Protecting Digital Citizens


This is part three of a three part series focusing on the nine elements of digital citizenship found in the book Digital Citizenship in Schools, 2nd Ed.

Technology is changing education. The tools that have been provided to students and faculty are making tasks such as sharing information or creating a document much more streamlined. While technology affords users new opportunities the issues that occur are often are the lapses of judgment. These problems happen with moving to new and different tools that are not fully understood by those who use them. It is important that educators now begin making alterations to how technology is viewed and understood. The knowledge we share today will be passed along to the next generation.

Protect Yourself/Protect Others

Teachers are protective of their students. Whether it is from a bully in the school yard to a gunman in a school, teachers have done what is necessary to shield their students from harm. The digital world is adding a new set of issues that can happen to students both at school and at home. With little direction children and adults can cause issues for themselves in this online world. In this last grouping of digital citizenship elements, teachers are urged to give direction to their students to understand this online world. Everyone needs to know the harm that can happen with digital devices if users do not understand the issues.

The first element is Digital Rights and Responsibility. It is defined as those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world. The Internet and mobile devices place information and opportunities in the palm of your hand. Never has so many people had access to so much information. There is a price that is to be paid when given such access, it is to be diligent and knowledgeable of your online surroundings. Just as people should be cautious of where they travel in a new city, so must those be aware of they are going online. Unlike most cities the online world is constantly changing and users need to “watch their step” to where they are traveling. It also becomes the responsibility of all users to watch out for potential problems that might occur within this world. Just as we are asked to diligent in watching our surroundings in the real world, we are asked the same in the online one as well.   If someone writes in a online social networking site that they might hurt someone it is the responsibility of the users to let others know.  Users typically know what capabilities they have, but often forget the responsibility that accompanies these opportunities. As people use more technology they need to understand that with these new rights come corresponding responsibilities.

The next element in the area of Protection is that of Digital Security. Its definition is electronic precautions to guarantee safety. Since the early days of the Internet, people have written malicious code and sent it out as virus’, worms or Trojan Horses. Some can cause a small inconvenience others can wipe out hard drives or use e-mail to send the code on to others. Now that digital equipment has become so important to our daily lives users need to protect our technologies.   As technology consumers we bank, shop, and store important personal information (e.g., photos, documents and private data) on these devices and forget if we don’t protect it we could lose it. With the increased use of smartphones and tablets those writing this malicious code are moving to these platforms as well. It has been found that some apps could actually have other instructions to take over the device or the information on it. The reason that this is such an issue is it can do damage or steal your data if your technology becomes infected. It can also send this on to your friends and family and cause problems for them as well. In the real world we lock our doors and protect what we have inside. This is a skill that needs to move into the digital world as well.

The final element is Digital Health and Welfare. This element includes physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world. For some it may be hard to think about technology causing physical or psychological problems with users but it can. A balance must be found between the between the real world and the online world to protect from these issues occurring. If children just sit and work or play on computers all day real physical or psychological harm can happen. It has become evident that a number of children today are suffering from obesity and there seems to be a connection to technology. While technology is not always the only cause, it does provide opportunities for children to sit and watch the screen without getting out and exercising. Think about your technology use in a day, how many times do you check your e-mail, text or go to a social networking site? Could you go a week without these technologies, a day or even an hour? Technology makes people feel included, wanted and powerful. These are why reasons why technology can make people feel good when they are using it and bad when they are separated from it. Even cyberbullying instances make the person doing it feel an emotional rush by having that control over others. Technology should not control what you do or how one lives. It should be seen as tool to help us not something that can cause harm to others.

In these past three articles the topics of Respect, Educate and Protect have been broken down and the elements within each more fully described. Technology today is highly complex but it is packaged in a way that even young children can use it. Children by their nature are inquisitive and want to try new things and are not afraid of the consequences that might happen. It is hard to get across that the actions today might cause problems in the future. It has been tried to scare users, especially children, into doing the right action. Too often though, children and teens do not see these happening to them so what might happen in these circumstances does not apply. All users need to be aware of the problems that could happen but a longer lasting approach needs to be identified. The ideas behind digital citizenship are just that, to help users become responsible digital citizens who use technology in an appropriate, responsible way. We do not want users that are afraid of technology, but those that will take the time and think about their actions and how they can affect themselves and others. This seems like a simple task but with the speed of technology today this becomes harder and harder. And if users, especially those that are doing inappropriate things, are receiving an emotional boost by doing these activities the harder it will be to break users of doing them.

Digital citizenship is not something apart from our regular life, but should become part of what we think about whenever we pick up our technology tools. We should all strive to help others and place our best self out to others every day, whether online or face-to-face. Technology is not going away, and now is the time to begin to learn how we can live with technology in a positive way. As technology continues to change there needs to be a process that can keep up. Digital citizenship is not focused on a single technology such as smartphones or tablets but instead it is focused on the activities and attitudes of those using the technology. Adults cannot fear the technology but instead embrace it and understand its capabilities, and its shortcomings. Work with students to see its potential but also show when it not necessary. Technology will continue in our schools and it needs to begin setting standards of how to use it appropriately. Now is the time for us to become digital citizens.

All these topics as and 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.


Digital Citizenship in Schools, 2nd Edition

Raising a Digital Child

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