What is digital citizenship?
Teacher Tips

What is digital citizenship?

The average internet user spends more than a quarter of their life on the World Wide Web, according to the Digital 2019 report (by HootSuite and We Are Social). For better or for worse, the internet is now our primary tool for work, communication, managing finances, and shopping… to name just a few. 

In a modern world where a significant portion of life is online, it is educators’ responsibility to ensure that young people are equipped with the tools they need to navigate it. 

But how to know where to start? In such a vast and new digital environment, how do we know which skills are necessary, let alone how they should be taught?

This is where the concept of Digital Citizenship comes in. 

In this article, we are going to be exploring exactly what Digital Citizenship is, what it’s essential elements are, why it’s important and finally, how to teach it. 



What is Digital Citizenship?

In its broadest form, digital citizenship is an umbrella term and tool used by educational organizations to ensure that they are delivering a rounded digital education. The term defines a set of standards or norms which should be upheld and striven for in all technology use. 

Think of it a little bit like the Rules of the Road handbook. Digital Citizenship defines the basic code for responsible and safe vehicle usage, only in the online world, the vehicle is your internet-enabled device. The code can cover everything from avoiding physical injury such as repetitive strain to how to make safe purchases online.

Confusingly the exact specifications of what counts as ‘digital citizenship’ can vary between countries and groups. It is also continuously evolving to keep pace with the changing online environment. But the overall aim is always the same – to create responsible, ethical and safe online users. 



What are the 9 pillars (and three principles) of Digital Citizenship?

The most commonly referred to standards of Digital Citizenship come from Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey’s work ‘Digital Citizenship in Schools’, published in 2011 alongside ISTE.

Within their book, they define Digital Citizenship as being made up of 9 key elements which are then grouped into 3 overarching categories. Let’s have a look at what they are:



  • Digital access: All tech users need to be aware that not everyone has the same opportunities when it comes to digital access and this can limit freedom and growth. All digital citizens should advocate for equal digital rights and ensure no one is denied access to technology.
  • Digital etiquette: Learning to recognize inappropriate behavior online and thinking mindfully of others whilst using technology are important skills. Rules and policies alone aren’t enough. We need to teach people to truly reflect on appropriate conduct online. 
  • Digital law: It’s critical that all technology users understand what is considered a crime in the digital world. Actions such as stealing or damaging another’s digital work, identity or property or hacking in any form.

2. Educate

  • Digital communication: There are now countless methods to communicate with all sorts of people, both known and unknown. Making good choices regarding communication methods can help to keep people safe and express themselves properly.
  • Digital literacy: Using digital equipment and tools is a vital skill for succeeding in education, the world of work and the personal sphere. Students need to be taught how to learn and thrive amongst these tools.
  • Digital commerce: A large part of the economy now exists purely online. Students must learn how to make safe and legal online purchases and understand the protocols of managing finances in the digital space. 

3. Protect

  • Digital rights and responsibilities: All tech users should fully understand their own rights and freedoms in the online world. Digital citizens have a basic right to privacy and freedom of speech, among other things. Students should be aware of their rights and also protect them, ensuring they are provided for all. 
  • Digital safety and security: A detailed understanding of the possible security threats posed by interacting online is important for safety. Digital citizens should know how to protect themselves and the organizations they belong to from external dangers.
  • Digital health and wellness: As with many activities, technology poses some risks to health. Digital citizens should be aware of physical issues, such as repetitive strain syndrome, to psychological issues, such as internet addiction and understand the steps to prevent them. 


Why is Digital Citizenship important?

Imagine setting off for your first year in college. You’re excited, and a bit nervous as you sit behind the wheel of your car – a long journey ahead of you. As you turn the key in the ignition and your friends and family wave from the driveway it suddenly dawns on you… no one has thought to teach you how to drive! 

Left sweating and alone in a moving vehicle you are faced with desperately trying to work out the intricacies of maneuvering a 2-ton heap of engine powered metal safely to your destination. But without even the faintest idea of where the brake is, how to steer or any notion of the rules of the road, what sort of chance do you have? 

It sounds ridiculous, right? Who could possibly expect someone to drive safely or successfully without ever having had lessons? Yet that’s exactly what we do to kids in regard to technology – hand them a device and let them work it out for themselves. 

Technology is fascinating and provides so many advantages, but as with just about all life skills, we need to be shown how before we can make the most of it. 


How to teach Digital Citizenship in the classroom

Digital Citizenship is a new and constantly adapting concept with big implications for your students – so it’s no wonder it can feel a bit overwhelming to introduce into the classroom. As with many difficult and important life lessons, a steady structured approach is usually best in order to maximize the learning impact. Here are a few of our tips:

1.Teach yourself

The digital world is a very new concept for many, and even the most tech-savvy may feel a bit overwhelmed by the intricacies of data security. The best way to feel confident in the subject is to nail your own knowledge – after all Digital Citizenship is for everyone, not just your students. Common Sense Education and ISTE are great places to start your research. 

2. Incorporate the 9 pillars into all your lessons

Digital Citizenship doesn’t have to be taught as a stand-alone subject. In fact, it can take on more relevance and make more sense when applied to a variety of subjects. For example, in research based subjects such as history or geography, explain the importance of using authoritative sources and how to distinguish them. In schools with access to student devices, incorporating a wide range of educational apps can help to improve digital literacy and provide regular opportunities to explain the importance of security practices and data protection.

3. Discuss and debate

Some of the most important parts of digital citizenship are also some of the most open to debate and exploration. Creating active discussions around topics such as ‘what is appropriate online behavior?’ and ‘does everyone need access to technology?’ can help students to critically engage with the subject and consider their own ethics. 

4. Include principles in grading

Where appropriate, linking Digital Citizenship principles to academic success can help them to become more ingrained. This could be through aspects such as research quality, completing tasks successfully on new online applications or displaying a high-level knowledge of principles. 

5. Involve parents

Digital safety and awareness is an essential life skill for everyone. Encouraging parents to consider their own online behavior and how it impacts children can be a good way to spread the message and get support from home. 

At Kami we believe that Digital Citizenship is an essential part of modern education. To learn more about all things EdTech, check out our blog.

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