ED4764:The Internet and Education · KSA #07 Student Needs · KSA #09 Instructional Strategies · KSA #10 Technology · KSA #13 Community Involvement · KSA #16 Vision of Teaching

Digital Citizenship: A Crucial Component of the 21st Century Learner’s Hidden Curriculum

I searched the SCI 10 and CHEM 20 curriculum, as this is what I will be teaching in PSIII, for the term “digital citizenship” and found nothing. Digital citizenship is no longer something that can be ignored by educators, it is a part of the hidden curriculum that we must teach. With the rise in technology use by our students, it is our job to teach them what it means to be digital citizens and exercise integrity when online. Personally, digital citizenship is acting ethically as a moral citizen when online. Baumann (2012) expands this definition stating that digital citizens are those who use digital media to fulfill their civic duties. This strong statement clearly demonstrates the prevalence of technology in our student’s life, and their future, making it impossible for educators to deny that digital citizenship is a key topic of the hidden curriculum.

Before we even get into the concept of digital citizenship, there is something that needs to be done for this experience to be successful and rewarding for students. A positive learning environment needs to be fostered within the classroom. Students need to start to feel a sense of comfort and community in the classroom. Once students feel safe in their environment, we will begin to build a community based on trust and that is what will be crucial when engaging students online.

Developing student character is a foundation of western education (Ohler, 2012). It is important to develop student’s character, separate from the online world before introducing concepts of digital citizenship. Students need to understand how we treat classmates, friends, family, etc. If students can understand this, then we can begin to apply these same principles to their behaviour as digital citizens. If students do not know what  just behaviour is in “real life” they will not be able to learn these skills and apply them to the online world.

For my PSIII I have been placed in a high school science classroom. In my internship I have every intention of using online teaching tools and having my students engage in conversation with individuals online. First, I will discuss with them the implications of this for their learning. Students need to see that there is a benefit to collaborating with others online, otherwise they won’t engage. I need to make it clear to my students that the sky becomes the limit to their learning when we open up the classroom to the world outside. Once students are onboard and excited at this opportunity, we can have the discussion about what it means to be digital citizens.

When I have the digital citizenship conversation with my students, it will be about more than acting as ethical citizens, because there is so much more to it than that. Again, the key is answering the question “why do we need to be moral humans on the Internet?” I will also engage students in a conversation regarding their digital footprint, as this is a concept that I am positive few will know about. Students need to know the ramifications of their actions online and that these will follow them into adulthood and throughout their life, which is a difficult concept for students to grasp (Richardson, 2008).

The key to a successful online experience for students is education, not restriction. I will not give, or even create with them, a list of rules that they should be following when online. I think that this makes the experience far more limiting than it should be. If students are educated about why they need to exercise integrity when online, students will respect that. Again, this is all rooted in the classroom community that was built at the beginning of the year and is cultivated throughout.

In addition to education, providing an authentic learning experience is vital. Winn (2012) discusses using school-based social networking to teach students about etiquette. Personally, I disagree. Students will see this as an exercise in futility, not an authentic experience. Students will see this as an inauthentic experience that is to “teach” them to interact with the person next to them online rather than face-to-face; isn’t this a major argument against the integration of the Internet, the reduction of face-to-face social skills? Then why would we want to be promoting this in our schools? Instead, I would like to use the Internet to provide my students the opportunity to learn from others they would not normally be able to. It is not enough for students to be learning about what digital citizenship is, they need a classroom environment that fosters it (Visser, 2009). If we are only going to have our students use social networking to communicate with the person who sits in the same room as them for at least 450 minutes a week, we may as well not use it at all.

As teachers, our role is to provide authentic learning opportunities for our students that enhance their understanding. Students should leave our classrooms having the necessary skill set to make them successful contributing members to society. Students will struggle to make the connections and apply their learning to the real world if their education is confined to the box of our classroom, or even the slightly larger one of the school. Let’s not provide a disservice to our students and give them the opportunity of an education that is beyond the scope of our classroom to best prepare them for what lies ahead, their future.


Baumann, P. (2012). Civic engagement through digital citizenship: Engaging youth in active, participatory citizenship through digital media. The Progress of Education Reform, 13(1).

Ohler, J. (2012). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed For Quick Review, 77(8), 14-17.

Richardson, W. (2008). Footprints in the digital age. Educational Leadership66(3), 16-19.

Vissers, S. (2009). Internat and political (in)equality. Can online mobilization close the participation gap? – An experiment with young people of different socio-economic backgrounds. Retrieved on July 16, 2013 from http://soc.kuleuven.be/web/files/2/6/PaperSaraVissersResearchDay28April2009.pdf

Winn, M. R. (2012). Promote digital citizenship through school-based social networking. Learning & Leading With Technology, 39(4), 10-13.

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6 thoughts on “Digital Citizenship: A Crucial Component of the 21st Century Learner’s Hidden Curriculum

  1. Great thoughts Justin! I find it interesting that you plan to not list or create rules while students are using the internet. Teaching them how to be ethical on the web and creating their own set of ‘web morals’ would be far more engaging and more relevant, something that they can carry with them as they use the internet tool in future schooling and career! I am curious to see how your students respond to this method! Keep me posted! Good luck in PSIII!

    1. Thanks for your comment Tom!

      I think that teaching rules more outright is a valuable approach in the younger grades. In this post I was specifically referring to how I would approach online activities with high school students. Prior to engaging the students in online activities we will have a class discussion on what it means to be a digital citizen and why this is important. Engaging the students in this dialogue will be crucial in developing their understanding of why they need to exercise integrity online. In essence, they will be creating their own rules but it won’t be outright stated so that they don’t feel as though the experience has become rigid. My goal is to create self-sufficient learners that will make their own decisions and when faced with adversity they will turn to their learning about digital citizenship and make the right choice. If they do not, which is entirely possible, then they will learn from that choice and move forward. We promote making mistakes in other classes; I feel that it is a valuable lesson here. Again, the key is that students will be taught why they need to act as moral citizens, so that they understand this before we engage in online activities.


  2. Hi Justin. I love how you are so focused on creating authentic learning for your students. You are completely right, students appreciate these experiences much more and you will not hear the usual “What is the point of this?”
    You say that you will not place restrictions on your students and leave them to be responsible digital citizens. Will you teach responsible behaviour before allowing them Internet access? Or will you rely on the teachers before you to have taught these skills? I ask this because I know that being retaught these same things each year is a complaint of many students. Each teacher does have different expectations though, so you do you plan to strike a balance here? I don’t think either extreme is perfect but I don’t know where the balance should lie either.
    Great post!


    1. Thanks for your comment Allison!

      For several years, I will have to teach these skills as I feel many students are not learning them in the lower grades, which is really unfortunate. I think that as time goes on and more students are exposed to the Internet and the concept of digital citizenship earlier on, my approach will change. I don’t think that at any point I can not have the conversation with them because in the end it comes back to me to teach them the necessary skills to be successful in my class and I need to be able to say that they have learned what it is to be an ethical citizen online. This said, I would love to work in a school where digital citizenship is a focus allowing us to cultivate a school community where students understand and act with integrity online. If this were the case, then perhaps I could feel comfortable without talking to students about it prior, but I would require it to be something that is foundational to the schools values and taught in previous grades before me, so that I could be confident they had a solid understanding coming into my class.


  3. Hey Justin!

    I really like your ideas for teaching your students digital citizenship in the classroom. I think that it is really important that not have a list of rules, but I am still a little concerned that even though students are experiencing it, how do you know for sure they understand?

    Thanks for the post! I really enjoyed it!


    1. Thanks Alana!

      We would do several activities in class to ensure student understanding. We could begin with paper blogging, so that students understand the detail and effort that needs to go into making a blog exceptional. We will also conduct simple Google of each student to see what comes up and have a discussion around whether or not this is the image they want readily available to everyone. I think that once students understand the importance of why we are having a discussion of digital citizenship, it will make all the difference. I’ve talked to colleagues who have blogged with their students and they found that as soon as students realized that anyone could see their work and make judgements based on the final products they produced, their motivation escalated.


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