Digital Citizenship: Are You Having These Conversations With Your Students?


Over the past 2 years, I have had the chance to visit many other classrooms and during these visits I have also had many conversations about digital citizenship with various students throughout grades K-12.  Whenever I go into a classroom and I need to introduce a new digital tool to students it is important that we start with a conversation about digital citizenship.  I like to find out what students already know on the topic and if they have talked about it with their parents and families.  I often ask questions like: how many students have access to devices or computers at home, who chats or communicates with people online, who communicates with people that they do not know, and who talks to their parents or families about what they do when they are online.  The answers to these questions are usually surprising for me.  Most of the students I ask have access to an internet enabled device.  Usually over half of those students say they communicate with people they do not know.  Meanwhile a very small percentage of students tell me they talk about these online activities with their parents or families. These answers have me wondering.  Why are people not having these conversations with their kids at home?  I am also pretty sure that many teachers are not discussing digital citizenship in their classrooms either.  Many times the conversations I do see happening tend to be based largely on fear and focussing on the negative things that can happen online.

Technology is not going away.  Kids are using the technology at home and in school.  They are using it to communicate with people they know as well as people they do not know.  Some may argue kids just shouldn’t be talking to people they do not know online.  Is that a good message to send to our kids though?  I remember hearing these do not talk to strangers messages as a kid.  Unfortunately most times the people that kids really need to be worried about are people they know.  Not only is it misleading to have kids focus on not communicating with strangers but irresponsible to not prepare kids for the world that they are living in.  We need to have the conversations with our kids and give them some tools and strategies to deal with the things they encounter online.

Filtering, blocking and banning technology out of fear of the worse possible things that can happen does not work.  When we filter, block or ban we are actually missing out on opportunities to help our students learn how to navigate their digitally filled worlds in safe and productive ways.  Yes talking about some of those negative examples are good to bring up but it worries me when this is all that is focused on.  What about the positive examples of how people are using technology?  These examples also need to be shared and modelled for our students.

You may be wondering how you could teach your students about digital citizenship.  I have weaved these discussions in when I introduced new tech tools and then continued the conversations as they come up.  In my class I started a class Twitter account to share our learning and connect with other classrooms learning about the same things we were.  As a class we created our profile.  Naturally this led to conversations about so many aspects of digital citizenship just by setting up a profile.

We explored questions like:

  • What should our name be?
  • Should we use a fake or real name?
  • Should we use our full name?
  • Should we share where we are from?  (If yes do we use the name of our small town?
  • What picture do we use?
  • Can we show our faces in our profile picture?
  • How does what we share in our profile affect what people think of us?
  • What kind of image do we want people to have of us?

As we carried along through the year tweeting and blogging there were many rich conversations brought to the surface around the topic of digital citizenship that were authentic learning experiences for my students.  We discussed copyright issues when they wanted to tweet a picture or upload one to their blog post.  They learned about citing sources and creative commons. They learned about commenting, liking and following and how that affects what people think about us.  After all you are who you follow and like!  As we talked about our class accounts we discuss their own online identities and how they shape them in their private accounts too.  What message do they send or image do they portrait in their personal interactions online?  If they regret something they posted without thinking can they delete it forever?  These are just some of the discussions that have come up in my classroom while we used Twitter.

There are many examples of students that are leveraging technology to do some amazing things.  Here are a few examples you might want to share with your students:

#CHHSLetsTalk Campaign– social media campaign started by Calgary high school student Brett Rothery to raise awareness and funds for mental health.

@westhighbros– Twitter account started by Jeremiah a high school junior.   Started as a way to fight cyber bullying, students tweet compliments to friends and classmates.– Martha Payne blogged about her horrible school lunches and people paid attention.

@LeydenPride– High School Twitter account passed on to different students each week to tweet from a student perspective.


What ways are you teaching your students about digital citizenship?  I would love to hear your ideas?  Let’s get the conversation started!


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