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Guiding students to approach AI through the lens of digital citizenship means educating students on how to use it safely and responsibly.

Adding AI to your K-12 digital citizenship curriculum

Guiding students to approach AI through the lens of a digital citizen means educating students on how to use it safely and responsibly

Key points:

Traditionally, teaching digital citizenship (responsible use of technology) to students involves fostering efficient research skills, encouraging appropriate communication styles, highlighting potential safety and privacy concerns, and consuming digital information with a critical eye.

However, the rapid expansion of AI tools and services has disrupted these carefully-curated lesson plans. Educators may feel overwhelmed by and uncertain about this technology, but the call is clear–we must evolve with the world around us in order to help our students be good digital citizens of ALL the technology that is available to them.

Applying old habits to new technologies

Teaching students about AI allows them to not only learn its abilities but also begin to question its limitations. Luckily, educators don’t need to know everything about AI to teach it because they are already pros at teaching digital citizenship.

As students turn to bots and AI tools for help, apply the same guiding digital citizenship you’re familiar and comfortable with:

  • “Can you find a reputable source to support that information?”
  • “Can you find more than one reputable source to confirm the accuracy?”
  • “Does the information provided make assumptions or have a bias?”
  • “Do you think it’s safe to share that information with AI?”
  • “Who do you think has access to the information you’re sharing?”
  • “Does the way in which you communicate with a bot yield different results?”
  • “Is it OK to bully a bot?”

Questioning a tool or practice that initially seems so beneficial and positive forces students to pause and consider the quality of the information they’re receiving, as well as issues of security and ethics for the tools they’re using.

Help students become AI aware

Guiding our students to approach AI through the lens of a digital citizen means educating students not only on how to use this technology but also on how to use it safely and responsibly. Savvy digital citizens will also understand the implications that AI has on their everyday lives.

For instance, AI influences our curated social feeds, the ads targeted towards us, and even decisions made about our education and health. As such, students need to be equipped with a general knowledge of how AI works so that they understand where the information is coming from, who is behind the technology, what their interests may be, and how the outcomes are impacting their daily lives.

Ethical considerations for AI in K-12 education

Understanding how AI works also means understanding its possible biases and the ethical issues using it might raise.

For instance, data privacy becomes a paramount concern as AI systems often require large amounts of data to function effectively. How is student data being used? Who has access to it? Are we accessing others’ data without their permission? (Spoiler alert: yes.)

Furthermore, AI can perpetuate–and even amplify–biases if not carefully managed. It’s possible for AI tools to develop biases based on the data they are fed. Helping students understand how and why this happens can help prepare them to challenge and question the results they’re getting.

Teaching our students to think critically about these tools will enable them to make informed decisions and engage with these technologies responsibly.

Tips for integrating AI into your K-12 digital citizenship curriculum

In order to start integrating AI into your existing digital citizenship curriculum, let’s consider four main pillars of digital citizenship – safety, communication, literacy, and ethics. Here are some suggested activities related to each topic area:

  • Safety: Assign a different AI tool to student groups. Ask them to explore how it works and, if appropriate for their abilities, ask them to explore the tool’s privacy policy. What information does it require to function? Is it transparent about how it collects and shares data? Do they/should they feel safe sharing information with it?
  • Communication: Have students research the best way to communicate with AI tools. Much like using a search engine, are there ways to “talk” to these bots that are more effective than others?
  • Literacy: Ask students to analyze popular AI tools for ease of use, reliability, and credibility of each tool. They could even use AI to create a chart comparing and contrasting their findings.
  • Ethics: Share real-world examples to illustrate ethical dilemmas involving AI. As a class, discuss scenarios, such as who is responsible when an autonomous vehicle makes a mistake, or if using AI is plagiarism.

These activities not only build AI literacy but also empower students to become critical thinkers and ethical digital citizens.


As AI continues to evolve and influence various aspects of our lives, we can prepare students to interact with it in the same way that we’ve been preparing them to interact with the digital world for years. By equipping students with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate AI’s complexities, we enhance their digital citizenship skills and prepare them to face the future with confidence and integrity.

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