Digital Citizenship


“the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community”
~Merriam Webster Dictionary

The United States’s public school system’s original purpose was to create citizens, people who would have certain qualities that would allow them to be responsible members of the country.  Today, social science has a unique position in carrying out that purpose.  In our history classes, we teach students where they came from as part of a collective group; we teach them about past mistakes and past successes of individuals and governments; we teach them about their rights and responsibilities as citizens; we teach them to be informed about what is happening in the world.

But times–or, more specifically, technology–are changing, and we need to change our perception of what it means to create good citizens with it.

It is no longer enough for students to be taught about the qualities they must have in a classroom, workplace, or more in order to be a responsible citizen.  As the realm of technology offers new avenues for interacting with people across the city, state, country, even across the globe, we need to teach our students how to carry these qualities, these character traits, into the digital arena.  In short, we need to teach our students digital citizenship, as well.

Mike Ribble, creator of, defines digital citizenship as “the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.”

For teachers who are interested in incorporating digital citizenship into their lessons, there are many resources available.  Here are some of my recommendations:

  • ISTE (International Society for Teachers and Education): This website has links to nine articles on topics ranging from challenges teachers face when teaching digital literacy to the ISTE standards to lesson plans and tips for integrating digital literacy into your classroom.
  • 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship: This is from Mike Ribble’s site, and is especially helpful because it categorizes the issues addressed by digital citizenship into nine categories with descriptions.  Each of these elements are also important for developing regular citizenship in our students, but here Ribble gives insight into how the concepts can be adapted to meet the needs of the digital world.
  • 9 P’s of Digital Citizenship: If you prefer your lists alliterative, Vicki Davis has composed another list of nine important aspects of digital citizenship to teach to our students.  There is a lot of overlap between this and the 9 Elements, but the alternative presentation may be helpful.
  • Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship: Common Sense Media provides a plethora of free lesson plans that are ready for teachers to implement in their classrooms immediately.  They divide their lessons into the grade-appropriate groups of K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-15, and have both traditional lesson plans and more interactive lessons for students.

Here is an example of Common Sense Media’s digital citizenship lessons:

I chose to look at the grades 6-8 lesson entitled “Cyberbullying: Crossing the Line.”  The Essential Question for the lesson is “When does inappropriate online behavior cross the line to cyberbullying, and what can you do about it?”  This is important because some of my students do not even recognize regular bullying for what it is.  If they cannot recognize it when it is happening to them or another in person, I fear they will also not recognize it online.  The second half of the essential question is equally important, because helping students recognize cyberbullying is pointless unless we empower them to stop it.

The lesson sequence is as follows:

  1. Begin with asking students how their friends tease each other online, when that teasing crosses a line, to define key terms, and why someone might not want to seek help about a cyberbullying situation.
  2. Students watch and then discuss, in small groups and as a whole class, a short documentary about a girl who was victim to escalating rumors.
  3. Students read and discuss, as a small group, a case study about other examples of cyberbullying, then discuss it as a whole class.
  4. End with a short assessment, perhaps as a blog post or journal entry, of student understanding.

This lesson is ready to be used immediately, but of course teachers can always adapt it to fit their needs and personality.  If I were to implement this lesson, I would probably have the students answer the warm up questions on a Google Form or Padlet and project the responses on the board, so that students could see their classmate’s responses live and every student would have a voice in answering.

In step 3, Common Sense Media provides two different case studies with discussion questions already prepared.  You can choose which one best fits your students’ situation.  If there were instances of cyberbulling that I was aware of at my school, I might write up my own case study to apply specifically to the situations of my students.

In conclusion, digital citizenship is just as essential as any disciplinary content for us to teach our students.  There are numerous resources available for teachers who want to incorporate digital citizenship into their instruction.

Do you know of any other resources?  Please share them in the comments 🙂


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