The Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship & Online Safety in Today's Classrooms

The Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship & Online Safety in Today's Classrooms
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Our rapidly changing online world has spawned a new term: digital citizenship. This acknowledges that the internet is indeed a planet all to itself. In order for that to be a safe and productive place, we all are responsible for being good citizens of that planet.

As an adult who didn’t grow up on the web, this has been a slow realization. Years ago, I treated the internet as some mythical place where nothing I did mattered and nothing that happened was real. Today’s children know the opposite is true. The virtual world is a perpetual companion that pervades their school, family and social lives. What they do there never goes away. What happens there can have real consequences.

Learn to be a Good Citizen

Courses in sexual harassment, racial sensitivity, hygiene and sex education are a necessary part of a child’s education. Now digital citizenship is compulsory. Like my old-fashioned self, some teachers are not familiar with the modern landscape. If a rumor couldn’t go viral in a matter of hours when you went to middle school, you might not understand.

Fortunately, there is help available for teachers, parents and counselors who wish to dig deeper into the issue. Two great places to find additional resources, including lesson plans, videos, posters and quizzes are Common Sense Media and

What Can We Learn?

Resources to Teach Digital Citizenship

About Common Sense Media

Made up of a group of independent writers, media specialists, journalists and parents, Common Sense Media offers plenty of resources promoting responsible media use. You can find free lesson plans, videos and other resources for students, parents and teachers. They also review movies, apps, games, websites and other products to determine both quality and age-appropriateness. They are aligned with no companies or sponsors that create a conflict of interest.

Common Sense Media has a clear code of 10 values, including the belief that “the price for free and open media is a bit of extra homework for families”. They have a library of over twenty videos dedicated strictly to digital citizenship. Many include children relating opinions and experiences about their digital world. Topics include self-image, gender differences, gossip, drama and cyber-bullying.

In one video, students debate whether or not they are extra nice or extra mean online. One boy notes that anyone posting a picture of themselves is always trying to prove something: that they’re cool, popular, funny or sexy. No online communication is indifferent or unbiased.

Their lessons are organized in a “Scope and Sequence” format. Educators can easily scan through to find the right topic for the right grade level. Each unit has follow up questions and quizzes to gauge student learning. Common Sense provides toolkits for each lesson, combining posters, videos, activities and outreach materials for parents.

Common Sense has a suite of games, activities and videos called Digital Passport. This program is built for students in grades 3-5. It guides each individual through the process of becoming an informed and responsible digital citizen.

About DigitalCitizenship.Net

High school and university teacher Mike Ribble built this website. The articles and other resources on the site are the products of his three year dissertation project. He writes primarily to aid students, but his concepts are useful for anyone who uses technology.

He links to sections of his books Digital Citizenship in Schools and Raising a Digital Child. He also includes articles from other sources, including the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

Ribble organizes his teachings along nine themes: digital access, commerce, communication, literacy, etiquette, law, rights & responsibilities, health & wellness and security.

His views on digital access are intriguing. Not only do we need to be good citizens while online, but respect the fact that not everyone has constant access. Social and economic forces may severely limit a person’s ability to participate digitally. Not only should we not alienate them for it, we should strive to make access universal.

Ribble’s opinions on health and wellness are things many people often ignore: eye safety, ergonomics, repetitive stress plus the physical and psychological effects of internet addiction.

You Leave a Footprint

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A central theme in digital citizenship is the digital footprint. Everyone creates a trail as they move through the web, including evidence that builds a reputation. This can be big or small, harmful or hurtful, depending on how the individual manages it. Your path will cross other paths, affecting other people.

Students need to be taught about sharing personal information, security, passwords and stalking. They need to see examples of real lives changed by irresponsible management. Misplaced words can quickly damage friendships. The internet can create wild cycles of popularity, love and hate. Tiny things can become huge until no one remembers what started it all.

Imagine if all the information posted on the class bulletin board were posted on the wall of the grocery store, would that make you comfortable? What if it was posted at the bus-stop? Control how much information you show to strangers.

Surf Smart

Wise web use is also part of the curriculum for both Mike Ribble and Common Sense. Student learn how to choose secure passwords, how to search using appropriate keywords, how to shop safely and spot fradulant websites and emails.

Bullying is a hot topic today and no web curriculum would be complete without covering cyber-bullying. Some of the aspects covered are knowing what behavior is appropriate online (if you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, why say it online?), as well as how to respond when someone crosses the line and when to involve parents or other authorities.

Of course, other essential issues to cover would be online research, plagiarism, proper citations, privacy, crafting emails and effective writing.

Take the Oath

Digital Citizenship Pledges are popular themes in most digital citizenship courses. Students work together to create their own code of ethics, and promise to stick to them.

Our digital planet needs to be a world free of online predation, cyber-bullying, spam and unwanted solicitation. We need to build students who communicate clearly, share respectfully, identify phonies and surf safely. With the proper resources, teachers and parents can build a wholesome environment.

How are you teaching all of these essential skills in your classroom? What curriculum are you using or have you crafted your own lesson plans based on these topics?