Digital Citizenship in Elementary School

Digital citizenship is not about the tools, it’s about …?

Image source: Unsplash

Yesterday, a few colleagues and I spent some time discussing teaching digital citizenship to elementary school students. Much of the conversation centered around how to teach children digital citizenship skills in context, rather than theoretically. We can draw parallels with the idea of learning just in time, versus just in case. One colleague suggested that learning is very powerful when it’s exploratory, relevant, and social, and we should create environments with those components to teach digital citizenship.

We ended with the question: how can we teach digital citizenship in a way that’s exploratory, relevant, and social in elementary school.

Do you have any ideas or success stories to share? Please leave a comment related to the question, or complete the first sentence of this post.

Note that this post is written for my participation in #EdublogsClub challenge. The prompt was to “write a post that includes an image”.

5 Ideas for Digital Citizenship Week

Source: Common Sense Media

Source: Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is highlighting Digital Citizenship Week from October 16 – 22. It is a good time to revisit the ideas of what it means to be a responsible digital citizen. Here are five examples of activities that you are can do with students during that week, or any week:

  • Give students cards for each (or a subset) of the 9 elements of digital citizenship, and have them come up with a poster, comic, song, or meme for each.
  • Focus on one of the 9 elements and have students create a pledge of how they will be responsible in that element.
  • Complete a lesson from Common Sense Media.
  • Have a technology free day, discuss the why with students, and focus on alternate activities that day. Encourage students to continue the challenge at home that day.
  • Invite families to have a device free meal, hour, walk, etc. Each child can create his/her own invitation to his/her family, on paper or using a tech tool from class.

Growing up Online

Digital by Steve Jurvetson CC Licensed

Digital by Steve Jurvetson
CC Licensed

The idea that this generation is growing up online may be cliched, but you only have to visit the Facebook feed of one of your friends with young children to note that children have an online presence before they have much (any) choice about it. Facebook recently added a feature called Scrapbook, which lets you give children under 13 an official presence on the site.

Two things happened today to float this issue to the top of my mind again. In a workshop on Design Thinking and Tinkering with Liz Perry, someone proposed that tinkering and hands-on/active play is vital in schools because too little of it happens at home, and this is often because children are given too much access to technology. Then on my walk home, I listened to an OnBeing podcast conversation between danah boyd and Krista Tippett titled “Online Reflections of Our Offline Lives“. In particular, danah talks about how our current social and family structures, and fear mongering make it hard for children to meet friends to play with and explore (in) their physical world. She contends that even if a parent gives a child the opportunity to do so, it’s meaningless if the child’s friends aren’t also allowed to, and this pushes social activity online. She emphasizes that children are learning behaviors from us, and we serve as models for them of the kinds of activities that they can/should engage in. She advices parents to build a network of adults in a child’s life that the child can have access to for support, help, encouragement, modelling to replace the missing social connections that were traditionally available through nearby family, church, and other networks.

danah talks about the three C’s to consider in digital citizenship: conduct, content and contact. The part that worries parents (and educators) the most is conduct. But what conduct are we modelling for children? What do we expect them to learn from news, reality shows, backbiting and gossip amongst parents, politics and advertising? Drama and interpersonal conflict is rife in amongst adults in our world and from that, children learn the flair for drama, as well as self-bullying. danah sites research that she and Elizabeth Englander did on which shows that cruel questions asked by teens are often answered by the questioner to build drama online. danah talks about the fact that teens explore identity online, and that their use of media shifts over time. When people engage online, there are some things that they have control on, and some things (such as search results and archiving) that they do not. If we want children to think creatively and critically to made decisions about their online life, what questions can we ask them to facilitate this? How can we do this questioning in a way that’s nonjudgemental and open to encourage children to think in ways that can result in transformative action?

As a technology instructionalist, I’m wondering how much technology use is too much, and what is developmentally appropriate at different age levels. I’m also wondering about how we can improve our use of technology to mitigate some of the negative impact of our current use. When I look at the creative thinking spiral by Resnick, play and share are key components. This makes me wonder how social is play, and what does online play offer? Children can play alone, but in a constructivist framework, socializing and sharing are important components.

What questions are you grappling with about helping our children navigate the three c’s of contact, content and conduct online? What have you found to be successful with children at various developmental levels?

Prioritizing the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

Mark Ribble contends that there are nine elements of digital citizenship. He invites schools to prioritize the nine components, and consider how they relate to the context and environment of the school. Looking at the nine elements, I tried to prioritize them:

  1. Digital Etiquette – acceptable standards of behaviour online
  2. Digital Access – students have access to technology as they need it throughout the day
  3. Digital Literacy – learning about technology and using technology meaningfully and successfully
  4. Digital communication – sending and receiving information electronically
  5. Digital Rights and Responsibilities – freedoms and responsibilities extended to everyone in the digital world
  6. Digital Health and Wellness – staying healthy physically and mentally within the digital world
  7. Digital Security – electronic precautions for safety
  8. Digital Law – electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  9. Digital Commerce – buying and selling goods online

However, I’m not comfortable with this sequence because some of the elements go hand in hand. So I decided to organize the elements into tiers:

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3

Digital Access

Digital Etiquette

Digital Literacy

Digital Communication

Digital Rights and Responsibilities

Digital Health and Wellness

Digital Security

Digital Law

Digital Commerce

I’m still not pleased with this organization. You should consider ergonomics (health and wellness) whenever using digital devices, for example, and make sure that media used in projects is creative commons licensed or from the public domain. So maybe the model is less about tiers and more about layers.

Maybe the way to approach digital citizenship is to introduce students to all the components, then to add another layer to deepen understanding of each element as is relevant to other units and lessons in the curriculum. The intent is not to cover digital citizenship and be done, but rather to incorporate digital citizenship into teaching and learning in the classroom, as is developmentally appropriate for students.

How do you approach digital citizenship in your classroom or school? Do you use the 9 elements framework or another framework?


For more information on the 9 elements, see

Who Are You?

Who's behind the mask?

Image source: Behind the Mask by Chris Martin Sudios, CC BY 2.0

I recently read an article on the CTV website about a study that shows strong correlations between liking something on Facebook and a myriad of personal demographic information including racial identity and political affiliation. Google personalizes results so that we are liable to get caught in our own filter bubble. Our engagement in social media and social networks helps us define our identity, but it also shapes our identity. When you do a search about yourself in Google, the results you find are who you are, or at least dimensions of who you are. The danger of identity in the online world is that it is difficult to authentically and honestly represent yourself. On the flip side, it is challenging to get the complete picture of who a person is. Yet we feel that we know someone after having interacted with him online. However, the snapshots that we get when we interact with someone online or learn about them through search are just that, snapshots. If you engage in the online world, recognize the challenge that you have to represent yourself. Get out of your close knit, comfortable space sometimes to allow other dimensions of your personality to show. Acknowledge the difficulties of getting to know someone online. Be careful not to fill in details from your own imaginations/expectations.