Digital Citizenship: What It Means, How to Teach It, and the Resources You Need

January 08, 2019

Brooke McGuire

Ed.D. in Leadership


As we venture into this increasingly technological world, new terms are emerging, terms that would have been largely meaningless when we were students: digital citizenship and digital literacy. Before the educational technology boom, these weren’t terms used in our field. Now, it’s tough to discuss education without them. So, in the interest of empowering teachers everywhere, here is the who, what, when, why and how of digital citizenship for students.

What is digital citizenship?

There may be some confusion regarding what digital citizenship even means. Digital citizenship for students involves:

  • Online safety

  • Protecting privacy

  • Addressing cyberbullying

  • Respecting copyright law

  • Managing their digital footprint

It also involves becoming digitally literate and balancing technology use.

Who is responsible for teaching digital citizenship?

Any teacher who uses technology with students should be incorporating elements of digital citizenship. For example, classes involving research and writing should include evaluating a website’s credibility and writing proper citations. Any time students need to search the internet, direct and explicit instruction on the credibility and reliability of information, as well as research tips, are helpful to steer students toward useful information while disregarding inaccurate or unnecessary information.

Where should digital citizenship be taught?

Digital citizenship should be taught consistently at school and at home. At school, students should be taught how to become digitally literate, and maintain privacy and security. At home, parents should reinforce discussions around safeguarding personal information, discuss cyber-bullying and work with their children on how to browse the web safely and engage with others online in a respectful fashion.

Why should digital citizenship be taught?

Digital citizenship skills are essential to ensure students’ safety and protection. While kids today may have no problem navigating the web, they’re less likely to know how to vet sources, understand the sensitivity of the information they’re sharing and take in the gravity of conversations they’re having online. It’s up to us to reinforce these concepts. 

How should digital citizenship be taught?

Plenty of free and quality resources are available to teach students what they need to know. 

There are kid-safe search engines to help young learners search the web safely, while also limiting the results to help them key in on useful information. You can also educate students about using free images and citing sources, and BrainPop Educators has helpful tips for helping students become good citizens, not just good digital citizens.

Digital citizenship isn’t just about keeping up with the trends in technology. It’s about challenging students to evaluate the information they’re consuming and to navigate the web responsibly. In doing so, students are reinforcing skills like critical thinking and problem solving, taking the reins on their learning — abilities any educator would agree will serve them well into their futures.

Be at the forefront of how to use technology effectively in your classroom. Explore American College of Education’s M.Ed. in Educational Technology and M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology degree programs.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Brooke McGuire
Brooke McGuire, Ed.D. in Leadership

Brooke has taught in a variety of settings, working everything from a service-learning summer program geared toward incoming first graders to a high school program for struggling readers. She's currently the director of teaching and learning at her district.

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