• Adrian Cargal

Digital Citizenship: What The Heck Is It?

Digital citizenship has been defined by many people over the years. Being an elementary educator, I have vivid memories of our yearly training for students entitled: NetSmartz - Router's Birthday Surprise. This series of Digital Citizenship videos follows a robot named Clicky, his floating robot friend named Gig, and the intricate planning of a birthday party for their friend, a dog named Router. All of the students circled up and I would push play on these videos that teach digital etiquette. That's all good and well, except digital etiquette is just one small part of digital citizenship. In case you're feeling nostalgic, here's good ol' Clicky himself...

Our district was not fulfilling the obligation of teaching students the nine elements of digital citizenship which are:

Digital Access

Digital Commerce

Digital Communication

Digital Literacy

Digital Etiquette

Digital Law

Digital Rights and Responsibilities

Digital Health and Well-Being

Digital Security

After evaluating various definitions of digital citizenship, I have created my own definition:

Digital Citizenship is the ethical use of technology and the positive contributions one should make to the world while using it.

It would probably be helpful to understand the true meaning of “ethics” when addressing this definition. Ethics are the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. There’s the rub… what are people’s moral principles? What is moral to one person may not be moral to another because our cultural backgrounds are what shape our morals. This means that ethics should be taught, just like multiplication or phonics, with outlined norms for all students. There should be a step-by-step process that people can follow in order to be good digital citizens. What does empathy look like? It should be modeled in scenarios and examples should be identified on the internet for students to observe. What are “cookies”, and how do they affect my internet experience? Students should be aware of their digital footprint and user data. What benefits are there to communicating effectively on the web? It is important that the intended message is delivered in the intended tone so that clarity is maintained.

There are so many intricate parts of digital citizenship that should be explicitly taught. Too many times, digital citizenship is taught as a broad spectrum of “don’t be a cyberbully”. The other part of my definition addresses the importance of contributing. Many people are consumers of content, but few take the steps to create it. In order to be a good digital citizen, one should feel obligated to publish their thoughts, ideas, and creations to a public audience. I would say that I am partial to Darren Kuropatwa’s definition in that digital citizenship is not about the “do nots” but also the “dos” involved in the digital world in which we live. The following references are resources that could be used to help educators share my definition.

The Brainwaves Video Anthology. (2015). Darren Kuropatwa - Digital Ethics and Digital Citizenship #BLC15 [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from

Cole, K. (2019, June 7). Digital Citizenship: Elements, Lessons, and Importance. Retrieved June 3, 2021, from website:

How to Teach Your Students the 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship | (2019, July 11). Retrieved June 3, 2021, from website:

Polgar, D.R., & Curran, M.B.F.X. (2015). We shouldn’t assume people know what digital citizenship is. Retrieved from

Zook, C. (2019). What Is Digital Citizenship & How Do You Teach It? Retrieved June 3, 2021, from website:

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