Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship: Elements, Copyright, and Ethics


Digital citizenship is a topic that has become more necessary to observe, discuss, and teach. As schools and learning systems change with the world’s technology advancing, it is extremely important to note the ever-changing policies and systems in place for students using technology. Digital citizenship is a very broad term that encompasses many aspects of being responsible. An easy to remember mantra which defines digital citizenship is: respectful, purposeful and honest representation and dissemination of online content.

Elements of Digital Citizenship

Overview of Digital Citizenship

            There are nine essential elements of digital literacy based on Ribble’s text. They are as follows: digital access, digital commerce, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security (Ribble, 2015). Digital access is the electronic participation in society, and includes the idea that all people should have equal access to our technologies. Digital commerce includes the ideas of buying and selling goods and services electronically (Ribble, 2015).  It is the teacher’s responsibility to help students become successful and responsible consumers in today’s online marketplace. Digital communication is the exchange of information electronically. It is what most people today use with regards to texting, social media, and email. Digital literacy is the actual knowledge of how to use technology (Heick, 2014). Digital etiquette is the standard and conduct of electronic and technological use. Digital law is the legal responsibility of online activity. Digital rights and responsibilities discuss the freedoms and rights that everyone in a digital world should maintain. Digital health and wellness speaks to the physical, emotional, and mental wellness in the digital age. Digital security is needed to maintain safety in the digital world (Ribble, 2015).

Categories of Digital Citizenship

            Ribble categorizes the nine elements into three categories:  Respect, Educate, Protect (REPs). The principles identified “directly affect student learning and academic performance, affect the overall school environment and student behavior…affect the student life outside the school environment” (Ribble, 2015). The principles connect because they all have the core goals of “improving learning outcomes and preparing students to become 21st- century citizens” (Ribble, 2015). In addition- they also each focus on the same two aspects that cover the “individual’s use of technology” and the “user’s responsibility to do the same for others”(Ribble, 2015).

Digital Etiquette

            In this course, the primary subjects studied can all fall under one main element: digital etiquette. Following copyright and plagiarism are extremely important, and fall under the ethical (and there for best etiquette) in this topic. One’s digital footprint and how someone conducts himself or herself also falls under digital etiquette. Finally, Digital etiquette encompasses one major downfall of technology use: cyberbullying. It is unfortunate but true, and people need to learn how to withhold moral standards online in addition to in person. The remainder of the paper will delve deeper into the categories of digital citizenship that help define what it means to have a strong sense of digital etiquette.


Lasting Impacts of Technology Use

Character Education

            In order to effectively teach our students in today’s age, technology needs to be integrated efficiently AND effectively, which includes using character education as part of the curriculum. A digital footprint is the mark you leave behind online as you venture deeper and deeper into the internet. Character education is when students are given direct instruction on citizenship on both a societal and digital level (Ohler, 2011). There are two overarching issues that arise from integrating digital learning in schools: 1) cyber-bullying, and 2) plagiarism (Ohler, 2011). Many schools choose to just block major sites from functioning at the schools, citing that any interaction with these digital tools (primarily social media) should be done completely separated from school (Ohler, 2011). However, there is a significant problem with that. In that scenario, students aren’t being taught how to be model digital citizens. They are being told they can do whatever they want as long as it is not on school property. Many districts do block major sites and apps from working on school grounds, which seems ridiculous in the year 2017.

            Instead of putting everyone’s heads in the sand and pretending that these things exist, teachers need to embrace them and make them a part of our everyday education. They may even be a small piece of the answer to our much needed education revolution. Students need to be shown how to effectively use these tools in school as part of their education, and in doing so, they will be taught this “character education” which models positive digital and societal citizenship (Ohler, 2011). This integrative method is the most effective because “students know far more about opportunities and perils in cyberspace than most adults do; their involvement gives adults and youth a chance to talk about a world in which the two groups rarely intersect; and, like adults, students will be more committed to living up to values they develop themselves than to values imposed on them by others” (Ohler, 2011). Ohler’s third point is the most important. Especially because we are in SUCH an age of innovation, and our youth and young adults are so head strong because of the tools that give them the advantage, they will be more effectively engaged in rules they set for themselves. Who wouldn’t rather listen to their own mantras and moral code over some fuddy-duddy institution? So, we need to invite digital character education into our curriculum. We need to teach students that their digital footprints are everlasting. We need to show them how lucky they are to be growing up in such an age and how to use all of it to their advantage!

Digital Footprint       

            A digital footprint is the permanent mark someone makes in the world of the internet. People need to learn that nothing they delete is actually gone. Even if they do not see it somewhere, the archive of the internet exists, and people can find information in many places. Comments people make online, pictures they post, and content they create is online for all to see. Growing up in this world of technology, it is important that alongside character education, teachers show students that their digital footprints are everlasting and will follow them in their futures. Colleges might want to see their social media profiles. Their bosses might not approve of them being politically outspoken online. There are many ways that someone’s digital footprint can affect them, so it is extremely important to be careful about what is posted for all the world to see, even if someone has privacy settings built in (Teach Thought Staff).



            Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place online rather than in person. Kids have been bullying each other since anyone can remember. In fact, even adults bully, sometimes even more brutally than kids, especially in an online setting. The reason cyberbullying has become such a concern is because it extends the reach of the bullying. Monica Lewinsky explains that “cruelty to others is nothing new, but online, technologically enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible” (Lewinsky, 2015).  Hinduja and Patchin describe cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (2014). The overarching idea behind cyberbullying is that it is a malicious action taken upon someone through the use of technology. It is always malicious, and usually worse than in person bullying because the bully has a screen of protection in front of him or her, which makes it easier to be even nastier.

            Cyberbullying affects everyone, but it most commonly occurs with teenagers (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.2). Hinduja and Patchin explain that over the years, the locations and types of cyberbullying have changed; when the internet first became commonplace, cyberbullying would often take place in chat rooms, but now it happens more often on social media sites (2014, p. 2). In Hinduja and Patchin’s study of 10,000 students, twenty-five percent admitted to being cyberbullied and seventeen percent admitted to being cyberbullies themselves (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.3). One reason it is becoming such a significant issue is because parents do not have the time or knowledge to be able to manage all of their kids’ behaviors on their devices (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.3).

            Cyberbullying is something that students need to know about because many of them are just perpetuating behavior that has just become the norm for them. It is essential to be models of positive online positive etiquette. Some teenagers don’t even seem to know the harm they are causing to their targets because they do the bullying from such a distance (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.3). Another obstacle in the way of preventing cyberbullying is that some people don’t see it any different than old school good-natured teasing. Parents will argue that kids need to experience this in order to develop a thicker skin and learn to stand up for themselves, when in fact, the negative effects of cyberbullying can be more devastating than ever (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.4).

            Teachers and administrators need to take proper action when it comes to cyberbullying. Hinduja and Patchin suggest posting signs in the building, reviewing policies with students, especially in classes that utilize technology often, and modeling proper online etiquette (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.7). They also say that proper consequences need to be in place and distributed consistently when an infraction occurs (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.7).


Copyright  Overview

            Linda Enghagen breaks copyright down into six simple rules, all of which are explained simply yet thoroughly. The first rule is “if you own the copyright to the materials, you can use them in whatever manner you wish” (Enghagen, p.5). The second rule is that “copyright law does not protect some materials” (Enghagen, p.6). The third rule is most obvious; it is that “you are not allowed to use materials you acquired or accessed unlawfully” (Enghagen, p.9). The fourth rule is similar to the third, and states, “you are not allowed to use materials you acquired or were given access to by someone else if you know or have reason to know that person obtained the materials or access to them in an unlawful manner” (Enghagen, p. 9). Rule number five is really interesting and might be the most useful, as it connects with some of the fair use ideas. It discusses owning a copy of the materials or owning accessed materials that were lawfully acquired (Enghagen, p. 10). The final rule explores the TEACH Act, an important statute that provides teachers with abilities to use certain materials as long as they utilize the correct attribution (Enghagen, p. 14).


Enghagen, L. “Copyright compliance made simple”. The Sloan Consortium. Retrieved from



Heick, T. (2013, May 2). The definition of digital literacy. Retrieved March 1, 2017, from



Hinduja, S. and Patchin, J. (October, 2014). “Cyberbullying: identification, prevention, &

                response”. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from


Ohler, J. (n.d.). Digital citizenship means character education in the digital age.

                Educational Digest, 14-17. Retrieved from



               _education _2012.pdf

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know.

               (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology.          

Teach Thought Staff (Ed.). (2014, May 9). Exploring a teen’s digital footprint In 6 clicks or

                 less. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from




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