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Digital Citizenship: What is it?

March 6, 2019


Who are digital citizens and why does digital citizenship matter? 

If you spend any time online then TAG, you're IT! Digital citizenship matters and it is vital that we teach today's students and community that there is a difference between digital citizenship and citizenship. How we treat one another and the code of common courtesy/ etiquette in the real world is citizenship. How we treat one another and the code of common courtesy/etiquette in the virtual world is digital citizenship. The key difference in those two sentences is the location - the real world and the virtual world. Digital citizenship is a skill that must be developed and practiced. 


Any classroom teachers reading? All classroom teachers know how important it is to take time at the beginning of the school year to establish classroom expectations and protocols. It may seem silly to some to take time to show our students how we turn papers in and what the procedure is for sharpening a pencil. It may seem redundant to others to pause and review how to walk in the hallway and the bathroom expectations, but if we didn't take the time to do that our classroom culture and environment would be off because there were no procedures and rules in place. Why wouldn't you take the same time to teach your students how to properly and safely learn and interact online? The procedures they need to follow if they accidentally land on a website they shouldn't?  What to do if someone asks for their personal information? Showing them the expectations and modeling how to be a good digital citizen is just as, if not more important, than them also knowing where to sharpen their pencil.  



Any parents reading? When you are with your littles at a restaurant or store, don't you model and explain how they are to act there? I am a mother and I know I have pulled mine close and told them they are acting a fool and embarrassing themselves and me. When we take them to the playground and they accidentally knock someone down, don't you tell them to go and apologize? Why wouldn't we also take the time to teach them how to treat people online? That the words they type can cause just as much damage as physically knocking them down? Shouldn't we be pulling them close and modeling how to interact with people online and what to do if someone is bullying them or they see someone else bullied? Our world today is becoming a more digital, virtual world every day. It is critical that we take the time to understand this crucial information on how to be a good digital citizen and what digital citizenship is, not just for our students and children, but for us as well. 



So what exactly is digital citizenship? There are lots of definitions out there, but Ribble (2015) provided some practical guidelines to what digital citizenship looks like when he described the key elements in his book Digital Citizenship: 9 elements all students should know. Here is a quick overview of those 9 elements:

  1. Digital access – All citizens should have equal access to the internet, regardless of where they live.

  2. Digital commerce – Online shopping isn’t just for adults anymore, kids today are also spending their allowance and hard-earned lawn mowing money in virtual stores.

  3. Digital communication – What we do online carries into our “real” world and we are held responsible. The way we choose to communicate to each other can carry permanent consequences.

  4. Digital literacy – Good digital citizens are constantly keeping up-to-date with the latest digital changes.

  5. Digital etiquette – The common code of courtesy that is expected to be followed while online.

  6. Digital law – Digital citizens are expected to act ethically regarding the laws that govern digital property, copyright and other internet laws.

  7. Digital rights and responsibilities – Our citizenship grants us certain rights, but these rights come with responsibilities we should all follow.

  8. Digital health and wellness – All digital users need to be made aware and provided with solutions to help them navigate the physical and psychological issues that can arise from internet use.

  9. Digital security – Protecting your information and identity while online.


I define digital citizenship as how we treat one another and adhere to the code of common courtesy/etiquette in the virtual world. Today many people view their digital life separate from their everyday life. They do not understand the lasting effects of their words and actions online. To explain this topic to colleagues I would ask them to remove the technology and look at just the action. Is this something that would be appropriate to say or do in real life? This is also how I have my teachers view disciplinary actions when it comes to technology. If a student is instant messaging other students on Google chats, take away the technology and look at the behavior. They are passing notes. What would you do if your student was passing notes? You would take it up and if it was inappropriate, you would report it, if it wasn’t you would explain that it is not polite or acceptable to pass notes during class. The same rules apply to online messaging. Student’s do not come preloaded with online etiquette, we have to teach them, just like we teach them proper table etiquette as a young child. The only difference is they are older and we assume they already know, and the truth is they just don’t.



Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education


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