Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

What is Digital Citizenship?

The International Society for Technology in Education defines digital citizenship as the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and acting in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.

In his book, Digital Citizenship in Schools, Mark Ribble defines digital citizenship as “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.”

In a 2011 ASCD Article, Jason Ohler defines digital citizenship as Character Education for the Digital Age and how digital citizens know the best way to use technology.

DigCitCommit defines digital citizenship as the critical skills comprised of five competencies necessary for the students of today and the leaders to tomorrow to be successful. These competencies are: Inclusive, Informed, Engaged, Balanced and Alert.

After reviewing all of these resources, I have developed my own definition of digital citizenship. I believe that digital citizenship is the critical set of skills someone needs to have to be a productive, educated, safe and effective member of the digital world.

It is our duty as educators and school leaders to instill these beliefs and skills in students so that they are able to contribute to their digital communities in meaningful, and not destructive, ways. Further, as technology changes rapidly, so must our perceptions and definitions of digital citizenship.

“Because technology is becoming ever more accessible, and students are using these technologies more frequently (both in school and out), technology leaders must continually assess and determine their priorities in terms of digital citizenship.”

Mark Ribble, Digital Citizenship in Schools

Resources for Sharing Digital Citizenship Concepts

In order for teachers to be able to effectively share this information with students, they should first engage in professional learning opportunities to gain a sense what digital citizenship is, and why it is important. After the needs of the campus or school have been determined, then a formal or informal plan for developing digital citizenship can be deployed. As teachers learn to recognize the teachable moments that avail themselves to conversations about digital citizenship, students will gain the skills they need.

The resources listed below are just a handful of the plethora of information available to teachers. These can be shared with teachers in formal professional learning opportunities, or in small chunks such as a newsletter entry, quick email message, or social media post. Similarly, teachers can share this information with students as formal lessons, embedded in regular instruction as teachable moments or as messages sent home to parents.

Common Sense – As the quintessential resource for educators and parents to help students gain the knowledge and skills they need to grow into becoming ethical digital citizens, Common Sense maintains a free digital citizenship curriculum for grades K – 12 and hosts reviews of various media products including books, movies and applications.

DigCitCommit – A coalition of organizations dedicated to providing educators with the tools to teach a new definition of digital citizenship

Be Internet Awesome – Google’s digital citizenship program for students which includes a game and full curriculum

Smart Social – This site is home to a frequently updated podcast, along with practical, timely and relevant tips to help students, teachers and parents gain skills to shine online.

Get Safe Online – UK’s leading source of unbiased, factual and easy-to-understand information on online safety

Surfnet Kids – This website of syndicated columnist Barbara Feldman features resources for parents and educators to help kids wisely and safely explore their online world.

Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship

The topic of digital citizenship is a broad one, and it is simpler to discuss when chunked into related ideas and groups. In his book Digital Citizenship in Schools, Mark Ribble outlines nine elements of digital citizenship. If each participant in digital spaces embraces these elements, then we will have a strong community of good digital citizens. The nine elements are further categorized into 3 principles, referred to as REPs:

The nine elements are related in various ways and affect students both in school and outside of school. If the primary goal of the education system is to improve learning outcomes, then perhaps the three elements associated with student learning and academic behavior should be the primary focus for digital citizenship instruction in schools.

Respect Yourself/Respect Others

  • Etiquette – The norms and rules of behavior need to be outlined.
  • Access – Not all access to digital devices and internet service is equal.
  • Law – As technology changes, the need to update laws are necessary.

Educate Yourself/Connect with Others

  • Communication – There are so many ways to communicate in the digital world.
  • Literacy – The awareness of how to properly use digital devices and applications is essential.
  • Commerce – Citizens need to be aware of methods of earning and purchasing online.

Protect Yourself/Protect Others

  • Rights & responsibilities – The right to be a citizen in a community comes with responsibilities.
  • Health & wellness – Using technology excessively or incorrectly can lead to mental or physical health concerns.
  • Security – Citizens must learn methods of protecting themselves and others in online environments.

Student Learning & Academic Behavior

  • Digital Literacy
  • Digital Communication
  • Digital Access

School Environment & Student Behavior

  • Digital Security
  • Digital Etiquette
  • Digital Rights & responsibilities

Student Life Outside the School Environment

  • Digital Health & wellness
  • Digital Law
  • Digital Commerce
Elements of Digital Citizenship
Adapted from the work of Mark Ribble. Ribble, M. (2015). Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine Elements All Students Should Know (Third ed.). International Society for Technology in Education.

In my opinion, the top three of Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship are: etiquette, literacy and safety. I chose one from each of the three principles of Respect, Educate and Protect as I believe that they are all related to each other.

Digital Etiquette refers to treating others with respect in online spaces. I am continuously surprised by the unkind comments that I see in social media and in other online spaces. It is disheartening when the unkind posts I see are from parents of our students, or worse, teachers. Each time I see posts with an unkind or argumentative tone, it highlights the need for ongoing education of our students and families. In our district, we have made a conscious effort to introduce the Common Sense curriculum to our librarians, curriculum specialists and campus technologists for at least the past seven years to emphasize the need for skill development in this area.

Digital Literacy is another critical element of digital citizenship because in order to be responsible with something, you must know how to use it. This brings to mind incidents that I have seen of people who accidentally overshare when they post on social media because they are not adept that adjusting privacy settings. It is for that reason that at every given opportunity when I am introducing a digital tool, I encourage the users to find and use whatever built in help section exists in the program. Knowing where to find the information needed to become literate in a program empowers users. Building this habit in teachers will encourage them to pass it on to students.

Digital Safety is one of the most paramount of the elements of digital citizenship. This can mean protecting the personal details of your identity to avoid identity theft which can result in financial ruin. But even more serious is the safety of our children. It is imperative that students are frequently reminded to be mindful of their surroundings and what they share in online communities. Sex trafficking is a rampant problem as the internet can be used to target unsuspecting and vulnerable youth. One tool we have to prevent such tragedies is to educate our students!


The nine elements of digital citizenship are critical skills which must be shared with students, school staff and parents. Very often, the online world can feel like the wild, wild west, with outlaws around every corner and dangerous pitfalls to be found. If we are to bring civilization and order to the online environment, we must begin by building competent digital citizens.

Throughout my years as a District Instructional Technologist, I have had some experience dealing with the concepts of digital citizenship. In my role, I have repeatedly shared the need for embedding digital citizenship into our curriculum. In 2019, I had the privilege of leading a Digital Wellness Initiative. At that time, I did not have the concept that wellness was just one part, or one element, of digital citizenship. In that initiative, each of the 54 campuses in our district, sent one to three campus stakeholders to training. These leaders may have been curriculum specialists, counselors, librarians, or campus technologists. In some cases, it was a principal or assistant principal. During the training led by a Common Sense presenter, the campus leaders engaged in a deep learning opportunity centered around digital citizenship concepts. Then they worked together to customize a training plan for their campus teachers and students.

The campus leaders did a great job of cultivating an awareness of these concepts with their staff, students, and parents. Unfortunately, many of these efforts were thwarted by the pandemic. Since then, it has been a struggle to get back on the digital citizenship train for our entire district in a meaningful way. Goals and focuses have shifted. Last year, the goal was to support teachers and students through virtual learning. This year, the main goals are to fill in the learning gaps that have grown because of the pandemic and virtual learning

However, I believe that now more than ever our students, staff, and parents need to be reminded of the elements of digital citizenship. Technology use has proliferated and grown exponentially over the past few years. It will certainly continue to do so, and we will be faced with new opportunities to define digital citizenship further. Consideration of the ethics, norms, and behaviors for what is acceptable digital use go far beyond the classroom walls. Recently in current events, social media entities like Facebook and Instagram have been under scrutiny.  A former Facebook employee came forward with concerns over encouraging hate speech, and Instagram affecting the emotional health and body images of young users.

In my own community, there is a current “fair use” divide between my school district and the local newspaper. The district has chosen to no longer share stories with the newspaper amid claims that they used photos taken at school events out of context. Because these types of issues will likely increase, I believe that it is vital to continue educating our students and families in the nine essential elements of digital citizenship and what it means to be a “good” digital citizen.

This week in EDLD 5316, I have been presented with a high volume of content to consider about digital citizenship. Primarily, I learned the fact that we must revisit digital citizenship in a broader way in my school district. To do that purposefully will require some planning.

I appreciate the resource of Mark Ribble’s book digital citizenship in schools. He sets forth practical applications and valuable lessons in three critical areas:

  • Guidance for school leaders in assessing the need for digital citizenship
  • Providing professional learning opportunities for school staff to learn about the nine elements of digital citizenship.
  • Lesson plan and activity ideas for teachers directly connected to the 9 elements of digital citizenship and the ISTE standards.

I will most certainly refer to this book in my future projects to support building a strong community of good digital citizens in my school district!


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