Exploring Digital Citizenship

I had a difficult time getting started on this assignment. I watched some videos and read some materials from credible organizations I’d heard of before (commonsensemedia, ISTE, etc…) and some information that seemed to just be put there by individuals with an opinion. When I found myself looking at scholarly articles linking digital citizenship to the racial divide between “Global North” and “Global South” as well as snippets from a 200-page ebook outlining the concept of digital citizenship for school leaders, I had to put on the brakes… I now believe I was overthinking it and making the assignment more complicated than it was intended to be, so I’ll mainly be sticking to some resources I found from the groups below that seemed to be the heavy-hitters in this area.

The BIG Three:

The first thing I noticed in my research is that it seemed most of the different well-known groups were essentially trying to say the same things about digital citizenship, but with more or less complex language depending on their audience. The second thing I saw was the repeated use of certain phrases that have become cliche┬┤ in education. Sometimes it seems that no educator (or individual who likes to comment on education) can resist one of these phrases:

And without further ado…


This video is the top hit on a Google search for “what is digital citizenship” and I think there’s good reason. It’s short, simple, and provides an intro to the topic.

I like this video from Common Sense because it’s short and simple. The catchy music and fun animations make it accessible and inviting for most audiences. It doesn’t try to use academic vocabulary, but breaks the key components of digital citizenship down to the need for each person to Think Critically, Be Safe, and Act Responsibly when online because the online world is a part of the real world. The video has been reposted many times by other websites like Virtual Library, probably because it’s a good point to begin the conversation about the concept of digital citizenship. The downfall of this video could be that it doesn’t really explore the subject in any detail, but I don’t feel as though it is meant to do that. Luckily, Common Sense also offers a large selection of curricula for various grades on this webpage, where they expand those three categories into a multitude of lessons for grades k-12.

Google’s Interland + Curriculum

If it’s a game, I will play it… At least for a little while. Google has gamified learning about digital citizenship in an online game called “Interland“. In the interest of this assignment in this graduate level course, I felt it was my duty to explore at least one of the 4 lands featured in the game, so I played Kind Kingdom and screen-recorded part of it using Quicktime.

A portion of the Kind Kingdom level in Google’s Interland.

I’m a sucker for any kind of game, but I think this genuinely has some potential as a teaching tool for younger audiences. Google states that it’s intended for grades 3-6, and I agree. If I was teaching elementary school, this is probably something I would use in my classroom to help teach digital citizenship (I’ll probably put my own 3rd and 4th grader on it and see how they do!). On the flip side, I can easily imagine my high school students scoffing at or ignoring the message in this even as they compete for the highest score…
The “internaut” character’s movement is controlled with the 4 arrow keys and the spacebar uses items, like the positive comments and megaphone. It’s a simple and straightforward control system, and the game teaches the user how to play as it begins.
Throughout the game and associated materials, the user often hears/reads the catch phrase, “Be Internet Awesome”. This short phrase encompasses the five qualities that Google thinks digital citizens should be embodying: Smart, Alert, Strong, Kind, and Brave. (Reminiscent of a shortened “Scout Law” from my Boy Scout days.) The teacher curriculum that accompanies the game elaborates further on each of these 5 words in this way:


The 4 lands/levels to explore in Interland roughly correspond to these five words: Kind Kingdom, Reality River, Mindful Mountain, and Tower of Treasure (I also appreciate the alliteration!). As I progressed through Kind Kingdom, I was encouraged to encourage others, report bullying and negative online behavior, and change my settings to block users who exhibit such behavior. Near the end of the level, I had a multiple choice quiz to see if I had learned how to “be internet kind” and earn a few extra points. Finally, there was a boss battle in which a team of NPC’s and my character overloaded a big bully with kindness and helped him to change his ways, the idea being that kindness en masse can sometimes triumph over negative behavior. I assume that the other lands are set up in similar ways, but focus more on Smart, Alert, Strong, and Brave.

All-in-all, I think Interland is an excellent example of using the functionality of the internet itself to attempt to grow better digital citizens in some of it’s youngest users. There are even some offline activities and printables to go along with the lessons in Interland for classrooms and families. Nice job Google, as usual! If there was any thing I thought could be different it might be an age or grade setting that would change the questions before the boss battle (maybe even some case studies or scenarios for older students). This might broaden the possible age range with which this tool could be effective.

Digitalcitizenship.net – by Mike Ribble

I’ll begin by saying that this is a far more thorough and comprehensive look at digital citizenship, but the trade-off is that it isn’t as accessible as the Commonsense video, or nearly as fun and engaging as Interland. Mike Ribble is a co-author to the 200-page ebook that I mentioned in the introduction to this post and he uses this website to promote his ideas and the book. The book is titled Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine Elements All Students Should Know. I haven’t read the book, but after snooping around the Digitalcitizenship website a little bit I was able to discern a few things. The “Nine Elements” are as follows:

  • Digital Access
  • Digital Commerce
  • Digital Communication & Collaboration
  • Digital Etiquette
  • Digital Fluency
  • Digital Health and Welfare
  • Digital Law
  • Digital Rights & Responsibilities
  • Digital Security and Privacy

Furthermore, Ribble asserts that there are three facets to each of the elements: Safe, Savvy, and Social, abbreviated as S3. Notice anything? “Safe, Savvy, and Social” match up pretty closely with the “Think Critically, Be Safe, and Act Responsibly” from the Common Sense video, albeit in a different order.

While personally I gag a little at the jargon and edu-speak that seems to permeate this book and the website, I know several school district and building administrators who would gobble this up (if they haven’t already), and then use it as a basis to craft and implement some new initiative in our district that all staff have to follow. OK, I’m joking…a little… This book/site combo are geared towards the administrators in a school/district who have the power to purchase the program and initiate top-down change that trickles to the students in the classroom. From the little I have read, I think it exhaustively articulates the theory of digital citizenship for the more academically inclined.

All in all, I much prefer the bite-size videos explaining this topic and Google’s interactive approach, though I do see the point and purpose of a document that takes the reader into the deep end instead of splashing around in the kiddie pool. I did find one other video from GCFglobal that I think is worth sharing:

At about 16 seconds, the video asserts that the first step in becoming a good digital citizen means following the golden rule–treating others as you’d like to be treated. I think it’s refreshing to be reminded that even with all the real and perceived layers of technology between people who interact online, the heart of the matter really is a time-honored truth that is simple to remember and follow, if we choose to. Each choice we make every day about how we are going to interact with others adds up to the combined sum of who each of us really is and sets us on the path of who we will become.

2 thoughts on “Exploring Digital Citizenship”

  1. I wish the idea of administrators co-opting digital citizenship materials to mandate painful curricular changes were more of a joke. From what I have seen (in K-12, especially, but only because digital citizenship is more often actually addressed there) it’s usually the case that digital citizenship is either not addressed or way, way over-prescribed.

    Does your school and/or district have any required digital citizenship curriculum or other requirements?

    In the end, in the absence of that usually challenging mandate, I’ve yet to see any single curriculum, model, etc that are satisfying and complete in the eyes of any teacher!

    1. Sorry for the delay. I often get the notification of comments in my email and read them there, but then forget to get on WordPress to actually respond. I believe the district does have some curriculum and requirements, but I think most of it is implemented K-8, so I don’t see too much of it in high school. We have had several lessons given to us to teach the students in our SSP classes (homeroom) about the ramifications of cyber-bullying, but not much other than that. It’s certainly not comprehensive, and any lessons like that seems to nearly always be an attempt at triage that focuses on trying to change negative behavior rather than an effort to address and practice positive online behaviors.

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