Digital Citizenship

A citizen is a member of a community. It is a person who lives in a location, shops, visits the doctor, sends and receives mail, and interacts with friends and family. A citizen can be an active participant in the community or a passive one.

Just as we are citizens in the world in which we live, we are also members or citizens of the World Wide Web. We interact on social media, check out weird symptoms on Web MD, regularly (or not so regularly) check email. We can buy anything and have it shipped to our homes. Regardless of the amount of time spent online, we are citizens of the digital world and what we do on the internet affects others around us.

There are social rules governing the community we live in, and there are also digital rules that dictate what appropriate behavior is. The phrase digital citizenship is referring to the conduct and actions that are appropriate to use when utilizing technology. For a basic introduction to what digital citizenship is, watch this brief video below:

As a teacher I will need to teach digital citizenship to my students just as I teach them about citizenship in the real world. Not only does their future include technology use, but the lines between the real world and the online community are becoming more blurred every day. Students must have a grasp on both types of citizenship if they are to be productive. Many of the same rules apply to both communities.

Follow the golden rule.

Photo CC – by Celestine Chua

A good rule for life and for digital citizenship. This needs no further explanation because it is a simple rule, and if it governs our actions we really can’t go wrong.

What’s done is done.

Photos>Select Photos>Email

Photo CC – by cindyli

I was taught that once words come out of my mouth, they can never be unsaid. I can apologize for saying something wrong, but that is the best I can do.

The digital world takes this concept one step further. If I post a comment, I can delete it but it will never be truly gone. I can apologize, but I can never remove the fact that I wrote and posted it. We need to teach this concept to students. Pictures are not private. Words will be passed on to others.

George Couros has an article that addresses this aspect of digital citizenship. Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private provides food for thought about what should and should not be said.

This one concept cannot be overstated. If one does not want something shared, do not put it in the public arena. Anything posted online has the potential to become public. It will not go away. When something is done online, it’s done.

Role models matter.

Girls in ICT Day @ ICT Discovery, ITU, Geneva

Photo CC – by ITU Pictures

We become the people we are with. Bad company corrupts good character.

However we want to look at it, who we are is often influenced by those around us. This is seen when we look around a community of people and online. We need to choose people to interact with that reflect who we are and want to be.

As teachers we will need to be conscious that kids watch us during the day. We would never say or do something to compromise our integrity in front of the classroom. We need to keep the same level of professionalism in place online. They may still watching us when the school day is over and we are interacting in an online, social community.

In regard to others watching us, Katherine Sokolowski made a comment on her blog Read, Write, Reflect about workplace frustrations and complaints. She made the point that we all have bad days in the classroom. However, it is never appropriate that we talk about them online. It does not matter if we avoid names and places, it should not be said.

If we are with others in real life who complain, we begin to complain. The same is true online. When we begin to complain on a social networking site or our blogs, others notice and it reflects poorly on us. It can affect parent relationships, student relationships, and workplace relationships. The best practice is to keep off the internet when it comes to complaints, and don’t join in when others do so.

Focus on substance, not drama.

Great Minds

Photo CC – by Megan Black

Not only do we set a positive example, we teach the students to interact in a way that is safe. We don’t bully in school, we should not cyberbully. te@chthought has an excellent article about cyberbullying. This is a problem for young people, and must be addressed in any digital citizenship program. Drama is a part of the lives of young people, so it will spill over in to the digital world. This is where cyberbullying begins.

Relationships do not need to be all about drama. Just like friendship is built on shared interests and caring for one another, this is how relationships are built online. Kids learn how to interact and become friends when they are little. It is something they work at and get better at over time. Online relationships are the same. They are built on respect, shared interests, and affection.

. . .

There is so much more to digital citizenship than these four ideas. This is just a place to start. Follow the golden rule. Remember that what’s done is done. Role models matter. Focus on substance, not drama. Be a good citizen both in the real world and in the digital world.


4 thoughts on “Digital Citizenship

  1. Sarah, you really knocked this one out of the park!
    If I had to condense it down, I’d say your “golden rule” doctrine almost perfect sums up what good Digital Citizenship means. I’ve never had trouble behaving online the way I do in the real world. If I was a troll or a bully or whathaveyou, I would consistently feel guilty. Not be excited and feeding on the pain of others.


  2. I think that you hit on something when you said that you behave online the same way that you behave in life. I think that when you are transparent with people at all times it is hard to understand the people who are nice to your face, and then rotten online. Thanks for the feedback, Jeff!


    • Thank you, it is such a large topic. I think there are many aspects to digital citizenship, and we as teachers need to be incorporating them into our regular teaching times if the kids are going to learn them! We will fail if we teach these concepts only as an afterthought.


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