Creating Educated Digital Citizens

•048-051-ETS_54-Feature-1-1By Dr. Mike Ribble.

This is part two of a three part series focussing on the nine elements of digital citizenship found in the book Digital Citizenship in Schools, 2nd Ed. Education and the process of learning does not stop when we leave our formal education. In many school or district mission statements or goals there is some mention of “lifelong learners”. The growth and changing nature of technology teaches everyone that we can never stop learning.

Educate Yourself/Educate Others

In last month’s article on Respect, being a digital citizen has two equal parts; our actions when using technology and helping others to understand as well. The idea of Educate, when focussing on technology, reminds us that we are all learning new skills and it is our responsibility to make sure we know and understand the potential of these tools. There has been an expectation that children innately understand technology since they were born in a time of expanding digital information. This is not always true. Children do show a willingness to use these technologies where adults may approach with more anxiety. Many years ago, Marc Prensky wrote about the differences of “Digital Natives” – those brought up around technology and “Digital Immigrants” – those not as exposed to the new digital technology. His theory was that those without the skills and understanding would not be as likely to embrace the technology.

Times have certainly changed, it is now the responsibility of everyone to become “Digital Citizens” and work together. By learning these ideas every user can enjoy the opportunities that come with the new technology.

Within the area of Educating yourself and others is that of Digital Communication. Digital Communication is defined as electronic exchange of information. There are so many new ways that people can exchange information in the digital age it often can become a task to decide which method bests suits the needs of the situation. Everyone needs to explore the options whether email, text messaging or social networking is the avenue to communicate an idea.

For some, Facebook and Twitter may not be the best solution to communicate to parents, but in other communities it might be. For example, if information is confidential then a method such as email would be preferable. Instead, if there is something that needs to be shared with a large audience without regard to what age of the student, then Twitter or Facebook is a good choice. If the information is time restricted then it is best to make a phone call. Understanding the audience is important when deciding on a method of interaction, and perhaps there may need to be more than one. Learning how to say something without visual cues also is a challenge in a digital world. Attempts have been made with shortened phrases (e.g. LOL, POS, etc.) and emoticons (e.g. 🙂 and 🙁 etc.) to lend feelings to textual messages, but for many the message is lost in the medium.

The next area within Educate is that of Digital Literacy. Digital Literacy is the process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology. Literacy and Educate are often used interchangeably but often can have very different meanings. Schools, colleges and universities need to be providing the skills needed to use laptops, tablets and smartphones, as well as the apps and applications that go along with them. But education begins before a student enters a classroom and continues long after formal education is complete.

Educational institutions are great places to help navigate cloud computing and how to use your own device in the classroom but many children are coming to schools having been exposed to these tools already, where others may not. How can schools and parents help children to understand these technologies both in the home, in schools and in the larger community? What will this generation of digital technology users pass along to their children and to their children’s children? Users need a good grounding in the basic skills of the technology tools they are using, as well as how to help others become more proficient.

Schools and homes need to work together in providing a good foundation for the students of today, as they will be parents in the future. It is important that educators and parents learn the skills of using technology appropriately first, then they can share that information with their students and children. The question is will the next generation of parents be able to provide good and accurate information to help their children be good digital citizens?

Finally, within Educate is Digital Commerce. It was defined as the electronic buying and selling of goods. In 2012, US consumers spent over $27 billion online during the holiday season. These numbers have steadily grown over the past decade. Marketing for products have penetrated into social media as well as a variety of websites. How will users be able to discern what it is that they truly want or need?

Tests are being conducted to integrate product placement even more into movies and television shows. If a user is watching a show on a device that is interactive, items might be able to be clicked then the individual will be shown how to order that item. With this speed in which items can be purchased it will be important to teach how to determine what is important and what is not. Parents have identified that their three- and four-year-olds have figured out how to download apps and books without the help of their parents. What will happen when they become teens or adults? Along with the online purchasing it also opens up the exposure of an individual’s information.

If it is made available there is a concern about having ones’ identity stolen and what that can mean not only for purchases today but for the future as well.

The field of education is slowly changing around the world. Technology is not at the heart of these changes, most is revolving around new standards or policies, although these new tools are providing opportunities for change. In the not so distant past the educator was the holder of knowledge and it was their responsibility to direct their students. Now with access to the entire world through tablets, smartphones and laptops, teachers can finally reach the goals of educators; to guide their students to learning. From the time of Socrates, the hope for educators was to provide a path for their students to an understanding of themselves and the world around them.

Today, teachers talk about that “a-ha” moment that students have when they fully understand a concept or idea. What technology does is open these opportunities for students to obtain information from many different sources. Is this the end for educators? No, quite the opposite is true. This is an opportunity for a renaissance within the field. It will require that educators begin to think differently about their craft and how best to direct their students, and at least a part will be to teach and learn how to become good stewards and users of the technology tools, in essence good digital citizens.

The tenants of digital citizenship can be integrated into all aspects of a regular education curriculum. The focus should not be on the tool itself. What these past 20 years have taught us is that the tools will continue to change with the emergence of new technologies. What needs to become the focus is how, when and where we interact with these tools. As with all new technologies there is time of great excitement of what it can and might do but if we do not have a balance across our educational curriculum these tools will fall away just as the filmstrips and overhead projectors of the past.


The next article will focus on the concept of Protection. This will complete the overview of the ideas and framework of Digital Citizenship. If you would like more information on the topic of Digital Citizenship, additional information can be found in the text of Digital Citizenship in Schools, 2nd Edition as well as at


Dr. Mike Ribble is a lifelong educator. He began his career as a science educator at the college level. He then transitioned into a leadership role as an assistant principal. Dr. Ribble has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the university level. Currently, he works as the director of technology for a school district in the United States. Dr. Ribble has spoken on the topic of digital citizenship to both parents as well as teachers in the United States and internationally. His book Digital Citizenship in Schools was the product of his doctoral dissertation and has just been released in its second edition. He also has a parent book on digital citizenship titled Raising a Digital Child.

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