It is not uncommon to walk into today’s classrooms and see students conducting research utilizing their school assigned laptop, coding on an app on their iPad, or listening to a podcast via their phone. Just as the pencil became the technology to replace the quill pen, technology has advanced to a point the world has “flattened” (Friedman, 2007), and students have access to people, information, and resources as quickly as they can take a breath of air. The latest statistics
show that around 4.66 billion individuals worldwide are active internet users, roughly 65.6% of the world’s entire population. As such, there is a global community of people, each navigating the digital world (Future Learn, 2021). Nevertheless, the ease at which students can connect to content and people, has educators and parents asking, “How should students be accessing content and people so they are safe in the digital space?” After all, at school and home students are taught to embrace character traits, practice mindfulness, and honor academic integrity codes of conduct. But how does this look for students when they log onto the intangible abyss of interconnected computers, also known as the Internet?
As more students began to use technology, educators began to see and understand the problems that could develop. Therefore, the term "digital citizenship" was introduced and can be traced around the year 2000. The term was not commonly used by teachers; however educational technology circles used the term with fidelity. Specifically, the term digital citizenship became popular in 2004 when the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) published the article in Learning & Leading with Technology, “Digital Citizenship: Addressing Appropriate Technology Behavior ''(Ribble, Bailey, & Ross, 2004). Nevertheless, technology usage in the classroom only increased at an exponential rate and the term digital citizenship appealed to more and more educators (Edvolve CIT, 2018). The term digital citizenship is nearly the same as what we think of when we define the word citizen or the way in which a citizen responds as a member of the digital community (Heick, 2023). Although this definition felt limiting, Heick (2023) defines digital citizenship as “The quality of habits, actions, and consumption patterns that impact the ecology of digital content and communities.”
Common Sense Education entered this digital landscape in 2010 by releasing their digital citizenship curriculum and more and more educators turned to them as a viable and valuable resource. According to James, Weinstein, and Mendova (2019), “they believe that digital citizenship is a foundational skill for learning and life. As the lines between digital life and real life merge, we must prepare young people to harness the power of technology for responsible participation and active engagement.” Due to a variety of reasons, schools began to focus more and more on teaching digital citizenship. The most notable reason is that schools have seen the advantage beyond “keeping students safe” to teach digital citizenship. First, for students to succeed in a technology influenced world, we must teach our students to become digital literate. For example, students must be able to “efficiently and securely use technology, interactive digital tools, and search networks” (e.g. read online, access embedded hyperlinks and videos, use search engines to conduct research) (Importance of Promoting Digital Citizenship in Students, 2022). Second, since cyberbullying is never acceptable, students must learn digital etiquette. This refers to the basic rules that govern their online behavior and how they can assist in making a reasonable online space not only for them but for others. Not only are students learning digital etiquette for their school environment but also when they engage on social media platforms. Furthermore, teachers see their role as reminding students that their very use of “technology affects others who are at the receiving end of a text, tweet, and/or post” (Importance of Promoting Digital Citizenship in Students, 2022). Third, students learn to balance the use of technology in their life by learning digital health. This means students learn how to make choices to best interact with technology so it has a positive effect on their lives. Teachers educate students about healthy technology habits and assist students to recognize how technology could possibly affect their well-being in a negative manner. For example, technology is taught to be used to pursue goals such as a fitness goal, but there is also explicit discussion around the dangers of excessive screen time. (Importance of Promoting Digital Citizenship in Students, 2022). Lastly, students learn all about their digital footprints and how they can best protect themselves in the online space. “Teaching digital citizenship to students involves helping them understand the permanence of their digital footprints and how to avoid harming themselves or others with what they post online. They can be encouraged to selectively share on social media” (Importance of Promoting Digital Citizenship in Students, 2022).
In the Lower School at Ranney, we have actively adopted our digital citizenship curriculum to lean into digital literacy, digital etiquette, and digital health. Specifically, students are taught they leave a digital footprint, their online words matter, nothing is private, they need to protect themselves, manners matter in the digital space, they must credit others, and they need to be honest when they leverage technology (Weinstein et. al., 2019). These skills promote students to being active and critical citizens in the online community. In addition, our digital curriculum is focused on providing our Lower School students with the critical knowledge about how to remain safe and flourish.