It’s a whole new reality of learning for students, with so much of their communication and education now happening online. Our responsibility as educators now extends beyond the classroom to a world within keyboards and html codes, and teaching students to navigate these digital spaces responsibly is a major part of helping them develop a healthy relationship with the world around them. Integrating digital citizenship into your classrooms is a vital part of this process.

Digital citizenship refers to responsible technology usage, and teaching digital citizenship is essential to helping students achieve and understand digital literacy, as well as ensuring cyberbullying prevention, online safety, digital responsibility, and digital health and wellness.

Why You Should Teach Digital Citizenship

New technology is being created daily, and online communication is becoming an increasingly common and important means of building and maintaining connections. Technology in education, job searching, and employment navigation, including meetings and conferences, are just a few of the countless ways technology usage and understanding will continue to be major tools of success for students. Teaching digital citizenship equips students with the knowledge, skills, and resources to succeed as lifetime learners. This also helps them learn to engage within a digital environment with responsibility and confidence to develop as leaders who will leave meaningful impacts in the lives of others.

1. Information Literacy 

With Google, Wikipedia, multiple dictionaries, thesauruses, and other reference materials and sites never more than a few clicks away, access to information has never been easier for students. The new challenge faced by today’s students is sifting through, understanding, and being able to use all of the information available to them at the click of a button. What good are 200,000 search results if you don’t understand how to differentiate useful information from spam? Teaching digital literacy empowers students with the skills and understanding necessary to not only use internet and technology to their benefit, but also to use it in the most effective ways to quickly find information and utilize the ever expanding list of sites and means of communication at their disposal. This can include teaching how to conduct a proper Google (or *insert preferred search engine*) search, as well as which sites are reputable to use as reference materials, among other useful knowledge.

2. Cyberbullying Prevention

Cyberbullying is an increasing cause for concern for both teachers and students, and teaching students to engage respectfully online is important for its prevention. Establishing guidelines and incorporating lessons for responsible online communication and etiquette early, and repeating and reinforcing them often, helps students learn to communicate respectfully with peers. Set clear boundaries. Create lists of digital citizenship rules (online DOs and DON’Ts), and review them often. Encourage students to be open and report any behavior that makes them uncomfortable. Observe, document, and report anything that looks anything like bullying. Modeling respectful and appropriate behavior for students and holding them accountable to adhering to these standards will help build a solid foundation for students to become responsible citizens navigating both real and digital worlds with kindness and empathy. 

3. Online Safety 

Of all of the invaluable educational and life lessons that stem from teaching digital citizenship, online safety is definitely one of the most essential and influential. Students who are taught to understand and prioritize online safety feel confident to take charge of their digital lives and are less likely to fall victim to potential threats that await online. Teach students to protect themselves and their identities by visiting appropriate websites, refraining from posting personal information about themselves and others, trusting their gut, and notifying a trusted adult when things don’t feel right. All of these things play a vital role in keeping students safe in digital spaces and allow them to blossom as empowered digital citizens.

4. Digital Responsibility

The power we now have to create and define our own digital experiences is unmatched, and with that power comes responsibility. Students must be taught to wield that power wisely, as doing so is essential to their long-term educational and personal success. Teachers should incorporate curriculum designed to create awareness of how to navigate the potential threats of hacking, piracy, and viruses, as well as educating students on plagiarizing (what it is and potential consequences) and other forms of theft or inappropriate online conduct. Remember to always set and enforce clear boundaries and consequences for inappropriate usages of technology. 

5. Health & Emotional Wellness in the Digital World

Technology can be addictive, and that addiction can be detrimental to students’ health. There have been documented correlations between extended use of technology and physical and psychological issues, including (but not limited to): mental stress, eye problems, ergonomic issues, and even dietary issues. In the spirit of educating, nurturing, and protecting students as whole people,  teaching student citizenship effectively must also prioritize the health and wellness of students. Incorporating creative strategies to teach students to use technology safely in ways that preserve and protect their developing  social-emotional well-being and physical growth, along with both the inherent benefits and dangers created by extensive online engagement, is a must. Encourage limiting online time and taking frequent breaks to stretch, eat, and hydrate. 

How to Teach Student Digital Citizenship

Teaching digital citizenship can be boiled down to define, create, and execute. Define the elements of digital citizenship you wish to incorporate into your curriculum, such as the five digital citizenship tips listed above. Then, construct a creative curriculum that highlights the themes you wish to teach. After that, execute digital citizenship principles by integrating them into existing teaching models and strategies. This is a simplified look at teaching digital citizenship, but there are other issues to discuss with your students including:

  • Cyberbullying

  • Effective passwords

  • Email spoofing and virus protection

  • Plagiarism

  • Social media

  • Literacy intelligence

Effectively adding digital citizenship to a child’s education requires integration from the very beginning. To do this, schools from elementary through high school need to cooperate with each other. Principles, staff, IT directors and admin, superintendents, and boards need to work together. Teaching digital citizenship should be a district-wide initiative. Teach Hub breaks down the curriculum by grade to help you find ways to reach students at each level.

There are several resources that can help teachers create their digital citizenship curriculum. Some of the best include:

Teachers should also implement web content filtering and monitoring. Modeling appropriate online and classroom behavior and expectations in addition to instruction is vital. As with all other teaching themes, digital citizenship must be taught with intent on an ongoing and consistent basis to be done so successfully.