The 9 essential elements of digital citizenship

By Dennis Pierce
September 24th, 2015

Every digital citizen should have these skills

digital-citizenshipTo hear author Mike Ribble tell it, kids are entering school with some exposure to technology—meaning schools won’t be making a first impression. According to a recent Common Sense Media’s study, the percentage of children ages eight and under who’ve used a mobile device nearly doubled from 2011 to 2013, from 38 percent to 72 percent. And about two in five children under the age of two have used a mobile device.

“Whether they have a knowledge of how to use it appropriately is another question,” said Ribble, the author of Digital Citizenship in Schools and the chair of ISTE’s digital citizenship PLN.

Findings like the ones outlined by Common Sense suggest the need for schools to start teaching good digital citizenship to students at a very young age—and Ribble and many others believe that students should learn these skills throughout the K-12 curriculum. But that isn’t happening in many school districts.

“When we teach digital citizenship as a one-off event like a presentation or an assembly, everybody gets all hyped up—and then it disappears over time,” he said. “But if we embed it into the curriculum, that’s when it sticks.”

Recently Ribble and Massachusetts educator Jennifer Scheffer discussed exactly how that process might look for schools. But as a baseline, Ribble also outlines nine essential elements of digital citizenship that every student should know. Additional information about these nine elements is available online.

Digital access: Full electronic participation in society, which includes helping to make sure everyone has equal access to technology and understands the limitations and drawbacks when this access is withheld.

Digital commerce:How to be effective consumers in a new digital economy, and be able to make smart, well-informed decisions relating to buying and downloading materials online.

Digital communication: How to make appropriate decisions when faced with so many different digital communication options, such as when (and how) to send an email versus a text message or casual social media connection.

Digital literacy: “Learners must be taught how to learn in a digital society,” Ribble writes. That includes how to use various technologies and internet applications and how to use that technology effectively—such as searching for, evaluating, and curating information. It also goes beyond learning how to use today’s technology. Good digital citizens should be able to pick up new skills as needed.

Digital etiquette: More than just being able to recognize inappropriate behavior, good digital citizens should know how to act appropriately online.

Digital law:How to use technology in an ethical manner—such as not hacking into others’ information, downloading music illegally, plagiarizing, sending spam, or stealing someone’s identify.

Digital rights and responsibilities: Digital citizens should consider that there is, essentially, a virtual Bill of Rights protecting everyone online. Thus, issues such as privacy, free speech, and so on apply to every digital user.

Digital health and wellness:How to guard against the inherent dangers of technology, and practice eye safety and sound ergonomics while avoiding repetitive stress syndrome, and psychological issues, like internet addiction.

Digital security: “It is not enough to trust other members in the community for our own safety,” Ribble writes. Good digital citizens should employ electronic precautions to guarantee safety, such as creating secure passwords, not sharing passwords, backing up data, antivirus protection, and surge control.

The former Editor in Chief of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the ed-tech space for nearly 20 years. Dennis can be reached at