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
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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

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 wanted to find 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. Since I had already selected infusing digital citizenship through the work teachers are already doing with their content standards, our collaboration has been a very natural one. 

Jennifer Howerter from the California Department of Education and I had our first meeting April 4 and we have scheduled a followup on April 9.  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 called "Collaboration in Common," hosted by the San Diego County Office of Education. The space isn't quite ready to share, but I included screenshots further down this page, so you can get a feel for it. 

In order to start to aligning the principles of Digital Citizenship to National Content Standards for different subject areas, I just began with a document for each content area.  Below, I have linked a series of Google docs and within those documents, I have indicated where I (and soon others) see connections between the content standards and the digital citizenship principles. 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.

At my April 9 meeting with Jennifer Howerter at the California Department of Education, we added all of the above documents to the Collaboration in Common space and we also took the additional step of adding alignments to the Model School Library Standards (California). Now that the resources are posted in CIC, we look forward to generating more feedback from the field to inform future iterations. You will see in the screenshots below that Jennifer has uploaded the resources I linked above to this collaborative space. Team members can comment on the resources, and they can also contribute their own ideas. Below, you can see a screen shot with some of the team members (including Brisa, Senior Content Producer from Common Sense Media), and two screen shots from the interactive and collaborative site, Collaboration in Common. The subject-specific documents visible in the screenshots are the documents I linked above. 

And finally, I am very excited to add Jared Amalong to my team. He has experience with the design process of the Teachers Guild and has been a member longer than I have. He also has contributed his own ideas on Digital Citizenship to this challenge and his expertise and thinking on this topic will bring a lot to our work as we strive to create an online tool that will empower teachers to harness the powerful connections between Digital Citizenship and their content areas.


As noted above, the content-specific documents have been uploaded to Collaboration in Common and are now able to be viewed, discussed, and shared. The comments and ideas that come in at Collaboration in Common will inform future iterations. This work is also being shared at the upcoming Literacy Summit in Sacramento on May 23. 

Share research or student experiences that informed your idea!

Link to research document I am developing to inform this work: Helping students see and experience connections across concepts has been shown to powerfully enhance learning outcomes. While there is no research on using an interdisciplinary approach to craft digital citizenship learning experiences that will influence students' practices beyond the classroom, we can turn to extensive documentation on the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach for some initial guidance.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Paul Kim

Hi Nicole,

First of all, thanks for participating in this collaboration between the Teachers Guild and ISTE. We really appreciate your contributions!

We’re in the last week of the build phase of the challenge on digital citizenship so it’s time to fine tune your idea before final voting begins next week.

Here are some things to consider as you continue to build on your idea:
- is your idea clear and will it inspire action from other teachers?
- would it be easy for a teacher to incorporate your idea about digital citizenship in their classroom?
- does your idea include some component of research and are there shareable resources?
- is your idea student-centered and does it promote agency?