Who are the digital citizens and why does it matter?  If you spend time online or know teens that do – tag, you’re IT!  And if you are a teacher then this is an important topic for you to become very proficient in…and fast.  Just as being a citizen of a country carries with it certain rights and responsibilities, so does being citizens of the digital world.  We know how important it is to start of the year by establishing the classroom expectations and protocols – such as how to hand in papers, how to cite, how to behave in class and take a test, etc.  In the same way, we must teach our students how to properly and safely learn and interact online.  Because they are online, as you know, a large majority of their day.  And these days you are probably in the midst of, of have just recently completed a transition towards integrating devices and learning management systems in your classrooms.  Most every school today is moving in the direction of providing more online teaching.  So this is crucial information for us and our students to be aware of, and we know that the best teachers don’t just tell information, they SHOW it.  Our first responsibility then, is to be the example.

So what is digital citizenship?  There are various definitions out there, but I think of it simply as a way of thinking, being and acting online.

Ribble (2015) helped to give some practical guidelines to what digital citizenship really looks like when he identified those key elements in his book Digital Citizenship: 9 elements all students should know.

Here is a quick synopsis:

  1. Digital access – All citizens should have equal access to the internet (anyone else concerned about Net Neutrality?).
  2. Digital commerce – Adults aren’t the only ones buying things on Amazon these days.  Being a safe and savvy digital consumer is important for our students and their hard earned pizza shop money.
  3. Digital communication – It’s not all Instagram and puppies.  The manner in which we communicate and the ways we choose to do it can carry permanent consequences.  We especially need to help students realize the long-term implications of online communication, as well as some of the dangers.
  4. Digital literacy – Technology – like the latest iPhone – is outdated 3 months after you get used to it.  We must constantly be learning and keeping up with the latest in the tech field.
  5. Digital etiquette – When communicating we have certain expectations as to our and others behaviors.  We should strive to follow those protocols.
  6. Digital law – Students (like adults) need to be aware of the laws governing digital property, copyright, and other laws pertaining to the use of the internet.  Like any good citizen, the expectation is that they act ethically regarding those laws.
  7. Digital rights and responsibilities – Our citizenship grants us certain rights, but these rights come with responsibilities we must fulfill.
  8. Digital health and wellness – Both psychological, emotional and physical problems can arise from improper use of digital devices.  Students need to be made aware and given solutions to help them navigate those pitfalls.
  9. Digital security – With the amount of business that we conduct online and the amount of personal information we have on the web, it is paramount to be proactive in protecting our devices and our identity.

So just as we would have our students grow up to become fine, upstanding citizens, we also want them to exhibit those same qualities in their online world.  Something as intangible and encompassing as “good citizenship” can be difficult to transmit practically to our youth unless we break it down into bite size portions.  The 9 elements represent just that, and they can aid in providing the guidance and clarity needed in a sometimes murky digital world.

ISTE has a fantastic graphic below which compares the rights and responsibilities of a normal citizen to those of a digital one.  This hangs in my classroom.


Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education

Image source: https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=192