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What Is Digital Citizenship?

Digital citizenship is a term that has recently gained prominence as our schools and classrooms have become increasingly steeped in technology. Simply put, digital citizenship refers to the way we behave online and the social rules and expectations that we apply to those behaviors. The word “citizenship” refers to our contribution to and responsibility toward a community. “Digital citizenship” is an extension of that contribution and responsibility as it relates to our online lives.

As educators lead students in the safe and responsible use of the internet and online tools, many recommend working with students to define digital citizenship and create guidelines to follow. When students contribute to the process, they are more likely to take ownership of what is created, and your definition will more accurately represent the norms of your school community.

An easy way to start defining digital citizenship is to first look at what citizenship means in the real world. Let your students lead the discussion but also be sure to touch on the points you feel are essential. Here are some suggestions.

Privacy

What does privacy mean to you? Why is your privacy important? How do you protect your privacy in the real world? How do you protect your privacy online? What can happen if your privacy isn’t protected?

Treatment of others

How do you wish to be treated by other people? How do other people expect to be treated? How does this treatment of others apply to the online world? What are some examples of places that you interact with others online? Is it reasonable to expect the same treatment online as in the real world? Why or why not?

Property

In real life there are rules about another person’s property. If you steal it or damage it, you are responsible to repair it or replace it, and you may receive possible punishment. What kinds of things could you steal or damage online? What are the consequences? What about intellectual property and ideas?

Human rights

If you see someone being harmed in the real world, what do you do? What about when you see or read about someone being harmed online? Are you participating by seeking out and viewing harmful content? What should you do if you discover harmful content or are concerned for the safety of another person?

What and how much you cover in your definition of digital citizenship will depend on the age of your students and on what is important to them and to you. Allow students to guide the conversation. Then, follow with discussion prompts on specific topics you feel are important. Make sure someone takes notes during the conversation to capture key points, and synthesize the comments into a short list of guidelines. Try not to make the list too long, or students will struggle to recall it. Finally, post the list in your classroom and share with parents or other colleagues as appropriate.

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