The Basics of Digital Citizenship


The broad definition of Digital Citizenship is the ability to use technology and the internet in a safe and meaningful way. Whether a student is attempting to do research for a project or they’re engaging in a conversation on social media, they’re either engaging in good or bad digital citizenship practices. This is something that will affect students both academically and personally and, due to the predominantly online nature of school this year, it’s crucial now more than ever that you impart the responsibility of Digital Citizenship on your students.

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The Basics

a) Digital Footprint

A digital footprint is the personal information that someone leaves behind while using the internet. Whether it be social media, email, or google searches, it’s important for students to learn that the information they put into the internet can be permanent and have real-world consequences.

b) Copyrights

This involves the legal protection of an owner’s work. Students must learn the difference between copyrighted and free-to-use material and how to properly give credit or cite their sources when needed.

The Two Pillars of Digital Citizenship

1) Respect

Schools will have students sign an ‘Acceptable Use’ policy dictating how students must use the internet within school guidelines. This pillar also involves character education and learning how to behave respectfully online.

2) Protect

This involves learning about identity theft, the dark web, credit card theft, chat rooms, and other dangers online against which one should protect themselves.

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The 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship

a) Digital Access

Digital access refers to the ability to connect with others and find information via the internet. This is very important when it comes to researching and finding valuable and true information online.

b) Digital Etiquette

Fairly self-explanatory, this principle involves treating other internet users with respect and avoiding cyberbullying.

c) Digital Rights and Responsibilities

This involves a student’s rights on the internet such as freedom of speech and ensuring those rights aren’t infringed upon by respecting others’ privacy.

d) Digital Commerce

Digital commerce refers to buying and selling electronics, allowing students to become more educated consumers.

e) Digital Literacy

This involves learning how to use technology and access information, use search engines, etc.

f) Digital Law

Digital law refers to rules put in place by an organization regarding internet use.

g) Digital Health and Wellness

Digital Health and Wellness involves protecting one’s physical and mental health while using technology. So this could refer to correct posture, balancing screen time with in-person communication, blue light glasses, etc.

h) Digital Communication

Again fairly self-explanatory, this section involves how technology allows people to communicate directly. So this deals with social media, texting, email, and even video games.

i) Digital Security

This refers to teaching students how to take steps to remain safe online. This can involve teaching students how to avoid viruses, scams, and strangers via the internet.

Digital Citizenship & Online Research

a) Keywords

One way to assist in making your students better digital citizens when it comes to the Digital Literacy pillar is to teach them about keyword searches. This involves first looking at a search index which is a database of information used for doing a search. Depending on the words you type into a search engine, each one has a different algorithm to determine which pages are the top matches for you based on your search. Rearranging the words in your search, using synonyms, or cutting some of them can allow you to get vastly different results.

b) Sources

When it comes to being a responsible digital citizen, it’s crucial for students to learn what search results are reliable and which aren’t. One easy way is to teach students to look for websites with a .org, .gov, .edu, etc. will allow students to know that what they’re reading is coming from a valuable source. In addition, encouraging students to use academic sources like JSTOR and EBSCO can help as well. If they aren’t getting information from those websites, it’s important to teach students to evaluate the source to see if it’s reliable.

c) Language

One way for students to easily see if a source is credible is by evaluating the language. If the language being used is grammatically incorrect or it has a biased tone then it’s likely an unreliable source. Scholarly sources will simply give information using neutral language rather than taking a strong side in whatever information they’re conveying.

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How to Make Good Digital Citizens

Even if you’re not teaching a computer class, there are still ways that you can help students on their digital citizenship journey. One way would be to incorporate a digital citizenship piece as a part of the projects you’ve already created. For example, if you’ve assigned an essay then have students cite their sources at the end of the paper and award partial credit to those who have used good sources.

Or you could assign projects using pieces of technology that would allow students to succeed in the world such as PowerPoint, Microsoft Excel, etc. For those who aren’t familiar with the technology, you can research and send them a tutorial video on what they’ll need to learn for the project.

You could even simply assign Digital Citizenship projects as bonus points for your class. Perhaps send students a video on certain aspects of digital citizenship and have them take a short quiz to make sure they viewed and understood the material. However, you choose to do it, incorporating Digital Citizenship training into your curriculum will help your students be prepared to be digitally responsible both in and out of the classroom.