Apr 17 2018

The Digital Citizenship Curriculum: Digital Literacy, Cyber Hygiene and More

From cyberbullying to cybersecurity, digital citizenship lessons help students navigate the internet effectively.

Like good hygiene, good digital citizenship is a set of responsibilities all internet users should practice. For K–12 students, lessons on how to use the internet safely and be effective online citizens are likely part of receiving any new classroom device.

“We’re seeing a tipping point where schools are realizing that in order to have a successful technology integration, they have to have digital citizenship lessons alongside it,” says Kelly Mendoza, senior director of education programs at Common Sense Education.

Common Sense is a pioneer in helping educators foster digital citizenship when new devices arrive and throughout the rest of the school year. But, what exactly makes up a good digital citizenship lesson.

Well, it looks different depending on the student’s grade level, but largely lessons are made up of digital civility, digital literacy and cyber hygiene components.

SIGN UP: Get more news from the EdTech newsletter in your inbox every two weeks!

Digital Citizenship for Students at Elementary School Levels

For the youngest learners, Mendoza says that digital citizenship lessons should be kept pretty black and white. Elementary students should be taught how to stay safe online, but mainly, they need to learn that the online world is connected to the real world.

“We help them understand that the internet is a real place made up of real people and communities,” says Mendoza.

At this level, Mendoza says students are learning to treat people online just as they would in the real world. Also, with any conversations around internet security, Mendoza urges educators to bring parents in because they will likely be the gatekeepers of the world wide web for these students.

Digital Citizenship for Students at Middle and High School Levels

Generally, as students reach middle school, Mendoza notes that they will likely be getting their first smartphone, which can open up the conversations educators can have with their students.

“In middle and high school, students are starting to make their own decisions about things that they’re doing, so lessons should be about helping them understand the consequences,” says Mendoza.

Lessons in sixth through 12th grade look closer at privacy, ethical dilemmas and the digital footprint. At this level, Mendoza says students should understand that they need to ask permission before posting a photo with friends in it because it will also be part of their friend’s digital footprint.

Also, students in these upper grades have a better understanding of specific cybersecurity topics like phishing.

Digital Civility Defines Online Interactions

A lot of the social interactions that K–12 students will have in their lives will occur online. With some of these interactions happening in schools, educators need to provide digital etiquette and digital civility lessons as part of the broader digital citizenship conversations.

While civility and cyberbullying are a murkier subject matter than other aspects of digital citizenship, some schools have found interesting ways to build it into their lessons.

For example, Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor, Mich., partnered up with student-teachers from the University of Michigan for digital citizenship lessons before they rolled out devices to their students. Since the student-teachers were likely closer in age to the middle schoolers than their teachers, they were able to talk to students about how they should treat their peers online.

Digital civility lessons sometimes occur indirectly as well. Manteca (Calif.) Unified School District fifth-grade teacher Tammy Dunbar and Concord Road Elementary (N.Y.) third-grade teacher Amy Rosenstein initially used Skype to connect their classrooms with those in other countries, EdTech reports.

They found the connections with kids in other places gave their students more empathy and compassion and the realization that technology can make the world feel smaller.

“We know that technology is going to be a huge part of the future. So not only am I preparing [the students] for that kind of world, but by using tech to teach them empathy and compassion, I hope I’m sending students out to make the world a better place,” says Rosenstein in the article.

Digital Literacy Curriculum Helps Students Navigate the Web

The majority of the resources that students access regularly are online, so it is particularly important for them to have the skills to assess the validity of information online.

This is where digital literacy curriculum comes in. Recent research has found that students are easily duped by false information and struggle with the critical thinking required to evaluate content.

Digital literacy lessons help students learn to read laterally, which means they have a healthy sense of skepticism and check their sources. Also, with proper digital literacy skills, students will be able to identify biases that might exist in some articles.

Common Sense encourages students to consider six questions, based on work from the Center for Media Literacy, when gauging the credibility of an online source:

  1. Who created it?

  2. Why did they create it?

  3. Whom is the message for?

  4. What techniques are being used to make this message credible?

  5. What details were left out and why?

  6. How did the message make me feel?

Cyber Hygiene Habits Foster Good Internet Use for Life

Cybersecurity is another major component of digital citizenship that schools need to be aware of, especially with cyber incidents on the rise in K–12 education. As students are learning how to navigate the internet, they should also be learning how to navigate it safely.

When educators at Bremen Public Schools are teaching their students how to use their devices, they also teach them how to protect themselves online. For example, educators are making sure that students are aware of the permanence of things they put online, as well as other privacy concerns.

In 2017, Google designed a comprehensive digital citizenship game, which focuses on things like cyberbullying and civility, but also tackles educating students on phishing and other cyberthreats they might encounter. By gamifying the experience, younger students are able to better understand complex topics like privacy and security. 

mixetto/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT