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The Importance of Digital Citizenship 1

The Importance of Digital Citizenship in K-12 Education

Camille Maydonik


ETEC 511 Foundations of Educational Technology

Instructor: Franc Feng

University of British Columbia

December 6, 2009
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This essay is an attempt to address the importance of Digital Citizenship in K-12

education. The fourth standard of the ISTE’s Educational Technology Standards for

Teachers (2008) is to “Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility.” To

elaborate, teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an

evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional



a. advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and

technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the

appropriate documentation of sources.

b. address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies

providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources.

c. Promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to

the use of technology and information.

d. Develop and model cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging

with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital-age communication

and collaboration tools.

However, in some cases, there are many restrictions in place at the school board level that

teachers are not able to meet this standard, or teachers themselves do not have the skills

and knowledge to do so. A growing consensus among technology leaders is that

teachers, students, and administrators in K-12 education must be educated in the day-to-

day use of technology.

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The Importance of Digital Citizenship in K-12 Education

Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses
their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of
the genius of each.

- Plato

Defining Digital Citizenship

On a daily basis, students interact with music, movies, software, social

networking sites, and other digital content. The majority of these students may not

understand the rules that dictate the ethical use of digital files and may not understand

why these issues are relevant (Microsoft, 2008). According to Ribble and Bailey (2004),

“digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of behavior with regard to technology

use” (p. 13). That being said, Ribble and Bailey (2007) caution that “few social

guidelines have been developed for the use of digital technologies” and they reason that

“we can decide, as a society, that anarchy is the norm. Or we can decide that digital

technology should be used for the benefit of all” (p. 8).

Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/) is a national

organization led by concerned parents and individuals with experience in child advocacy,

public policy, education, media and entertainment. This organization recognizes the need

for digital literacy and citizenship. In their paper “Digital Literacy and Citizenship in the

21st Century: Educating, Empowering, and Protecting America’s Kids,” it is stated:

This dynamic new world requires new comprehension and communication skills,

as well as new codes of conduct, to ensure that these powerful media and

technologies are used responsibly and ethically. Much of this interaction in this

digital world happens at a distance, which can diminish the rules of cause and
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effect, action and consequence. Additionally, much of digital life takes place

under the cloak of anonymity, making it easier to participate in unethical and even

illegal behaviors. Digital citizenship means that kids appreciate their

responsibility for their content as well as their actions when using the Internet,

cell phones, and other digital media. (p.1)

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has also developed

standards for students. The fifth standard for students is “Digital Citizenship”: Students

understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal

and ethical behavior. Students:

a. advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and


b. exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration,

learning, and productivity.

c. demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning.

d. exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.

In this digital era, these standards for students and teachers can only be achieved if a

structure that can teach students and teachers how to act with respect to technology is

implemented. Ribble and Bailey (2007) explain that “some stop-gap measures have been

created, such as acceptable use policies (AUPs), which are designed to help define the

rules of technology use in school” (p.9). However, AUPs should not be confused with

digital citizenship:

The problem is that few of these AUPs teach the use of digital technology. Most

often, AUPs simply tell the student what they can and cannot do with technology
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at school. These rules do not teach students what is appropriate and why, and

instead simply define the uses that are restricted in the school setting. (p.9)

Digital Citizenship, then, can be defined as a new citizenship. It is the responsibility of

educators and the school community to help define appropriate technology use not only

in the physical world, but in a digital, virtual world as well. Ribble and Bailey (2007)

contend that:

This new citizenship is global in nature. American children will have to learn

how to work with technology users in India, China, and Russia to an

unprecedented extent. A common framework, such as digital citizenship,

provides us all with a starting point for understanding each other. (p.12)

The Bottom Line

According to Mossberger, Tolbert, and McNeal (2008), digital citizenship

encompasses the skills, access, and education needed for participation in the information

age; The ability to participate in society online. In order to do this, Ribble and Bailey

(2007) provide a framework for understanding the technology issues that are important to

educators. This framework includes nine elements of digital citizenship. (Fig. 1)

It is important to understand that each element relates to each other in a variety of

ways. To understand how the elements interconnect, Ribble and Bailey (2007) propose

three categories “based on their immediacy to the typical school environment” (p. 36) to

group the different elements:

1. directly affect student learning and academic performance (digital literacy,

digital communication, digital access),

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Figure 1. Ribble and Bailey’s (2007) Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

2. affect the overall school environment and student behavior (digital security,

digital etiquette, digital rights and responsibilities),

3. affect student life outside the school environment (digital health and wellness,

digital law, digital commerce).

Ribble and Bailey (2007) caution that “technology leaders should be careful when

deciding which elements of digital citizenship to focus their attention on” (p. 36).

Furthermore, “Technology leaders need to be constantly vigilant to new, emerging uses

of technology, and have a thorough understanding of the nine elements of digital

citizenship” (p. 36).

Digital Citizenship in Schools

It is important for educators to develop ethical direction in their students. As part

of Ribble and Bailey’s (2005) work on digital citizenship, they state: “Everyone has an
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Figure 2. Ribble and Bailey’s (2005) digital compass.

internal compass, but adults need to teach children how to find and use it” (p. 36). One

of the tools that they have developed is a digital citizenship compass that is used to guide

discussions with students about potential situations in the digital world. (Fig. 2) The

compass is one of many tools available to educators to teach students about digital

citizenship. That being said, the strength of this tool lies in fact that students recognize it

as real life (p. 37).

It is important for educators to have tools such as the digital compass at their

disposal to teach digital citizenship, as they themselves may not have the technical

knowledge and skills to do so. All members of the school community, regardless of

abilities, must “value the importance of a digital citizenship program and its connection

to current policies and future practices” (p. 41). It is crucial to develop a plan for digital

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Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

A growing consensus among technology leaders is that teachers, students, and

administrators in K-12 education must be educated in the day-to-day use of technology.

This brings us to the issue of digital divide. In the past, the role of teachers was to

deconstruct knowledge for students, in order to build the knowledge back up in a way

that students could understand and learn. “School was truly empowering. It exposed

kids for the first time to a wide variety of useful things they knew nothing about, in ways

that the students were unable to do on their own” (Prensky, 2008). However, times have

changed and our reality now is that educators have slid into the 21st century and into the

digital age, still teaching the old way.

Prensky is credited with coining the terms digital natives and digital immigrants.

In Prensky’s (2001) words, the term digital native refers to today’s students. They are

native speakers of technology, fluent in the digital language of computers, video games,

and the Internet. Prensky refers to digital immigrants as those of us who were not born

into the digital world. Digital Immigrants have adopted many aspects of the technology,

but just like those who learn another language later in life, they retain an “accent”

because they still have one foot in the past.

In terms of education, this digital divide, so to speak, may cause a problem. Our

students, as digital natives, will continue to evolve and change so rapidly that teachers

won’t be able to catch up. Prensky (2006) states, “This phenomenon renders traditional

catch-up methods, such as in-service training, essentially useless” (p. 9). There is no

doubt that teachers must be well versed in the day-to-day use of technology in order to
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meet the needs of their students who are growing up in the digital age. Prensky (2001)


Today’s students – K-12 through college – represent the first generations to grow

up with this new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by

and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones,

and all the other toys and tools of the digital age. (p.2)

The learners of today demand real life experiences that are inline with something in their

lives that’s really engaging – something that they do and that they are good at, something

that has an engaging, creative component to it.

Although the digital divide is present in many educational contexts, in many

cases, the sharp division between the two is not as distinct as Prensky describes in the

majority of his articles. Prensky’s broad claim does not account for counter-examples of

this simplistic divide. Digital Immigrants may still have an “accent”, however, it is the

digital immigrants who are putting technology into the hands of the digital natives, if the

proper resources are available. In some cases, the division between digital natives and

immigrants is not due to personal beliefs, skills, teaching abilities or attitudes, but the

lack of access to the necessary digital technologies to effectively teach students in the

digital age. What has been interpreted as teachers not engaging students effectively may

be due to the fact that some school boards have such strict AUPs that teachers’ hands are

tied and it is difficult to move forward with their teaching in new and radical ways. As a

result, teaching responsible digital citizenship becomes very difficult. For example, how

can a teacher effectively teach appropriate use of a website such as Facebook, if access to

it is blocked on the school’s network? Although there are many factors in this debate, the
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digital divide is not fully responsible for the fact that many teachers are teaching using

dated methodologies.

Implications of Digital Citizenship

Teaching Strategies

Teaching and learning in the digital age is exciting not only for students, but for

teachers as well. Our goals as teachers have shifted and many teachers have the goal of

making learning relevant for their student’s lives in order to prepare them for the future in

positive, safe and appropriate ways. In order to develop digital citizenship in our

students, teachers must use effective strategies. Prensky (2008, p.45) outlines some

approaches to teaching in this new day and age:

1. Give students the opportunity to use technology in school. Once we let students

take the lead on technology projects, teachers tend to see more engagement and

better results.

2. Find out how students want to be taught. Students like having goals they want to

reach, doing rather than listening, getting involved with the real world.

3. Connect students to the world. Today’s students know that if they post something

on YouTube, the entire world can see it – and comment.

4. Understand where kids are going – that is, into the future – and help them get

there. Covering the material and preparing kids for the test is not preparing them

for the future.

By using these four strategies, teachers will have a good start at incorporating technology

into the curriculum, which will help teachers to be more creative in their planning. Also,

of upmost importance, by using these strategies, teachers will be able to integrate digital
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citizenship lessons into their practice which will best prepare students for the choices

they will need to make while navigating the digital world.


In order to best prepare 21st century learners, the curriculum must be well

matched to the students’ reality. Prensky (2005) maintains, “We have to find how to

present our curricula in ways that engage our students – not just to create new “lesson

plans”, not even just to put the curriculum online” (p.64).

In Alberta, Career and Technology Studies Career and Technology Studies (CTS)

is a complementary program designed for Alberta's secondary school students. As a

program of choice, CTS offers all students important learning opportunities to:

• develop skills they can be applied in their daily lives, now and in the future

• refine career-planning skills

• develop technology-related skills

• enhance employability skills

• apply and reinforce learning developed in other subject areas

• prepare for transition into adult roles in the family, community, workplace and/or

further education.

The course structure of CTS enables schools to design unique programs that meet the

needs of students and take advantage of community resources. Developed across levels

rather than grades, CTS has multiple entry points and provides secondary students with

access to a common curriculum. As a competency-based curriculum, CTS recognizes

prior learning from formal schooling and personal initiatives.

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This program is a very comprehensive program, although it stands alone from all

other core subjects and has only been developed for secondary students. In terms of

teaching digital citizenship, the technology curriculum should be infused across all grade

levels and subjects. At the elementary level in Alberta, technology is integrated into core

subjects, although it is not evaluated or given a grade. Because of this, many teachers do

not use technology in their practice as they are not accountable for it. If teachers are not

using technology in their practice they cannot possibly be teaching digital citizenship or

achieving the ISTE’s Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (2008). This is a

fundamental flaw in the Alberta Curriculum and many other curricula worldwide.


K – 12 education has changed drastically since the Industrial Revolution.

Students are becoming rich content developers through social networking sites and other

Web 2.0 tools. They are experiencing a rich, stimulating environment outside of the

classroom walls that is teaching them about relationships, communities, connectivity and

access. The online world is a great world for teaching and learning that must start with

the teacher directing students towards appropriate use of technology.

21st century learners will be doing work that will call upon their artistic abilities,

their ability to synthesize information, to understand their context, and to work in teams.

Therefore, digital citizenship, the way students behave in the online world and how they

find the information they need, must be modeled appropriately by teachers so that

learners today develop this 21st century set of literacies. In order to do this effectively,

teachers must be granted access to the necessary tools, the curriculum must be embedded
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across the grade levels, and teachers must be given the time to develop themselves

professionally in the use of technology.

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Alberta Learning. (2000-2003) Information and communication technology curriculum.

Retrieved November 1, 2009, from:


Common Sense Media. (2009) Digital literacy and citizenship in the 21st century:

Education, empowering, and protecting America’s kids. Retrieved October 31,

2009, from: www.commonsensemedia.org

Microsoft. (2008) Digital citizenship and creative content, a teacher’s guide. Retrieved

November 1, 2009, from: http://www.digitalcitizenshiped.com

Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C., & McNeal, R. (2008). Digital citizenship: The Internet,

society, and participation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from:



Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

doi: 10.1108/10748120110424816

Prensky, M. (2005a). Engage me or enrage me. EDUCAUSE Review, 40(5), 60-65.

Retrieved from Professional Development Collection database.

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Prensky, M. (2005b). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 8-13.

Retrieved from Professional Development Collection database.

Prensky, M. (2007). How to teach with technology: Keeping both teachers and students

comfortable in an era of exponential change. Emerging Technologies for Learning,

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