Digital Citizenship in the Digital Classroom

Post in Uncategorized by JannaDougherty on 1st July 2015


The world has become increasingly digital. Children and adults alike are depending more and more on the latest technology and the Internet to communicate, locate knowledge, and store their most important information. This is equally true for the classroom as anywhere else. In the last decade alone, classrooms have seen a rapid rise in the use of devices such as cell phones, interactive whiteboards, and iPads, as well as an even more rapid rise in the use of the Internet for everything from research to grading.

As a result, educators everywhere are being faced with a difficult question— how do we make sure our students are using technology responsibly? It’s our responsibility to prepare students for the real world, so we have to make sure our students get a strong, balanced exposure to technology and the Internet in multiple ways. However, our students spend a large portion of their time with us every day, and that means we’re also responsible for providing an appropriate model of behavior online as much as in real space. This concept is known as digital citizenship, which can be defined as ‘appropriate and normal behavior in regards to technology use.’

Digital citizenship is not explored in much depth in many schools, but it should be—any class that uses tech in-depth should touch on it at least a little, even if only as a tangent. To help the educational community, we’d like to make some recommendations on how you address these issues within a classroom setting, both through modeling and explicit instruction. The basics of good digital citizenship can be broken down into three basic categories: Respect, Educate, and Protect. Thus, we will attempt to break down our recommendations and resources based on these categories, with a few more at the end that are comprehensive.


Showing respect online can be broken down into three words:
– Etiquette
– Access
– Law

  • One of the most pervasive issues of digital citizenship has to do with regulating student behavior. The seeming anonymity of the Internet can easily lead students into some very bad behavior (harassment, cyberbullying, access or use of sexual content, etc.), which we have to be able to watch out for. A good rule of thumb is one I learned from my mentors during my own education:  emphasize that your students should only ever put something on the Internet if they wouldn’t be ashamed to let their mother see it. You can emphasize this even further by structuring their digital interactions in a way that ensures that their mother will have a chance to see it, showing that these interactions aren’t as private as they may seem.
  • Related to this, it’s quite smart to include lessons about awareness of digital etiquette in your curriculum. Using videos and lessons can help your students become aware that their use of technology can and will affect others in the real world.
  • Become familiar with laws regarding digital behavior and make sure your students are aware of these laws. They can vary depending on your location (different states regard digital material differently; here’s the list of relevant laws for New York), so before creating a computer heavy classroom, it would benefit you to look up your own state’s regulations regarding digital property, identity theft, free speech, and other internet issues.
  • When planning your curriculum, avoid taking material not provided for public use. That includes both copyrighted materials, artistic property, or the private photographs or writings of other people. Even if there’s no physical property, it can still be considered theft if you use it without permission!
  • Likewise, your student’s work should be held to the same standard of originality. When having students create a digital project or paper, include an area in any rubric about the work being fully original (or properly cited). Tools like the Plagarism Checker or Grammarly’s Plagiarism Tool can help you keep your kids accountable, especially for written work!
  • Finally, be aware that your students may find anything you post online.  If you value your own privacy in your personal life, that means you have to make sure your own digital profile is beyond reproach. You can start by taking a look at your own social media profiles: is there anything on your Facebook that wouldn’t set a good example to your kids? If the answer is yes, you might want to reconsider your privacy settings, or simply take those items down.


Educated digital citizens are educated on multiple fronts. These fronts can be summarized like this:
– Communication
– Literacy
– Commerce

  • Create strong standards of accuracy and clarity for anything your students post online. Using a simple writing rubric for blog posts, class chat rooms, and other postings will emphasize that no matter what the medium, students need to write clearly and intelligently, as well as respectfully.
  • When talking about literacy, we use the ‘technological literacy’ definition, meaning that a student has become fluent with a variety of technologies and knows. what context they’re used in. As a teacher this means that you should plan lessons that require students to use tech the same way adults use tech in the workplace. Edutopia has recently released a list of ideas for implementing different types of tech at different levels of access that’s a great start.
  • Make sure you’re informed before buying class materials online or setting up an account for a website. While not necessarily a practice you will have to display directly during a classroom setting, it can be very easy to be lured into making a purchase or get involved with a website that is less than reputable. This can lead to the possibility of identity theft, and even lose valuable resources for your classroom. Make sure you do your research before giving out money or information to ANY online source–no matter how good the lesson plans look!
  • Teach your students how to spot unreliable or sketchy websites. This is especially important for classes where students do extensive online research, and are expected to site their sources. Our Online Platform provides additional information on showing students how to evaluate web resources; in addition, a variety of rubrics, including this checklist from the SBCC, that can be used to judge websites are available online.


Protecting young digital citizens is often a teacher’s first concern; however, in many cases this protection is often only partially understood. Like the other categories, a complete understanding comes from breaking down the category into three topics:
-Rights and Responsibility
– Safety (Security)
– Health and Welfare

  • When student go online, their safety is our priority. As a result, teachers should avoid creating situations where students will even be asked to give out their passwords, and NEVER put them in a situation where they will be asked to provide their private information to an online source! Make a point of teaching your students to notify an adult if this information is ever asked of them, and monitor their responses carefully. Starting with a web game like The Privacy Pigs is a great way to introduce this topic to younger students. However, one of the best resources I’ve found regarding safety is the Netsmartz website, constructed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids. The site includes a wide variety of videos and games for all ages, with a heavy focus on safety from the student, parent, and teacher perspectives. They also cover the widely discussed topic of ‘file torrenting’. Is it safe, is it legal, and what happens if you get caught? Check out the full article here.
  • Teach your students when to step away from technology for their own health. When working extensively with computers in the classroom, build short break times into your lesson plan where students are encourage to stand up, stretch, and direct their attention away from the screen for a couple of minutes.  Building a short lesson on health risks, including items such as carpal tunnel, eye strain and even internet addiction, can help keep your students aware of why such breaks are necessary.
  • Build backup time into your lesson or project plans. Over the course of a digital classroom, there are going to be multiple opportunities for students to either lose or corrupt any files they have been working on. Preventing this is easy: Make sure your students back up their work! You can do this by providing students with hard storage, such as USB drives, or cloud-based accounts such as Google Drive where their files can be accessed from any computer. At the end of any class day using digital files, students can then save their work in one or more locations for safe access later.


Cross-Category Resources

Another great teacher resource is the TeachInCtrl website. While its range is smaller than the Netsmartz website, what it does is invaluable—provide directly usable lesson plans for classes in grades 4-8. Like the Netsmartz website, it covers aspects of all three categories, and provides a strong template for helping teachers create digitally literate students.

If more lessons are what you need, you can also look to less conventional websites. Many school districts, such as the Kings County Unified School district, have created and implemented their own set of curriculum that is available online. Even if you’re not from that distict, the lessons can serve as a springboard to creating your own curriculum.

Finally, you might find it useful to have a visual reminder of the basics, particularly when your students use computers all the time. Plenty of catchy, attractive posters are available online for you to print and use; these two in particular are fun and break down important ideas in simple, catchy ways, while this one is especially great for Apple-happy classrooms.

Finally, it’s important to remember that no matter what the situation or lesson, the first resource your students have when it comes to digital citizenship is you. Before talking to your students about their citizenship practices, make sure to check your own lessons and practices to ensure that you’re setting the best possible example. It’s up to us to promote safe, ethical, literate behavior online!


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