Who Steers the Digital Citizenship?


Globaloria student at computer.jpg
By KAB2013 – Photograph taken during Globaloria class in 2013.
Previously published: https://www.flickr.com/photos/globaloria/8450545513/sizes/m/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40943399

“Who should teach students to be great citizens?”

Answer this and you have also answered the question: “Who should teach students to be great digital citizens?”

It should be all teachers’ jobs to teach digital citizenship. As specialist and homeroom teachers alike, we all ask students to get online, use technology, bring iPads to class, add reflections to blogs, post videos, upload images, work on collaborative tasks, and more.  Also, we know that students are spending a huge amount of time online at all times…As we all teach the whole child, the teaching of digital citizenship has graduated from being strictly the domain and responsibility of our IT teachers and Ed Tech coaches.

Parents also need to be on board, as Mike Ribble from ISTE states in Passport to Digital Citizenship, in order to repair “disconnects” between what is happening and expected in schools and what is happening and/or allowed at home. As the concept of digital citizenship is so new, many parents might be unfamiliar with its intricacies that go beyond cyberbullying and internet porn/predators fears.

All adults in the lives of our students need to have conversations with them before issues arise in the classroom and online. We can’t wait for negative incidents to happen, either between students in our classes and schools or at a more national/international level as in these tragic cases of cyberbullying induced suicide. We must be vigilant and proactive as digital citizens, mentors, and teachers and make sure that our students know they can approach us with any concerns related to breaches of our, hopefully, Empowering Use Policies in our schools (and homes). The minute students start getting online and using technology independently or guided, we need to teach.

From a very foundational approach, teachers and parents need to recognize, as Marylin Price Mitchell reminds us in Creating a Culture of Integrity in the Classroom (or out of one) that digital citizenship begins with instilling students and all people with these five values: responsibility, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and honesty. Additionally, she recommends being explicit about academic integrity expectations and making students aware that grades are not the only marks of achievement that count in the classroom. We must reward hard work, real inquiry skills, and going through the steps of the learning cycle with enthusiasm.

Cynde Reneau in A new twist on cyberbullying also looks at the notion of how we as teachers can teach digital citizenship as the best defense against cyberbullying. Related to what Mitchell discussed, Reneau states that teachers must teach students to understand consequences of online actions and posts and to have strong identities that allow them to resist identities others might seek to impose on them.

However, I think the most important element that she mentions is empathy. It makes sense; we teach our students everyday to think about how peers in the classroom and on the playground might feel. When we teach children from an early age to be mindful that the creator of the words and the pictures of an online profile is actually a person with a heart and feelings just like them, it will be more natural for them to behave as citizens of a city might behave in a public venue.

In fact, from the start, we need to teach students that nothing less, in terms of principles, respect, tolerance, appreciation, and integrity is expected of them online than offline. We can do this through modelling, ideally by teaching students how to comment and post with respect.

Photo by author
Photo by author

I believe we are taking this teaching very seriously. For example, at my school last year, our principal called all students into important meetings to discuss cyberbullying, appropriate use of technology, and password protection after just one incident of email fraud was discovered amongst our students. We applauded her seizing of such a teachable moment. Furthermore students have signed technology agreements, we are redoing our Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), and are planning how to actually teach students parts of it from the beginning of the year. We are drafting a more positive version of our AUP, hoping that principles and the ethos behind it will guide our first generation of digital-native-citizens far beyond their digital experiences at our school.

8 Replies to “Who Steers the Digital Citizenship?”

  1. Dear Jon,

    Thank you for another great post. I tremendously enjoy reading your thoughts and reflections on different topics related to understanding the nuances and implications of technology on education and social lives. I agree with you that everybody shares the responsibility of teaching kids how to be responsible, ethical digital citizens. Digital citizenship education should start at home and should be reinforced at school. I agree that parents, if we want to call them “digital immigrants”, do not always possess the knowledge and skills to help their kids to use internet wisely and effectively, hence the importance of educating parents. At my school, the tech integrators organize workshops throughout the year where they invite parents to participate in important conversations regarding kids, Internet and social media. This dialogue between school and home is crucial in understanding the networked lives of our students. I agree with your point about focusing our effort on building compassion and empathy, instead of getting caught in conversations about danger, caution, prevention, punishment…

    Learning how to be a good digital citizenship should be integrated in the curriculum and taught to our students through hands-on activities, Often time, schools devote a week for digital citizenship and forget about it for the rest of year and never really address it until a serious problem arises (such as plagiarism or cyberbullying). Students use Interent and social media daily. We need to have those conversations daily as well. As you said, we should seize the teachable moments to engage kids in meaningful conversations about what matters.

    Once again, thank you Jon. Looking forward to reading more of your reflections.


    1. Hi Layla!

      Thank you for checking in and commenting!

      I totally agree with you that we have got to make the digital citizenship a constant and ongoing theme. I was thinking, as I and my team work on an EUP – an Empowered Use Policy – we really need to design lessons that go with it, or match some of the Common Sense Education/Media materials with aspects of this EUP. We could then teach different segments as scenarios arise in the authentic tech work kids are doing!

  2. Hi Juan, I really like your thoughts about digital citizenship. I agree that it does need to be taught and modeled by all adults in a child’s life. When I was learning more about it, I realized that I truly have never taught digital citizenship (nor knew the term) and that is a huge concern for me now as I try to move forward in integrating technology in my classroom. I immediately emailed our tech coach and asked him about it and asked if we can adopt the common sense media lessons into our regular curriculum (it would be helpful to have a guide for right now as I really have no idea where to start).
    I do know that empathy is a huge issue that needs to be taught but also modeled. Sadly, modeling empathy by all adults and media is not always the case. Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for and they watch and mimic everything they see and hear. I am very mindful of my actions and believe all adults should be, Thank you for your reflective comments!

  3. Well said Jon. When I worked in a school where few students spoke English natively, we used to say that ALL teachers are teachers of English. So it is with digital citizenship.

    Even teachers who are not 100% comfortable with this topic should acknowledge the value of their own experience on the web. So many of our activities have moved online that we’ve actually been living in the connected world longer than our students. While it’s true that kids are digital natives and can teach us plenty, our length and breadth of experience gives us a certain wisdom whether or not we’re familiar with the latest social media apps. That should empower us to talk to kids about their activity online and help them think about digital citizenship.

    1. Hi Christopher,

      The English comment is one of our mottos at my current school.

      I also think you are totally right about valuing our own experience. I think we can really give students an important perspective…Knowing what the world was like before internet gives us a real appreciation of what the Internet allows us to do. We can pass this knowledge on, with a fair share of enthusiasm for sharing, collaborating, and connecting.

      I like David Weinberger’s take on this.

      Thanks for commenting!


  4. Jon,

    I like that your school is taking the approach to state your policy in positive terms. I wonder that if involving students in forming the school’s policy helps with their “buy in”. I suppose that is difficult when the student base is constantly moving through the school. Plus some classes of students seem more reluctant to work with adults, so having them help form a school’s policies would be problematic. I agree with your comments that teaching these policies needs to be a school-wide effort and that we have to circle back and remind our students the themes that shape how we treat one another.

    Nice post.


  5. Jon,
    Thank you for the reference to my article. Yes I agree that you stated empathy is most important. Over the years I have taught many students digital citizenship and my most important factor is empathy. To put them in real life situations, a “How would you feel” moment. I see many students realizing empathy at that moment. A, I never thought about that, if you will.
    Excellent work. I will check out your Twitter!
    Cynde Reneau

    1. Hi Cynde,

      Thank you so much for your comment! Great to hear from you and thank you for writing your post in the first place!

      We are knee deep in teaching students to be empathetic with technology use this year even in Grade 2. Students share iPads and often have to make choices whether to log out of the previous student’s Google profile in order to use Google Apps. Initially, students were being grade 2 students and would nose around in other students’ work. We were able to discuss the importance both of logging out, but also being courteous and logging someone out who might have forgotten. We prompted students to think about how they might feel if one of their important documents was put in the bin or altered without their knowledge. And by the end of they year, students just naturally help remind each other to log out or log out previous users.

      Hope all is well with you and please keep posting!


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