The Elements of Digital Citizenship

  • Technology today is flying at a pace never seen before, so becoming a digital citizen is of paramount importance.

    Teaching students – and parents – how to use technology responsibly is becoming tough as schools and in society become more intertwined with digital technology.

    What is a digital citizen?

    Digital citizenship simply means appropriate, responsible technology use. Students and adults often misuse and abuse technology. It is not about knowledge so much as it is, what is considered appropriate technology usage.

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    According to, the nine elements (or themes) of digital citizenship are:

    • Digital access: This is perhaps one of the most fundamental blocks to being a digital citizen. However, due to socioeconomic status, location, and other disabilities- some individuals may not have digital access. Recently, schools have been becoming more connected with the Internet, often offering computers, and other forms of access. This can be offered through kiosks, community centers, and open labs. This most often is associated with the digital divide and factors associated with such. Digital access is available in many remote countries via cyber cafés and small coffee shops.
    • Digital commerce: This is the ability for users to recognize that much of the economy is regulated online. It also deals with the understanding of the dangers and benefits of online buying, using credit cards online, and so forth. As with the advantages and legal activities- there is also a dangerous activity such as illegal downloads, gambling, drug deals, pornography, plagiarism, and so forth.
    • Digital communication: This element deals with understanding the variety of online communication mediums such as email, instant messaging, Facebook messenger, the variety of apps, and so forth. There is a standard of etiquette associated with each medium.
    • Digital literacy: This deals with the understanding of how to use various digital devices. For example, how to properly search for something on a search engine versus a database. How to use various online logs. Oftentimes many educational institutions will help form an individual’s digital literacy.
    • Digital etiquette: As discussed in the third element, digital communication, this is the expectation that various mediums require a variety of etiquette. Certain mediums demand more appropriate behavior and language than others.
    • Digital law: This is where enforcement occurs for illegal downloads, plagiarizing, hacking, creating viruses, sending spasm, identity theft, cyberbullying, and so forth.
    • Digital rights and responsibilities: This is the set of rights digital citizens have such as privacy, speech, and so forth.
    • Digital health: Digital citizens must be aware of the physical stress placed on their bodies by Internet usage. They must be aware to not become overly dependent on the Internet causing eyestrain, headaches, stress problems, and so on.
    • Digital security: This simply means that citizens must take measures to be safe by practicing using difficult passwords, virus protection, backing up data, and so forth.

    Digital citizenship for students

    The term, digital citizenship for students, refers to the classrooms where digital citizenship is taught effectively.

    Teachers often share two things in common: They model ethical technology use for their students on a daily basis, and they naturally incorporate conversations about it whenever technology is part of their lesson plan. One definition is such: “People characterizing themselves as digital citizens often use IT extensively, creating blogs, using social networks, and participating in online journalism.

    “Although digital citizenship potentially begins when any child, teen, and/or adult signs up for an email address, posts pictures online, uses e-commerce to buy merchandise online, and/or participates in any electronic function that is B2C or B2B, the process of becoming a digital citizen goes beyond simple Internet activity. In the framework of T.H. Marshall’s perspective on citizenship’s three traditions (liberalism, republicanism, and ascriptive hierarchy), digital citizenry can occur alongside the promotion of equal economic opportunity, as well as increased political participation and civic duty. Digital technology can lower the barriers to entry for participation as a citizen within society.”

    How to teach responsibility

    Teachers need to a structure that can teach students how to act responsibly, appropriately and respectfully to this technology. Looking well beyond the standard Internet Use Policy (IUP) most students and parents sign, conceptual elements and supporting activities must be taught. And there are courses to teach a proper approach to digital citizenship. See this related blog post on classroom technology.

    A proper approach

    A proper approach requires digital citizenship not as a set of concrete rules but as an organized principles-based path to turn individuals into productive and socially responsible lifetime digital citizens.

    A key book for teachers on the topic is “Digital Citizenship in Schools 3rd Edition” by Mike Ribble.