Make digital citizenship the norm, not the lesson.

Navigating life, work and citizenship in a dynamic, interconnected, global society requires the fusion of content and digital literacies.

Photo of Nicole Naditz
0 2

Written by

Reflect (what are my assumptions):

Without digital citizenship, there is no global readiness. We need to purposefully design learning to build content literacies while at the same time fostering students' abilities to contribute in a radically changing and connected world as innovative designers, global collaborators and creative communicators. In many schools, digital citizenship is presented solely as a series of discrete lessons that might be part of the students' learning environment once a week. These lessons are an important and integral part of students' learning experiences, but if digital citizenship in schools stops there, we send the message that digital citizenship is a curriculum to learn rather than a paradigm within which we all must live. The principles of digital citizenship must inform every social media post, every creative production they share, every account and online purchase they make, and every media product they chose to read, view, discuss and share. This can--and should--be done in the context of the work they are already doing in the content areas, but currently, there isn't an easy place educators can go to see where digital citizenship and their content standards intersect. Because content and digital citizenship are not mutually exclusive, I want to empower educators to implement strategies that make digital citizenship the norm rather than the lesson. I envision an online framework that will connect national standards across content areas to the principles of digital citizenship, as presented by Common Sense Media. 


First of all, how do I define digital citizenship? My first iteration of the definition is, "Digital Citizenship describes how individuals create and share through online and communications media tools; purchase online, interact with others online and through communications tools such as texting; and consume, interpret, evaluate, and use content they encounter online or in other media outlets." 

Note that given this definition, one could exhibit “good” or “bad” digital citizenship--and this is why it is so important to infuse digital citizenship principles throughout the teaching and learning that is already occurring in classes. Our students are already online and are crafting their online identities and younger and younger ages. As a result, they are already "digital citizens." The question is, are they exhibiting good digital citizenship and using those parameters to guide everything they do for themselves and others while they are online? The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has crafted a new definition of digital citizenship that helped refine my own thinking on this subject, and helped me reframe my own approach to digital citizenship and go past the definition I shared above:

  • "Digital citizens are PK-12 learners who proactively approach their digital access, participation, and associated rights, accountability and opportunities with empathy, ethics and a sense of individual, social and civic responsibility.”

This much more student-oriented definition requires ongoing and sustained opportunities for students to experience and navigate the digital landscape, find their voice in it, and learn what their rights and responsibilities are within it.  While digital citizenship lessons taught in isolation will play an important role in this process, we cannot hope to create the digital citizens described above if the learning experiences are relegated solely to those isolated lessons. Like much of our students’ educational learning targets, the principles of digital citizenship must be approached both as a singular discipline, with its own language and literacies and also as interdisciplinary experiences that allow students to repeatedly encounter opportunities to be good digital citizens through the context of other content areas.

So now what?

I envision creating an online framework teachers and students can access and that will explicitly connect their national content standards to the principles of Digital Citizenship as outlined by CSM. I chose national content standards because they are often adopted at the state level and therefore, there will be greater  transferability and applicability of the framework I want to create across the country. 

I would love to form a team of teachers, students, educational leaders,  business and community members as well experts from Common Sense Media to ensure the best possible product, from design and usability to content. I will begin working with teachers in my district who are participating in the online Digital Citizenship course I am facilitating so that their insight and experiences can inform the prototype. I hope they will be able to help me connect with students who may be interested in contributing to this project and making it one that truly reflects their vision of digital citizenship. I have also reached out to Common Sense Media, the Sacramento County office of Education and the California Department of Education in the hopes that they will also join me on this endeavor.

  • Update (March 28, 2018): I am building a team! My first partner is Jennifer Howerter, Literacy Consultant with the California Department of Education. They have been doing substantial work in the areas of media literacy and digital literacy. In addition, Jennifer and her team have also begun looking at ways to help teachers see explicit connections between digital citizenship principles and content standards and instructional frameworks and are eager to engage interested parties in that work.
  • Update (April 1, 2018): Here is the start to aligning the principles of Digital Citizenship to National Content Standards for different subject areas.  Each link is a Google doc and I have indicated where I see connections between the content standards and the digital citizenship principles because that will serve as the starting point for what will eventually be an online document. You all have commenting permission so that this project can be informed by as many perspectives as possible--whether you are a teacher, administrator, student or community member, your voice is valuable and your expertise is important.

The following area has not yet been aligned:

  • Model School Library Standards (California)

Update (April 2, 2018): Common Sense Media reached out to me and is working on a similar project, so we should be doing a virtual meeting soon.

Update (April 4, 2018): Jennifer Howerter from the California Department of Education and I had our first meeting today and we have scheduled a followup on April 10.  I will be contributing the products that come out of my collaboration with her, Common Sense Media, and other stakeholders on an online collaborative space hosted by the San Diego County Office of Education. The space isn't ready to share, but I hope to include screenshots so readers can get a feel for it. 


I plan ultimately to create a functional website with the framework and gather input that informs future iterations of the site.  Currently, however, I am soliciting feedback and collaboration on the documents where I have begun outlining the possible parallels. 


Join the conversation: