Digital Citizenship

The 9 Elements of Digital Citzenship

Ribble (2015) discusses the nine elements of digital citizenship and groups them into three categories. Digital literacy, digital access, and digital communication fall under student learning and academic performance. This makes sense because students must be able determine which apps and programs work best for any given project (literacy), as well as know how to communicate their ideas, questions and concerns properly to their teachers (communication). However, before a student can be expected to complete digital assignments and projects or communicate with others, they first must have access to the internet at home and at school. School districts need to consider the level of digital access their families have before they can set expectations for online homework assignments, quizzes, and projects.

The next category, school environment and student behavior, encompasses digital security, digital etiquette, and digital rights and responsibilities. One of the main goals for many districts across the United States is to provide a safe learning environment where students can feel safe and respected. Since most students own some sort of electronic device and spend a lot of time online and communicate via text message or any number of social media apps, parents and teachers alike must teach them how to communicate with peers, parents, and teachers safely and respectfully. Just like we do in real life situations, parents and educators need to model good digital behavior and help their students understand that all people have the right to be treated with dignity in the digital world as well as the real world. Additionally, students must be taught that their digital interactions can have real life consequences, especially when they decide to engage in cyberbullying, sending inappropriate texts and pictures, and/or plagiarism.

The final three elements-digital health and wellness, digital commerce, and digital law-- are grouped in the student life outside the school environment category. While many schools prohibit the use of cell phones on school property during the school day, students who own cell phones tend to log a great deal of screen time outside the school day. Digital health and wellness has become just as important as physical health and wellness. Studies are showing that too much screen time too close to bedtime can seriously disrupt sleep patterns, and lack of quality sleep can lead contribute to any number of physical ailments and disorders. Furthermore, students must be made aware of other risks which can compromise their safety. “65% of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain [personal] information” about their victim (Gaille, 2017), and scammers expertly build fake shopping sites so they can install malware to their victim’s devices, and steal identities and financial information. To help children to avoid falling victim to child predators and scammers, teachers and parents need to ban together to educate children these risks, as well as how to safely browse, communicate, and shop online.

Finally, since more assignments and projects are created digitally, students must be made aware of copyright law and fair use policies. Students who are well-informed about the proper way to interact with various online resources are far less likely inadvertently commit plagiarism in this “copy-and-paste” world or break the laws that govern online information they choose to use in their writing and multimedia projects.

In order to become a fully functioning member of our increasingly digital society, students must not only be educated on the nine elements of digital citizenship, but also how these elements relate to each other. As more young people become connected through social media and virtual learning platforms, educators must teach them the nine elements and how they relate to one another. It is difficult to teach one element without showing students how they connect with the other elements. Once students begin to understand how each of the categories build on one another. The three categories do not simply graduate from egocentric to eco-centric; they build on one another. Students must practice using each of the nine elements in concert with the other eight.

Of the nine elements of digital citizenship, the one that is most important for my students is digital access. My school is 80% socio-economically disadvantaged, and I knew that many of my students had trouble with having internet access. However, I did not realize the extent of this inequality until last year. The COVID-19 Pandemic brought to light the very real disparity of technology access among our students. My district did its best to close the digital access gap by providing Park-and-Learn areas in campus parking lots by boosting the wi-fi signals and issuing hundreds of hot spots for students to have at-home internet access. However, many of our students still do not have adequate bandwidth to complete online assignments, let alone virtually attend classes. In fact, my campus still has about 50 students who either cannot log in to Google Meet or are simply so overwhelmed by their workload that they shut down and refuse to do any school work.

Gaille, B. (2017, June 05). 39 important internet safety statistics. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from

Thoughts on the iCitizen Project:

The two groups involved Curran’s iCitizen project defined a digital citizen as “an individual who is aware, empathetic, socially responsible, and someone who believes in social justice and models being socially responsible both face-to-face and online” (as cited in Ribble, 2015). I like this definition because it considers the fluidity of interacting online and face-to-face. I have experienced countless instances where kids and adults alike will write or post something inflammatory or derogative about others online but would not dream of saying those things or acting aggressively face-to-face. Because our society spends so much time online, it is imperative that teachers and parents model empathy and compassion both online and face-to-face. Students need to internalize the fact saying something mean or hurtful to someone online is in many respects worse than saying it in person, because those words or pictures are there for all to see, and they can never be truly deleted and can have a lifelong impact on both parties. Therefore, teaching students from a young age to practice good citizenship both online and face-to-face has become even more important in today’s digital society.

Thoughts on Net Neutrality

Maintaining net neutrality has become a hot topic of discussion over the last several years. K-12 schools and higher-education institutions continue to move toward offering a more robust distance learning platform for virtual learners; however, if ISPs are allowed to control the flow of information, then they will essentially control what is being taught through distance learning platforms. Economically disadvantaged students and those who live in rural areas will be the ones who suffer the most. The end of net neutrality means that the existing education gaps would potentially become even wider, and student research could become more biased, as ISPs cater to those companies who can afford to push their information through at faster speeds and “block tools that interfere with their business interests or infuse educational content—and the pupils using it—with tracking, advertising, or other unwelcome intrusions” (Hogle, 2018).

With the repeal of the Net Neutrality laws, the gateway to internet censorship has been opened. The only way to ensure that our students are receiving all the information now is to do our research and only subscribe to those ISPs who do not filter the content they provide. It is my hope that Net Neutrality will once again be upheld by the federal government, or at the very least have internet service classified as utility (like electricity or water), so that internet providers cannot block or modify content that streams through their servers. “An open, affordable Internet is crucial to ensuring all students have access to educational opportunities in and out of school” (Gordon, 2017).

Thoughts on Cyberbullying

The act of cyberbullying is the intentional, prolonged harassment of an individual or individuals via electronic media, including but not limited to, text message, instant message, email, and various social media platforms. Because cyberbullying is very public and the messages and images can be spread virtually anywhere, the victims and the bullies are not the only ones affected. It also affects parents, educators, an anyone who sees the hurtful messages and images. Cyberbullying affects victims physically, emotionally, and mentally, and, despite school districts’ efforts to raise awareness, many victims do not feel comfortable seeking help.

Putting posters on the school walls and having an assembly on digital citizenship once a year is not enough. Digital citizenship and kindness curriculum should become part of every lesson that teachers deliver to their students. To take it one step further, every student on campus should be required to take a semester-long course on digital citizenship every two to three years, starting in first grade. At the very least, teachers should be required to give a lesson on the issues surrounding cyberbullying, as well as the consequences suffered by both the victim and the perpetrator, once every couple of weeks.

School districts are beginning to see the need for social-emotional wellness curriculum. In fact, my school district has begun placing full-time SEL coaches on our campuses, and will begin implementing required SEL courses for certain grade levels. Could these SEL strategies be carried over into digital citizenship and appropriate use of technology? I say yes. Kids these days are practically born with a cellphone in their hands. They do not know a world that is not connected to social media. This, I believe, is one reason that kids do not view the person on the other side of the screen as a human being; therefore, they have little compassion for the recipient of their messages. Educators and parents alike must help students to visualize who they are texting.

Zero tolerance policies and stringent consequences for cyberbullying are great, but they do not fix the root of the problem. Incorporating internet safety and setting clear expectations for technology use are two of many things school can do to help prevent bullying. Additionally, developing a positive school climate is crucial. “A positive school climate is one that stimulates and encourages respect, cooperation, trust, and shared responsibility for the educational goals that exist there” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2015). Teaching students how to be kind and compassionate is a big step in that direction.

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.