. Finally, we analyze how policy, curriculum, and teaching and learning materials might influence their DC views and practices. We will re-conceptualize DC by understanding how adolescents view/act on their DCs in both cyberspace and physical space, along with their antecedents. Practically, identifying the needs of students, teachers, teacher educators, curriculum developers and policy makers, will inform development of reform, support and/or educational interventions to further students' DC to (a) guide them to engage in digital practices/activities ethically, legally and responsibly; (b) educate them to develop digital literacies and effectively use digital technologies to enact and facilitate social development (e.g., anti-racism Twitter campaigns, WeChat fundraising for vulnerable communities).