Essay “Reflections on Digital Citizenship”


The purpose of this document is to explore the theoretical and practical understandings of the elements of digital citizenship and to explain the reasoning for focusing on three specific elements: digital access, digital literacy, and digital etiquette. More specifically, the contents of this document focus on information of the digital and technology practices and uses of students in upper grade levels in an elementary school context. Briefly, the process of the design and theoretical implementation of a digital citizenship curriculum will be discussed before the conclusion of this paper.

Reflections on Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship versus Citizenship

There are many definitions to describe digital citizenship and its innerworkings. Some would say its no different than the word ‘citizenship’ by itself, but still, there are others that say it is a completely different matter. Ribble (2015) defines digital citizenship as “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use” (p. 15). He continues to say that as members of a digital society “it is our responsibility to provide all users the opportunity to work, interact, and use technology without interference, destruction, or obstruction by the actions of inappropriate users” (Ribble, 2015, p.15). Basically, there is no difference between citizenship and digital citizenship except for the fact that digital citizenship is a subcategory of citizenship. The only difference is that digital citizenship is exclusive to the digital world. All nine elements of digital citizenship, access, commerce, communication, literacy, etiquette, law, rights and responsibilities, health and wellness, and security, can very well be applied to the non-digital world. The only thing that changes is the context in which the rules are applied. If the second quote from Ribble’s text changed to say, ‘as members of a society, it is our responsibility to provide everyone the opportunity to work, interact, and use public spaces (or any other context) without the interference, destruction, or obstruction by the actions of inappropriate persons,’ then digital citizenship and citizenship are one and the same except when the context is specified. The same rules apply everywhere and with everyone. Being a citizen is being a citizen. But still, and again, others would disagree and say citizenship and digital citizenship are two very different things.

The Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

The nine elements of digital citizenship were briefly mentioned above, but here they are again: digital access, digital commerce, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security. The nine elements serve as a foundation for educating a digital society of the appropriate uses for technology (Ribble, 2015). Not only do the nine elements guide the user towards appropriate usage of technology, they also help the user understand the basics of his/her technology needs. By becoming more aware of the issues related to technology, users can become better digital citizens by modeling appropriate usage and helping prevent its misuse and abuse (Ribble, 2015). In an age where information and communication is instant, being able to send and receive information as a socially responsible digital citizen is imperative (Curran, 2012). Ohler (2010) urges that digital citizenship, a digital version of character education, be integrated into the K-12 curriculum: “The digital age beckons us to usher in a new era of character education, aimed directly at addressing the opportunities and challenges of living a digital lifestyle” (p. 26).

Digital Access, Digital Communication, and Digital Literacy

Digital access, digital communication, and digital literacy relate and connect to the learning and academic areas that are focused in school. This is where teachers can connect to their students and make a bigger difference in their involvement in the digital world. Once teachers know they’ve got that down, they can move up the ladder towards the elements that relate and connect to the school environment and student behavior, and finally, the elements that relate and connect to students’ life outside the school environment.

Digital Access. Digital access is the full electronic participation in society (Ribble, 2015). It questions whether all users can participate in a digital society. In a perfect world, everyone would have the ability to use all the tools that this new digital era provides. But that is not the case. Issues such as socioeconomic status, disabilities, and physical location constrain the opportunities many students have to access the digital world. In this case, teachers need to evaluate the use and availability of electronic devices within their schools. Not only should teachers also evaluate whether all students have adequate access to technology throughout the day, they should also model the use of technology and encourage it in their classrooms. Additional opportunities should be given in computer labs and libraries when considering families who lack the access to technology on a regular basis. Other issues include accommodations for students with special needs and programs for increasing access outside of schools.

Digital Communication. Digital communication is the electronic exchange of information (Ribble, 2015). It questions whether students use email, cell phone, texting, and social networking technologies appropriately when communicating with others (Ribble, 2015). It also brings awareness to the rules, options, and etiquette that students need when using digital communication technologies (Ribble, 2015). This means users need to think about what they say when using digital communication technologies. Issues that arise within this element include, but are not limited to: record-keeping, distractions, behavior problems, shorthand language, cheating, sexting, and bullying.

Digital Literacy. Digital literacy is the process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of it (Ribble, 2015). Understanding how technology works is one of the most significant aspects of using technology in the most appropriate manner. This element questions whether there is enough time devoted to learning how to use technology tools in the classroom (Ribble, 2015). It also questions how students can use digital technologies to “best take advantage” of the educational opportunities available to them (Ribble, 2015). In this case, not only students, but also teachers need time to learn how to use technology. Issues associated with this element include: learning the digital basics (e.g. browsers, search engines, etc.), evaluating online resources, and exploring and developing online learning modules and distance education (Ribble, 2015).

Other Issues: Cyberbullying

According to Hinduja and Patchin (2015), cyberbullying is defined as, “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (p. 11). How does it differ from traditional bullying? Well, traditional bullying still falls under “willful and repeated harm,” but it does not necessarily involve electronic devices. Basically, anyone who is in contact with others runs the risk of being affected by cyberbullying, whether it is a direct or indirect attack or being the witness of it. Unfortunately, those who have created a digital footprint, like many students, have exponentially increased their odds of being victims of cyberbullying or being cyberbullies themselves. These days, students of all ages are being reported by the media to be victims of the virus. We see students falling under attack by their classmates, and the consequences of such attack results in those very victims hurting themselves or others because of the psychological, social, and educational harm it brings. The best one could do to help students be more aware of the issues and consequences of cyberbullying is doing just that—raising awareness. It means having those difficult conversations with them about what it is, who is affected, and how we can combat it.

Discussion: Design and Implementation of a Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Design. As part of this project, a technology presentation was created to accompany this reflection on digital citizenship. This presentation took the form of a mix between a bulletin board and a blog called a ‘Padlet’. Padlet is a software used to create and share multimedia content with others. Padlet allows users to post content for others to read, view, add, edit, and/or delete. In this case, those with the link or QR code have access to view it only. The Padlet titled “Digital Citizenship for 3-5” was specifically created for students in grades third, fourth, and fifth to explore all areas of digital citizenship. It contains information, quotes, infographics, posters, videos, and most importantly, games that are appropriate for the grade levels mentioned. A lot of the information contained within the padlet focuses on areas of digital citizenship such as privacy, Internet safety, cyberbullying, mindfulness, posting and sharing, and evaluating online resources. The padlet is available at

Implementation. This technology presentation will be shared with teachers in grades third, fourth, and fifth. These teachers will have access to view and add posts to provide their students and others with even more opportunities for learning about digital citizenship. In the classroom, students will have the opportunity to explore the padlet in whole group and in small groups during centers or stations.


In summary, the general findings of this document include the argument between digital citizenship and citizenship, a brief discussion of the nine elements of digital citizenship, the definitions and issues of digital access, digital communication, and digital literacy, the issue of cyberbullying, and a discussion on the process of the design and hypothetical implementation of a digital citizenship curriculum within the upper grade levels of an elementary school context.

The big take away from this project, both the presentation and reflection, is the importance of knowing digital citizenship is a topic, a very important topic, and implementing some kind of curriculum that gives students the opportunity to become digitally informed citizens.


Curran, M. (2012). iCitizen: Are you a socially responsible digital citizen. Paper presented at the International Society for Technology Education Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX.

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and
responding to cyberbullying (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Ohler, J. (2010). Digital community digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society of Technology in Education.

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