What is Digital Citizenship?

I used to think that I knew what digital citizenship was, and I did have a partial understanding of it; but there is so much more. First of all, digital citizenship is not just a teacher-student interaction; it should be a student-parent-teacher-administrator learning collaboration. Without this collaboration, we will continue to have the same issues we have now and it will probably get worse. Cyber-bullying, plagiarism, and so many other areas of concern when it comes to students and the digital citizens they need to be for a safe online experience.

Ribble (2015) states that digital citizenship is about creating a digital society of users that help each other use technology correctly. Many believe it is just the same definition as citizenship, but with some mention of a digital community. The areas of civil, political and social are what Marshall (1950) believes that any citizen must be aware of and responsible for to be a part of society. While I do not believe there will ever be one final definition of digital citizenship; educators must agree in terms of what we must help our students become in their digital lives in and out of the classroom.

Ribble (2015) dives deep into what we would classify as our digital life with the nine elements. All of these elements are linked to our everyday non-digital lives as well, but many focus on the digital world we live in today. While reviewing the nine elements and how they are grouped, I tend to gravitate towards Digital Etiquette as the most important. In our district, we have 3rd-12th graders that are 1 to 1 with laptops and many other types of devices in the lower grade levels as well. With that in mind, I have noticed that many students ignore the normal behavior or ‘etiquette’ that they would exhibit in person when they are on their device. There is a major disconnect between their ‘two lives’ as Ohler (2012) calls it. But I believe that what Ohler (2012) explains and what the reality is are quite different. Maybe his explanation of the ‘one life’ where everything is intertwined and connected is more on par with my district.

Students tend to treat others like they would if they are in the ‘neighborhood’ after school and that type of interaction is probably considered wrong in many people’s eyes, but in theirs it is a normal interaction. I believe that this will always be the case unless the teachers, parents and administration all join forces to help our students see the difference between those life experiences and the way they need to interact online with others. I hope to start putting together a better more effective approach to digital citizenship for my district with the information from this course so that our students can thrive in all environments; online or offline.

I will continue to focus on this topic for my district, and hope to broaden our reach to help more students become better digital citizens that want to help others follow their lead. I believe that it begins with the teachers and parents, but the students will make it happen with their perseverance and willingness to point their friends toward the correct path in their digital lives.


Marshall, T.H. (1950). Citizenship and social class: and other essays. Cambridge, MA: University Press.

Ohler, J. (2012). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, 77(8), 14-17.

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

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