February 9, 2022

Making Good Digital Citizenship A Part of Classroom Culture

Marshall Beyer
Illustration of a girl working at a computer

With essentially every student in the country spending a lot of time online in the last few years, digital citizenship might have been pushed to the forefront for many educators. Although students who are in our classrooms today are digital natives — meaning that they have grown up in a world with technology — this often leads to some misconceptions. One major misconception is that because they have grown up with technology, they know how to use it responsibly. We all know that this isn’t always the case. Enter digital citizenship.

Many teachers struggle to teach digital citizenship, and the reasons are plenty: I don't have time. I'm not comfortable teaching something I am not familiar with. My students are young, so they can learn this stuff later. According to a study conducted by Common Sense Media in 2019, only 6 out of 10 teachers are teaching some type of digital citizenship in their classrooms. I’d like to see that number rise. In this post, I will go over a few tips that I think are useful for teaching digital citizenship and can be integrated into your classroom routine.

It Starts With Us, the Teacher

Our students spend more of their waking hours with us than they do with their guardians. This is a great opportunity to expose our students to top-notch, good digital habits. When teaching digital habits, a great place to start is with us. Just simply by modeling, our students have a front row seat to good digital habits. Being able to show our students what good digital citizenship looks like in a real-life, authentic situation makes it all that more relevant. This also shows them that digital citizenship isn't just something you talk about once a day/week/month/year. Digital citizenship is something that is part of everyone's daily life.

Embed It!

One way that teachers have found to teach digital citizenship is by embedding it into their daily lessons. When I talk to teachers, the question I usually get is, What does that look like? As mentioned in the article written by Heather Marrs, “Don't teach digital citizenship - embed it!,” you could embed digital citizenship using features in current programs like the feed in Seesaw or The Stream in Google Classroom. Students can comment on each other’s posts to provide feedback. As a class, you can go through the comments and analyze them. 

With Pear Deck’s interactive presentations and Google’s Be Internet Awesome lessons, teachers have access to free, ready-to-teach curriculum for digital citizenship. This program can help students gain confidence as they safely explore the internet. When you use these ready-made Pear Decks, you’ll guide your students through engaging activities related to a digital literacy topic.

Flipgrid is another great way to embed digital citizenship for some of your daily lessons. You can post topics that contain questions in your grid, and students reply to your question. Students could reply with video and audio or just audio. The magic happens when you allow students to reply to other student's posts. Although their reply would be with video, audio, or both, the same rules apply: As a class, you would analyze comments to determine if they were valuable, constructive, and respectful.

A discussion on digital footprints wraps this all together. As students are posting and replying, remind your students to treat this as if it was being posted out on the internet for the world to see — once they hit send, there is no way to pull it back. I recommend having a discussion about ensuring that their posts and comments are relevant, valuable, constructive, and respectful. These quick conversations go along with the lesson being taught and can really add up throughout the day/week/year!

Make It Part of Your Culture

Ultimately, when it comes to digital citizenship, if we want it to make a true impact, it must be more than just a lesson we do every once in a while or at the beginning of a quarter/semester. It needs to be part of the culture of our classrooms and schools — a part of everyday language. Students need to “see” it in everything they do so they can learn how the skills of being a person of character in the physical world can easily be applied to the digital world. I believe if we make it part of the culture of the classroom/site/district, that is when the magic will happen. It will be something that our students truly own.


Pear Deck and Be Internet Awesome

Activating Community and Social Engagement Through Digital Citizenship 

Why Your Digital Footprint Matters

Talking with Kids for Safer Internet Day