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Making Digital Citizenship “Stick”

digital citizenship
(Image credit: GETTY IMAGES/CAIAIMAGE/CHRIS RYAN)

Teachers are moving to utilize technology on a scale that has never been seen before. Educators are being asked to set up classrooms and help students to learn in an online or hybrid situation with technology firmly in the center.  

These tools are critical to help make the connection between a student that is often not in the classroom but still provide a quality education. In the speed to provide content often one area often overlooked is digital citizenship.  

So what is digital citizenship

When you search the Internet there are many definitions of digital citizenship. The one we find most inclusive is the continuously developing norms of appropriate, responsible, and empowered technology use. To be effective in the use of their technology tools in the classroom, educators need to understand the opportunities as well as the challenges. 

To assist in reaching this goal The Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship outlines the core foundation of any good digital citizenship program. 

These themes coupled with the “S3 framework”:

  • Safe (Protect Yourself / Protect Others) 
  • Savvy (Educate Yourself / Educate Others) 
  • Social (Respect Yourself / Respect Others) 

Each section of the framework includes the following nine elements, which support these three sections of the framework: 

  • Digital access 
  • Digital commerce
  • Digital communication and collaboration
  • Digital etiquette
  • Digital fluency
  • Digital health and welfare
  • Digital law
  • Digital rights and responsibility
  • Digital security and privacy

For a graphic to show how these two areas work together to create a school technology plan see the Digital Progression Chart. You can download and modify as you need for your school or district.

Teaching digital skills to all users of technology is needed, but beginning with our students is critical to create a foundation of knowledge. Understanding how to act when we are using these tools is as, or more, important than the tool itself. It is time to embed the ideas of digital citizenship into our educational process. So how do we accomplish this in our classroom?

Digital citizenship in the classroom

The issue is how we provide skills to a generation that has grown up swiping, posting, and liking on digital devices. For some who have tried to incorporate such a program, there is a need for support from administration, faculty, and parents. Often it can be hard to maintain the interest and momentum in “one more program” when we are just concerned with connecting with students. So with all the other requirements today how can this be done?

Have a Plan and How to Implement It

Make sure to ask questions.​ What does our district use as a guide? Who can help provide direction for use in the classroom?​

Despite the fact that school leaders know how important digital citizenship is to their school cultures, many still find it difficult to implement. There are three reasons for this:

1. Knowledge. When the discussion turns to technology, many educators are unsure of these tools and the appropriate uses. With few opportunities to learn how and where technology tools can fit into a curriculum or learning experience, educators are often hesitant to implement tools that seem complicated and that take away from other opportunities in the classroom.

How can teachers implement digital citizenship into their lessons? Many are already doing it but do not have the language to express what they are doing. 

■ Make it part of the classroom. If you have classroom rules do not forget the digital ones as well.
■ Encourage teachers to identify one or two technology tools for use in the classroom. Research how not just to use the tool but how to do appropriately. Don’t try too much at once.

2. Time. The time constraints of busy teachers, coupled with limited professional development and a constant stream of new tech to learn, make the implementation of digital citizenship programs difficult.

■ Encourage students to lead the process by creating banners, public service announcements, and presentations as classroom assignments to teach others to use technology.
■ Look for opportunities to learn new technology skills. It may be in your school, district or even course in local colleges. These skills might be important one day.

3. Support. Teachers often don’t have (or feel) that they have the instructional support to learn how best to implement digital citizenship programs into the curriculum.

■ Include students to teach others how to use these tools in the classroom.

■ Include parents, community members, and law enforcement officials in conversations about technology needed in the larger community.

Realize that digital citizenship is more than safety 

The safety topics provide a strong foundation to build upon, but there needs to be more.  

Digital citizenship, from its introduction, focused on safety as a primary concept but we also need support for understanding technology use and not a list of what not to do. We teach students skills in the physical world to protect them--“Look both ways when crossing the street,” “Don’t touch a hot stove,” etc. But how do these translate into the digital space?  

We must explain when and where to share information, how to interact with others without visual cues, etc. This cannot stop with one lesson but needs to be retaught at every level and built upon.

Users need to understand the concepts that help to support a technology so that they can become more savvy  

There cannot be an assumption that everyone understands the tools just because they grew up exposed to the technology. Even those who seem to have mature technology skills still need assistance to become effective users of these tools. 

Students need to understand how to use the technology to create context in their own learning. How do we do this?   

First, we need to provide our educators and parents with the technology knowledge. They need to be introduced to apps and applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, and how each one should be used. Once they are comfortable with the tools then they can share these skills with the students. As technology and its use within education continues to change educators, students and parents also need to be flexible and change with it.   

Second, these skills need to be practiced and reinforced at home as well. School and home need to work together on times technology is appropriate and when there are times it needs to be set aside.  

The digital expansion is now a part of daily citizenship 

The online world is a social experience as real as any community, and often it is difficult to differentiate from the real world. The two are more intertwined with the expansion of the Internet of Things and its possibilities. 

The individual nature of the technology has made the tools, apps, and sites more personal to us, while we still are trying to interact with others. We see this change every day, people looking at devices instead of at one another. We need balance in our lives, and we must find ways to use these tools to our advantage, and not the other way around.

Know your resources​  

Many examples of digital citizenship being implemented in schools exist, as well as tools that have been created for classroom and whole school use. Many have the flexibility to meet the needs of diverse communities and needs.  

Once your school or district has started focusing on digital citizenship, make sure to refer to the points above to continue the process. This is not a single assembly or professional development presentation; this is a commitment to the appropriate and responsible use of technology today and into the future.

Digital Citizenship Consulting - Education, Technology Support

Digital Citizenship Program

Digital Citizenship in Education

DigCitCommit: Home

What is the future of digital citizenship?

Many educators share the enthusiasm for technology but often without the support and resources to make real changes for their students, interest fades.  

Schools need to identify a plan to integrate the ideas and tools of technology today to help reinforce their classroom experience. There needs to be encouragement to help make digital citizenship “stick” in our schools for our educators, students, parents and community.

With the inclusion of technology, education has changed. The tools and experiences may be different from what was available in the past but people have not changed. The idea of technology should be used to help and ease the issues in the classroom, not make it more stressful and confusing.   

Digital citizenship needs to be properly integrated into the curriculum to support the faculty and students and to provide a foundation for your staff so that they in turn can help the students to be the effective users of the technology.

Mike Ribble and Marty Park are the authors of the book The Digital Citizenship Handbook for School Leaders: Fostering Positive Interactions Online.