The nine elements of digital citizenship that all students must understand


What exactly is digital citizenship? Earnie Kramer discusses nine key elements that all schools and their students should be aware of.

Being a good digital citizen within the online community includes anything from learning email etiquette to how to prevent and report cyber-bullying. Digital citizenship also includes learning about safety concerns like how to protect private information and how to stay safe while communicating online. 

Why is digital citizenship important?

  • Digital communities are becoming more prolific, making good citizenship important for safety and order.

  • Personal and financial information can be easily accessed by others online.

  • Cyber-bullying has severe consequences and can be the result of irresponsible digital citizens.

  • Online predators are a real threat to unassuming or naïve students.

  • Teaching digital citizenship contributes to a holistic approach to teaching students to be part of a community – on and offline.

The nine elements of digital citizenship*

1, Digital Access: As rapidly as internet access and technology have grown, socio-economic status and geographical location still play a part in keeping some from having digital access. It is important to remember that some still face these challenges and to help take steps to ensure that digital technologies continue to become more accessible. 

2, Digital Commerce. Everything from groceries and toys to cars and electronics are available for purchase online. Consumers, including students, need to be informed and aware of the risks associated with online purchasing. Secure payments and sites that protect buyer information are important principles to teach.

3, Digital Communication. With email, text-messaging, video chat and more, communication is easier than ever before. With the push of a button or the click of a mouse, sensitive information can be shared unsafely. Warning students about what is appropriate to share through digital channels can prevent embarrassing, costly and dangerous situations.

4, Digital Literacy. Being an informed citizen is a large part of being a responsible citizen, not to mention that the more digitally literate students are, the better prepared they will be for the workplace or higher education. How to conduct online research, determine reliable sources, and use word processing software are all important skills.

5, Digital Etiquette. Just like it is imperative that students learn how to appropriately conduct themselves in the classroom, on the playground, and throughout the school, they need to learn how to be appropriate while online. More than just establishing policies about what is acceptable behaviour, students should be taught the importance of being respectful to their online peers and how to conduct themselves responsibly.

6, Digital Law. With new developments come new laws and restrictions. As technology has advanced, legislation has raced to keep up, resulting in ever-evolving rules and regulations. Teachers and students need to be informed and up-to-date about what is legal and acceptable.

7, Digital Rights and Responsibilities. Just as the citizens of many countries are afforded basic rights, those who participate in online activity are also given freedoms in their digital environment. Privacy rights and freedom of speech are often discussed and viewed as paramount. 

8, Digital Health and Wellness. Out of the world’s estimated seven billion people, six billion have access to mobile phones (Source: TIME Newsfeed). Statistics like this make it clear that many of us spend hours a day looking at screens, typing on keyboards and talking on mobile phones. Safe ergonomic practices and eye safety are physical concerns that should be addressed. 

9, Digital Security. We teach children to look before they cross the street, not to talk to strangers, and who to call in an emergency. Similar precautions are necessary within the digital community, including how to set robust passwords, virus protection, and how to determine site security.


Some educators might refer to digital citizenship as digital ethics or digital wellness, but regardless of the terminology they are all the same. What is clear is that with the growth of bring your own device (BYOD) schemes and 1:1 initiatives in schools, there is a need to talk about responsible use of technology.

It is very important that educators constantly inform and practise with students the importance of digital citizenship within and outside school. By doing this, students will be fully aware of and will understand the basic ideas – and importance – of digital citizenship.

  • Earnie Kramer is a director with Lightspeed Systems.

* For more on the nine elements of digital citizenship, see the work of Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey via 


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin