December 11, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Digital Citizenship Education in Nine Steps | Take the Lead

Today’s students have an online playground in addition to the physical one at their schools. But unlike school playgrounds, digital spaces are rarely monitored or supervised. As students connect, communicate, and collaborate digitally, they need to learn web literacy, source evaluation, information filtering, and self-monitoring skills. Merely teaching digital citizenship skills is not enough. Responsible online behavior needs to become part of the district or campus climate.

In my school district, our journey towards cultivating a culture of digital citizenship began with a Strategic Design Plan that included seamless integration of digital citizenship “across the curriculum, so that all stakeholders collaborate in an atmosphere of respect, integrity, sharing, trust, and service,” as our plan states.

The strategic design process began in 2011, with community stakeholders drafting a new mission, vision, goals, and core beliefs for the district. The digital citizenship component states that learners will be engaged “through the use of technological tools to access, create, and share content, as well as collaborate with other learners throughout the world.” We also implemented what we call 1:X, which ensures that all students would have the devices they need to learn and includes a 1:1 iPad initiative for students in grades 4–12.

During the first year of 1:X, librarians were the primary conduits for digital citizenship instruction and modeling. As teachers and administrators found themselves facing new classroom routines and situations related to the 1:X devices, they also were convinced of the necessity to incorporate this education for students.

That spring, our librarians began a nine-week digital citizenship education campaign. We emphasized each element, as identified by Mike Ribble, creator of the Digital Citizenship website, for one week. Librarians collaborated in a shared online folder to compile resources, such as social media posts, announcements, instructional activities, and lessons. The district 1:X online tool kit also featured a website with parent resources, videos, and conversation starters.

The following year, librarians participated in a state-wide digital citizenship week, again coordinating resources in a shared folder. Administrators participated in a mini-conference with breakout sessions led by librarians, principals, central office staff, and instructional technology personnel. Each principal created a digital citizenship goal for their campus improvement plan, such as obtaining Common Sense Certified School status or providing digital citizenship education to parents and community members. Library services and IT staff presented at district PTA meetings and campus digital showcase events.

During year three, we implemented a district-wide digital citizenship curriculum for fourth graders as they received their 1:X devices. The curriculum, taught by librarians, classroom teachers, and technology applications teachers, was based on Common Sense Media lessons corresponding with the Texas technology applications standards.

The district also participated in Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship Week. The communications and digital learning departments coordinated to include parent resources and campus activities on the district website and social media accounts. We also included a digital citizenship component in the district parent education program, Parent U.

We are currently in year four of culture building. Teaching students to be responsible users and creators of digital information is a core value of our district as we prepare them for careers that don’t exist today. The digital citizenship curriculum currently includes grades four, five, and seven, with plans to add additional grade levels each year.

As a culminating activity, students in grades five and seven upload a digital citizenship artifact, such as a student-created video explaining an element of digital citizenship or a game teaching younger students how to stay safe online, into their ePortfolios. These artifacts let students showcase how they access, create, and share digital content in a safe online environment. The curriculum also includes resources for digital literacy, the application of digital citizenship skills.  Beginning in 2017–18, these artifacts will also include a reflection component. We are also updating and strengthening components for parents and teachers as we expand the curriculum to additional grades.

My advice for librarians looking to foster a climate of responsible digital behavior is to bring parents, teachers, and administrators into the conversation early. These stakeholders serve as powerful models and are essential to a shared climate.

Provide teachers training in digital citizenship and literacy. Librarians are poised to provide training on topics, such as the use and evaluation of digital tools, establishing who owns information and ideas found online, leveraging advanced search options to limit and refine internet searches, and/or assessing whether an online resource or person is credible and trustworthy.

Building a shared culture of digital citizenship is a journey. Librarians serve as models, leaders, and guides on this path with students who will be future-ready digital citizens.

Nine elements of digital citizenship as identified by Mike Ribble:

  • Digital Access: Full electronic participation in society
  • Digital Commerce: Electronic buying and selling of goods
  • Digital Communication: Electronic exchange of information
  • Digital Literacy: Process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology
  • Digital Etiquette: Electronic standards of conduct or procedure
  • Digital Law: Electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  • Digital Rights & Responsibilities: Those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world
  • Digital Health & Wellness: Physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world
  • Digital Security: Electronic precautions to guarantee safety

Also see: Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum and resources.


Robin Stout is the library media services and emerging technologies administrator in the Lewisville (TX) Independent School District. She is a member of the inaugural 2015–16 class of Lilead Fellows and is working on a doctorate in educational leadership in her spare time.

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