Expert Viewpoint

Digital Citizenship Week: Five Tips for Embedding Digital Citizenship in Schools

This week is Digital Citizenship Week, highlighting the importance of helping kids, families, and teachers navigate the 24/7 digital world and creating a positive culture around technology use.

More students than ever access the internet in the classroom; in fact, nearly 80% of K–12 students use a school-issued device as part of their learning experience. While most of today’s students are considered digital natives — those who have grown up with technology their entire lives — responsible internet exploration and conduct still need to be taught.

The internet has proven to be a critical tool in the classroom, with nearly all parents on board: A recent survey from Morning Consult found that 93% of parents agree the internet is a useful learning tool that schools should use as part of the learning process. Despite the broad support for its uses in education, we know the internet is a vast and varied place that can easily become a distraction or even a danger. This is where digital citizenship comes in.

What Does It Mean to Be a Good Digital Citizen?

Being a good citizen in the physical classroom means being helpful to others, following rules, telling an adult if someone is in danger, and being responsible for your own actions. To be a good digital citizen, the same guidelines for conduct should apply.

Regular teacher-led discussions of topics like news and media literacy, cyberbullying, and digital footprints will help students make safer and smarter choices as they continue to navigate the internet.

Digital citizenship is not something that can be taught during one lesson at the beginning of the year; it is something that needs to be embedded in a school’s culture and part of the everyday language in the classroom. Consider the following when implementing digital citizenship into your school’s technology plan:

Five Tips for Embedding Digital Citizenship School-Wide

1) Add It Into Daily Curriculum

Students spend a lot of time in the classroom each week, so teachers are one of the biggest drivers encouraging digital citizenship. Modeling good digital habits during daily lessons and encouraging students to implement what they’ve learned helps make digital citizenship part of students’ routines. This could be as simple as reminding students to fact-check sources of information when working on a research project, or having conversations about practicing empathy and kindness when engaging or commenting in digital spaces like Google classroom.

2) Create a “Certified Digital Learner” Program

In the same way student drivers need to meet certain checkpoints to get their driver’s license (driver’s training, receiving a permit, logging practice hours, and passing a final test), students using the internet should need to follow a similar process.

Understanding that a ninth-grade student may have a deeper understanding of responsible internet use when compared to a first-grader, age-based guardrails and checkpoints through a “certified digital learner” program can be helpful. By passing “tests” and showing their ability to use technology responsibly, students can be given broader access and control over their exploration.

In my former role as an education technology director, we implemented a similar program where students earned a “digital permit” in third grade, a “digital driver’s license” in sixth, and were elevated to “certified digital learners” in ninth grade. This type of program allows students to earn additional access, and it instills a sense of responsibility.

3) Leverage Appropriate Digital Guardrails

With more than 547,200 new websites created globally every day and 500 hours of new video posted to YouTube every minute, it can feel like an almost-impossible task to determine in real-time which websites or resources are appropriate for students. Parents and schools can find help in solutions that allow educators to set thoughtful parameters around students’ digital exploration and filter out what isn’t needed. By minimizing access to explicit, harmful, or distracting content, educators can provide students with more engaging learning environments.

4) Involve Parents and Caregivers

Students are not only accessing the internet while at school. When they step outside the classroom, many students are immediately connected through their cell phones or devices at home. We live in a 24/7 digital world, so involving parents and caregivers in the conversations around digital citizenship or providing students with take-home materials is an important step. At home, parents and caregivers can continue conversations around topics like limiting screen time, cyberbullying, digital footprints, and more.

For example, in my home, we regularly discuss healthy boundaries around social media and how content posted on the internet can potentially lead to long-term negative consequences. I also encourage my children to alert a trusted adult if they ever experience something online that makes them uncomfortable.

5) Create a Culture of Trust and Responsibility

It is important for students to feel a sense of ownership over their digital lives. Having honest conversations in school about what it means to be a good digital citizen and providing opportunities for students to earn further access helps create a culture of trust and sets students up for future success. When students leave the K–12 environment, and there are no longer guardrails in place, they will need to make decisions around appropriate use of the internet in college, at work, or in their daily lives. By the time a student graduates high school, their most trusted internet filter should be their own mind.

As a former director of technology in public education, I have seen firsthand that it takes a village to keep students safe online. In addition to efforts from educators, parents, school administrators, and helpful filtering tools, we need to equip students with the knowledge and skills to be good citizens in the digital age.

About the Author

Erica Hartman, a former director of technology in public education, serves as a Subject Matter Expert on GoGuardian’s strategy team. She has 20 years of teaching and administrative experience helping school districts choose digital platforms that best suit their strategic goals. Hartman specializes in large-scale deployments, digital architecture of online platforms, data interoperability, blended learning, digital citizenship, and student safety.