Digital Citizenship refers to the appropriate behaviors for positive engagement with digital tools and in digital spaces. We can view digital citizenship as an extension of citizenship in the physical world, where we have rights, duties, and obligations depending on our national affiliations. In schools, much of the hidden curriculum is concerned with student behavior as well as interaction between individuals and groups of people. Teachers help students develop team building skills, cooperation, kindness, sharing and other such attributes within the course of classroom and extracurricular activities. These skills are even more important online, where it’s easier to be mean and misunderstandings occur more often without the nuances of speech and body language.
Mark Ribble, in his book Digital Citizenship in Schools, identifies 9 elements of digital citizenship. The elements are Digital Etiquette, Digital Communication, Digital Law, Digital Literacy, Digital Access, Digital Rights and Responsibilities, Digital Health and Wellness, Digital Commerce, and Digital Security.
Teaching Digital Citizenship
Experiences in the physical and virtual worlds work in tandem to create ways of thinking and being. Children have some experiences online before doing so in the physical world. They may also experiment and explore their identity online. Adults can help children unify their online and offline worlds, and help facilitate constructive and positive experiences through intentional conversations and guidance in both spaces. As children experience new situations and problems, and engage in steps to resolve them, they build resilience.
Students develop digital citizenship skills by engaging in online spaces, with appropriate support and guidance. Digital citizenship lessons are best taught within the context of technology use. Just as we can’t teach a child to ride a bike through pen and paper exercises, we can’t teach digital citizenship skills in that way. What we teach about digital citizenship and how we teach it should depend on the age of the child. In every class and subject, it is up to the teacher to highlight any relevant digital citizenship skill that students are using during the course of a lesson. The following essential questions for use with students, derived from Mark Ribble’s work, may help you develop lessons and activities for your classroom:
- What are my rights and responsibilities in a digital society? (Digital Rights and Responsibilities)
- How does my use of technology affect other people? (Digital Etiquette)
- Am I using technology responsibly and appropriately? (Digital Law)
- Do I communicate appropriately with others when using digital tools? (Digital Communication)
- What technology can I use to improve my learning? How does technology help me learn? (Digital Literacy)
- Does everyone have access to the appropriate technology tools when he/she needs them for learning, work, and for local and global collaboration? (Digital Access)
- How can I protect myself and my equipment from being harmed by my online activities? (Digital Security)
- What are the physical and psychological dangers of digital technology use? (Digital Health and Wellness)
Start the year with clear agreements with students about their use of technology at school and in the classroom. If your school has a technology use policy, discuss it with students and help them understand its contents and how it applies to their classes. Develop classroom rules that clarify and build upon existing school rules about technology use. Make sure that classroom rules address software installations, changes to computer configuration, and uses of technology devices. During orientation at the beginning of the school year, students in one grade 4 classroom made class agreements on taking photos and videos in the classroom and downloads and purchases on classroom iPads, learned about password strength, and made a list of trusted adults beside their parents/guardians to go for help in the physical world if they have a problem in the virtual world.
Throughout the year, reinforce the agreements, concepts and skills from the start of the year. As you plan your lessons and units, select the essential question relevant to the content area, and to the use of technology by students. Use this essential question to include relevant tasks and conversations in your lessons. Also model digital citizenship skills in your own teaching. Finally, include descriptions of digital citizenship skills that students are learning in your regular communication home.
Teaching digital citizenship in Elementary School
Throughout elementary school, teachers should share reliable, relevant websites with children. One way to do that is through a bulletin board of QR codes that students can quickly use to access websites. Other tools for sharing include social bookmarking tools like Diigo, Google Classroom or other learning management systems, and tools like Chirp. It’s important to emphasize which tools and websites students may use, the process for selecting a new website or tool, and how to identify unsafe situations online.
In lower elementary school, most of the tools used by students at school will be found and shared by the teacher. The major focus of digital citizenship for students should be on finding and using safe, appropriate sites, and on what to do if they find themselves in a new or scary place. Common Sense Media has a lesson using the analogy of traffic lights for K-2 students where green light sites are those that are appropriate for the child. If you’re an elementary school teacher, you may want to make a poster or bulletin board of green light sites for the classroom. You can involve students in evaluating the sites, and in posting them. You may connect this idea to a QR code bulletin board, for students to quickly access green light sites.
In upper elementary school, students will begin to find more of their own websites to use. They start to make accounts independently and need to learn about strong passwords, and protecting their accounts. It’s important for teachers to help children develop independence in selecting appropriate resources for use in their learning. My favorite lesson for helping children in Grades 3 – 5 recognize the opportunity and responsibility of digital citizenship is Rings of Responsibility from Common Sense Media.This lesson can be done each year, customized to the grade level of the children. It’s also a good idea to send related material home, with ideas for connections at home.
Even though students in Grades 3 – 5 do not meet the requirement for many online sites and tools, many of them have these accounts, with or without their parents’ permission. Discussions of cyberbullying, online civility, and privacy are especially important as children engage more in virtual spaces. As a teacher, you can facilitate conversations with students about their choices and habits when using digital tools. It’s important in this lesson to be a listener, and facilitator, and to guide students’ choices without being bossy.
Teaching Digital Citizenship in Middle and High School
Students in middle and high school generally have much more independence in using their digital devices. They engage in social media and in social networks. It’s important to teach about cyberbullying, time management, and mental and physical health, as topics connect to the digital lives of teens. Common Sense Media has a variety of kits and lessons to help you. Since many students have their own devices at home, issues of Digital Commerce and Digital Security are relevant to them. They should learn about these topics as part of core courses of technology, maths, and other relevant subject areas. Alternatively, some schools organize a digital citizenship bootcamp for students during the first days of school.
Favorite Resources for Teaching Digital Citizenship
I have used many different websites for teaching digital citizenship, but in the past few years, I’ve focused on the following 3 resources:
I’ve recently learned about one more tool, which sounds exciting, the Digital Intelligence Quotient (DQ). The DQ includes 8 digital skills: digital citizen identity, screen time management, cyber bullying management, cyber security management, digital empathy, digital footprints, critical thinking and privacy management. DQ World is an online game with free access for kids ages 9 to 12 to develop their digital citizenship skills. You can create a school/classroom account to use the site in your classroom. If you try it out, please leave me a comment.
Another resource – Tech Time Digital Citizenship wiki based on Mark Ribble’s book