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What Teachers Should Know About Digital Citizenship

Posted on: December 9, 2022

In today's modern world, professionals, students and even children are constantly using their internet-powered devices to communicate, collaborate and learn.

But with this new level of connectivity comes a new set of responsibilities. As we move into an era where digital citizenship is increasingly important, it's essential to understand what it means and how to contribute toward building a more inclusive, productive and ethical online environment.

This article will cover the topic of digital citizenship thoroughly — including how to teach it in K-12 classrooms, why it matters and the nine elements that comprise it. We've also included valuable resources that will help deepen your understanding of the subject matter and guide you in ways to integrate digital citizenship into your curriculum.


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What is digital citizenship and why is it important?

Digital citizenship is the term used to encompass the responsibilities of members of the online community. It refers to the set of norms, values and behaviors that need to be upheld in order to ensure internet safety for all. 

As far as who is responsible for upholding these values, it's everyone. However, teachers are one of the most influential groups of people when it comes to shaping the attitudes and opinions of their students, who need to understand that their online actions can have real-world consequences. 


The 9 elements of digital citizenship

According to educators Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey, nine elements of digital citizenship should be taught in schools:

1. Digital access

Although the internet has become ubiquitous in daily life, there are still people that don't have access to the web. As a result, they're often left out of conversations that are happening online. When teachers are aware of this element, they can provide alternatives for students who don't have access to technology use at home.

2. Digital commerce

With the rise of e-commerce, more and more people are making purchases through their computers or smartphones. Teachers should help students understand this element by teaching them the basics of starting an online store and how to market their products, which are valuable skills to have in today's digital world.

3. Digital communication

Communicating online is a different skill than communicating in person, and it's one that many people struggle with. A teacher should help students understand the importance of good digital communication skills by teaching them how to write clearly and concisely for an audience that may not be able to see their facial expressions or body language.

4. Digital literacy

To maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks of technology's use in education, students require skills such as digital literacy. For teachers, this involves explaining how to evaluate information for accuracy, authenticity and credibility so that students develop the common sense and tools to tell the difference between fact and fiction when reading online.

5. Digital etiquette

This element of digital citizenship focuses on students' responsibilities for their own behavior online, and how to ensure that they are not bullying, harassing or otherwise causing harm to others. Explaining how to protect one’s digital footprint is essential, which includes respecting other people's privacy and personal information, using appropriate language and avoiding stereotypes or bias.

6. Digital law 

The digital world isn't immune from the laws of the physical world, and students need to understand what this means for their online behavior. This involves knowing about copyright, fair use and other legal issues that affect online content. 

7. Digital rights and responsibilities 

Students should be introduced to the concept of digital rights and responsibilities, which includes knowing that they have the right to free expression, but also acknowledging their responsibility not to infringe upon others' rights and preserve online safety. 

8. Digital health and wellness 

One of the biggest challenges in the digital age is the negative impact that technology can have on mental health and overall wellness. Through education, students gain an understanding of how to recognize when they're feeling stressed out or overwhelmed by digital content, as well as how to take steps toward creating a healthy balance between technology and the rest of their lives. 

In addition, students should master how to identify and address cyberbullying, which can have a devastating impact on both victims and perpetrators. 

9. Digital security 

Learning how to protect personal information online and how to recognize fraudulent websites is critical in today's digital environment. Students should understand the importance of using strong passwords, as well as how to use their common sense to recognize and avoid scams, malware and other cybersecurity threats.  


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How do you teach digital citizenship?

Teaching digital citizenship should be an ongoing process that's integrated into your curriculum and infused throughout the school day. Here are some practical ideas for how to make it happen: 

  • Discuss key terms and concepts with your students. Make sure they understand what it means to be a good digital citizen, and talk about the importance of responsible technology use. 
  • Adopt a mixed-method approach that combines discussion, activities and technology. For example, you could use a video to introduce the topic of digital citizenship and then guide students through an activity where they consider how they would handle a challenging situation. 
  • Set clear expectations for how students will behave online, especially on social media, and have them create a personal code of conduct to help guide their interactions. Then, help students develop strategies for dealing with cyberbullying and other online issues.   


Routledge educational resources

The topic of digital citizenship becomes more essential with each passing year, as new technologies emerge and social media platforms continue to grow in popularity. Below, is a list of carefully selected Routledge educational resources that can help you to better equip your students with the skills they need to navigate the online world:

Close Reading the Media by Frank Baker: This book helps students develop their critical thinking skills by encouraging them to explore media texts in detail. It includes a range of activities and exercises that cover topics such as identifying fake news and the role of digital technology in contemporary society. 

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The Media-Savvy Middle School Classroom by Susan Brooks-Young: An actionable book for teachers of grades 5-8 who want to develop their students’ media literacy skills. Spanning correct source use, personal versus expert opinions, disinformation, social media, and more, these activities can be integrated directly into existing lesson plans.

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Learning to Depolarize by Kent Lenci: Written by an experienced educator, this book is a valuable resource for teachers to navigate the challenging political climate and help their high school students communicate across lines of deep disagreement, developing the skills needed for critical thinking, empathy, and bridge-building. 

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Creating the Global Classroom by Laurence Peters: Aimed at teachers of all levels, this book combines theory and practice to help educators develop the skills needed to create a global classroom that promotes critical thinking, inclusivity, equity, and social justice within a crowded curriculum. 

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