Digital Citizenship

Most people who know me are surprised that I’m passionate about technology in education.  Sure, I grew up as an 80’s kid, when computers were first gaining importance in education.  I had my own computer at home and taught myself to code in BASIC, just for fun.  I played “Oregon Trail” and “Zork” at school when I got free time.  I’m in that interesting group of Americans that grew up with computers, but wasn’t quite a “digital native.”

But my discipline isn’t a “techy” one.  I teach art, which is often the last place schools invest in technology. My journey to my Digital Learning and Leading master’s program really only started when I bought an iPad on a lark as a solution to being a mobile teacher with a tiny budget, and I discovered that it provided learning opportunities I never had, before.  Now, only a few years later, technology has become so intertwined with education, it’s impossible to talk about one topic without the other.

But in our move from traditional to technology-driven education, one topic is often missed, especially in our focus to provide student with “21st Century Skills” and improve test scores.  But this topic is so important that, in our failure to address it, we are creating a bigger problem by not preparing students to work and interact in a digital world that does not work like the physical world.  This one concept, Digital Citizenship, is such a simple idea, but it covers a vast number of issues presented by an online world.

Digital Citizenship is merely the idea of applying our concept of citizenship to the digital world.  According to Marshall, citizenship is a status given to all full members of a community.  Citizenship has three components:  civil, political, and social (Marshall, 1950).  The idea of Digital Citizenship came about much later, after the invention of computers, and when more and more of our interactions with others started happening online.  It became apparent that, while there is a definite parallel between the online and offline communities, digital interactions produce some unique considerations.

Ribble (2015) broke the concept of Digital Citizenship down into 9 elements, making it much easier to look at the issues of citizenship in our digital lives.  These elements are:

  1. Digital Access — being able to access digital information and workspaces
  2. Digital Commerce — buying and selling goods online
  3. Digital Communication — interacting with others online
  4. Digital Literacy — knowing how to utilize technology 
  5. Digital Etiquette — the rules and norms of online interaction
  6. Digital Law — the legal implications of online interaction
  7. Digital Rights and Responsibilities — the protections and consequences of online interaction
  8. Digital Health and Wellness — the ways technology use can affect us, physically
  9. Digital Security — staying safe as we work and interact online

According to Ribble (2015) these elements can be combined into three basic areas, depending on how they affect our lives at school:

  • Directly affect student learning and academic performance – access, literacy, communication
  • Affect the overall school environment and student behavior – etiquette, rights and responsibilities, and security
  • Affect student life outside the school environment – commerce, health & wellness, and law.

He then further simplified this concept into a three word slogan, “Respect, Educate, and Protect” or REP:

Respect Your Self/Respect Others

  • Etiquette
  • Access
  • Law

Educate Your Self/Connect with Others

  • Communication
  • Literacy
  • Commerce

Protect Your Self/Protect Others

  • Rights and Responsibility
  • Safety (Security)
  • Health and Welfare

As we develop online spaces for learning, working, and interacting, it is especially important to include Digital Citizenship in our teaching and our planning, in order to prepare our students to be good digital citizens.  Any initiative to include technology in our schools must prioritize the ways we teach students to respect, educate, and protect themselves and others in order to ensure their safety and success in a world that didn’t even exist when we were in school.


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

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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