How do we teach Digital Civics?

To explore what digital civics is, and develop a pedagogical approach for it, I undertook a doctoral research project. Conducted at the Dublin Institute of Technology, the project launched in collaboration with Dublin City Library and Archives as part of their One City, One Book initiative.

This interdisciplinary research formulates a robust foundational framework for digital civics through the development of underpinning philosophical, ethical, and historical concepts. It then enacts a functioning example of a digital civics pedagogy project. Combining this theoretical and practical research, a model for digital civics in pedagogy is developed.

The development of a robust foundation for Digital Civics that incorporates the fundamental Philosophical, Ethical, and Historical concepts. 

To formulate an understanding of life in the digital age, and what this means for citizens within it, the core underlying principles of digital civics are explored, including its philosophical, ethical, and historical ideas. The work then investigates the impact of scientific and technological developments on the way people view and understand themselves and their world. It then considers the impact of these shifts in human self-understanding on human behaviours, specifically behaviours of an ethical nature. Identifying the Philosophy of Information as a critical component for successful digital civics pedagogy, the importance of understanding our historical past and the usefulness of virtue ethics as tools for educational success are also presented.

A living digital laboratory in which the core ideas of digital civics pedagogy were explored and developed.

Hosted on social media, and centred around the Facebook platform 30 participants, (including actors, teachers, university professors, retirees, undergraduate students, and other interested persons), took part in a month long digital reconstruction of Oscar Wilde’s Victorian London in 1891. The characters moved between online and offline, crossing between their digital 1891 world, and live onto the streets of Dublin in full Victorian garb. Revived from the dead and unleashed into the online realm, the Victorian characters were free to interact with each other, students, and the public, and to contemplate the world of digital 1891 that they now inhabited. They posted pictures, offered Facebook feedback to one another, created fan pages, and formed Facebook groups. They gossiped about their lives, commented on “current” events (current to April, 1891), and discussed the connectivity, ethics, and technology of their world.

Coming soon: The Model for Digital Civics Pedagogy


The project addressed philosophical questions that speak to the fundamental nature of what it means to be human, and how our self-understanding impacts our behaviours and interactions. The pedagogical intention of digital civics in this work explores these underlying philosophical questions that are raised: to assist the individual student in developing an understanding of the informational environment in which they live; to become aware of their ethical responsibilities and obligations arising within this environment; and to identify and engage with their own ethical ideas (their moral code) and behaviours in the digital age.

Through a combination of the Theory and Practice an initial model for Digital Civics Pedagogy was developed. This model explores the Design of digital civics pedagogy environments, and the Influences, Skills, and Proactive Engagements required, to meet the learning outcomes of developing critical ethical resources for life in the digital age. At its core, a strong conceptual formulation acts as the foundation for Digital Civics Pedagogy. This formulation consolidates the framework of civics, philosophy, ethics, and history that is central to Digital Civics.


This doctoral thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach to incorporate: Media scholarship; Philosophy (specifically Floridi’s Philosophy of Information, Ess’ emphasis on Virtue Ethics, and Plato); various approaches within Pedagogy; Ethnography; Classical history; Dance, Theatre, and Spectacle. These diverse disciplinary approaches are brought together with the goal of developing a novel approach to the pedagogy and ethics of what I identify as ‘Digital Civics’. As such, a definition and subsequent exploration of the philosophical and historical principles underpinning digital civics are presented. The development of a robust understanding of digital civics’ foundations is necessitated by the transformations in our world as discussed by Luciano Floridi, in the Philosophy of Information, with particular reference to the Infosphere and Forth Revolution. Further relevant ideas are drawn from Classical and Victorian History, through exploring the History of Science, and Media Ecology. Finally, an example of a pedagogical project is outlined to demonstrate how Digital Civics Pedagogy might function practically in the educational environment. Through exploring the combination of this theoretical research, with its accompanying real-world project, a model for digital civics in pedagogy is developed.

Read the Thesis on Arrow Research


This thesis argues for the inclusion of digital civics in twenty first century pedagogy. It presents a model for digital civics pedagogy that formulates a theoretical framework around ethical agency in the infosphere and operationalizes that concept through an action-based project designed to foster the development of critical ethical resources. Explored ethnographically, the findings revealed the presence of an organically occurring system of ethics specific to digital interactions, which I have labelled “virtuel ethics”. This formulation of virtuel ethics included the use of systems similar to Platonic virtue ethics; a focus on self-regulation; thematic interest in the concepts of shame and memory; and a hierarchical emphasis on accessing information through the digital level of abstraction over the physical level of abstraction. The research presents digital civics as essential to preparing students for ethically responsible participation as citizens of a digitally convergent society. Such pedagogy will enable educators to proactively engage digital convergence in an educational context.

This research draws on the philosophy of information, specifically the work of Luciano Floridi (2007), to argue that digital civics must fully comprehend the implications of the digital environment, and consequently an informational ontology, to deliver to students an education that will prepare them for full participation as citizens in the infosphere. Within this framework the research discusses the ethical implications of ontological change in the digital age and the ability of virtue ethics to respond to these implications as a “critical ethical resource” (Ess, 2010).


Ess, C (2010a). Trust and New Communications Technologies: Vicious Circles, Virtuous Circles, Possible Futures. Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 23(3-4), 287-305.

Floridi, L. (2007) A look into the future impact of ICT on our lives. The Information Society, (23)1, 59-64.