October’s Digital Citizenship Week is the ideal time to teach your students about the importance of their digital footprint. Incorporate these best practices and resources into your lesson plans to prepare your students for the future.

What Is Digital Citizenship?

Digital citizenship is behaving responsibly and appropriately when utilizing technology—especially the internet. It involves ethics, digital literacy, online safety, combating cyberbullying, protecting privacy, etiquette, managing a digital footprint, respecting copyright law, and more. Digital citizenship also requires students to be digitally literate and balance their use of technology with other activities.

Good Digital Citizenship

Good digital citizens understand right from wrong in the world of technology. They understand the technology that they are using and make smart decisions around how to use it. Good digital citizenship encourages students to empathize with one another and create long-lasting relationships online. The core idea behind good digital citizenship is to treat other people, places, and things with respect. Some examples of good digital citizenship include respecting others' privacy, communicating respectfully, seeing things from another person’s point of view, and contributing helpful information to a wiki or discussion page. Students can also demonstrate good digital citizenship by supporting their peers online and encouraging them or providing them with useful feedback.

Bad Digital Citizenship

Bad digital citizenship involves the careless—and even reckless—use of social media, cyberbullying, and lack of understanding about how to safely use digital tools. An example of bad digital citizenship is spreading rumors on social media.

Why Digital Citizenship Is Important

Possessing digital citizenship skills helps ensure students remain safe online. Students might not understand what information is too sensitive to share on social media, how to properly vet sources, and the potential consequences of having online communications. The topic of digital citizenship equips students to navigate internet risks and succeed in the digital world. It challenges students to think critically about the information they consume online and reinforces important problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

Digital Citizenship Teaching Resources

Microsoft Digital Literacy Course

Microsoft hosts an extensive Digital Literacy online course. The curriculum includes lessons on how to participate safely and responsibly online, create digital content and collaborate, and manage content digitally. To participate in this course, students only need an up-to-date web browser.

Videos on Digital Citizenship

The Teaching Channel partnered with Common Sense Media to create a playlist of digital citizenship videos. This is a valuable resource for teachers looking to make their digital citizenship lessons more engaging for students. Each video is accompanied by a lesson plan. The lessons include following a digital trail, teaching email etiquette, and understanding the impact of digital footprints.

Google x iKeepSafe Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum 

Google partnered with iKeepSafe to create a Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum. The course consists of three lessons in vetting online information, managing an online reputation, and recognizing scams. Geared for middle and high school students, it was created to be an interactive tool to encourage discussion and permit students to learn through hands-on activities.

BrainPOP Digital Citizenship Unit

BrainPOP has a full unit dedicated to Digital Citizenship. It covers subjects like digital etiquette, communication, literacy, law, security, and access. The course contains videos, quizzes, interactive activities, games, and much more. BrainPOP’s digital citizenship course also covers relevant topics like cyberbullying, conflict resolution, and peer pressure.

Common Sense® K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Common Sense Education® offers a Digital Citizenship Curriculum for K-12 students. The interactive courses are tailored for every student, no matter their grade level. The curriculum addresses the most well-known digital citizenship issues that schools have identified. It also contains support and resources for teachers. Moreover, the course engages communities through family outreach.

What Is a Digital Footprint?

A digital footprint accumulates the information that is left behind from a user’s online activity. Every person who uses the internet has a digital footprint. Digital footprints can be positive or negative, depending on how someone uses the internet. There are two main types of digital footprints: active and passive.

Active Digital Footprint

Active digital footprints are when personal data is released on purpose, like sharing information on social media or completing an online quiz.

Passive Digital Footprint

Passive digital footprints are the data being collected without the user knowing. For example, websites collect everyone’s IP addresses or record how many times someone has visited a site.

Why Your Digital Footprint Matters

A student’s digital footprint can drastically affect their life. Digital footprints can’t be erased. They exist online in perpetuity. All of a person’s online posts, comments, cookies, social media photos, and more provide a perspective on a user’s life.

Hackers attempt to use people’s digital footprints to steal their identities, access their bank accounts, or break into their other online accounts for nefarious reasons. A student’s digital footprint can also potentially leave them vulnerable to social engineering attacks, harassment, blackmail, or cyberbullying. Furthermore, advertisers utilize digital footprints to serve targeted ads.

High school students need to remember that prospective colleges and employers are also watching their online activity. A Kaplan Test Prep Survey from 2017 uncovered that 40 percent of colleges research their applicants’ digital footprints when deciding whom to accept as freshmen. Students should be concerned about the online persona they are shaping and the reputation they are fostering. Furthermore, employers also use digital footprints to screen applicants. A 2017 Careerbuilder survey found that 70 percent of employers utilize social media to monitor job applicants. The study also found that 51 percent of employers reject applicants based on said social media screenings.

Watch Your (Digital) Step

Digital Citizenship Week is the perfect opportunity to introduce the concept of digital footprints to your students. Being a good digital citizen is the best way to ensure your digital footprint remains positive and secure. Students should especially be concerned about their digital footprint as they plan for future degrees or jobs. These helpful resources and life tips should resonate with your students and get them engaged in learning more about digital citizenship.