browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

How to Thrive as a Digital Citizen

Posted by on November 28, 2012

digital citizenThanks to the pervasiveness of easy-to-use technology and the accessibility of the internet, teachers are no longer lecturing from a dais as the purveyor of knowledge. Now, students are expected to take ownership of their education, participate actively in the learning process, and transfer knowledge learned in the classroom to their lives.

In days past, technology was used to find information (via the internet) and display it (often via PowerPoint). No longer.  Now, if you ask a fifth grade student to write a report on space exploration, here’s how s/he will proceed:

Understand ‘Digital Citizenship’

Before the engines of research can start, every student must understand what it means to be a citizen of the world wide web. Why? Most inquiry includes a foray into the unknown vastness of the www. Students learn early (I start kindergartners with an age-appropriate introduction) how to thrive in that virtual world. It is a pleasant surprise that digital citizenship has much the same rules as their home town:

Don’t talk to bad guys, look both ways before crossing the (virtual) street, don’t go places you know nothing about, play fair, pick carefully who you trust, don’t get distracted by bling, and sometimes stop everything and take a nap.

In internet-speak, students learn to follow good netiquette, not to plagiarize the work of others, avoid scams, stay on the website they choose, not to be a cyber-bully, and avoid the virtual ‘bad guys’. Current best practices are not to hide students from any of these, but to teach them how to manage these experiences.

That’s harder than it sounds. Children, as new digital citizens, feel anonymous in the vastness provided by the www. They think they can say/do anything and no one will know. But they don’t yet know about something called a ‘digital footprint’ that tracks every step an individual takes across the internet landscape and–to many people’s horror–forgets nothing. Comments made in high school, pictures posted in college, are available for a future employer to view.

Yes, this isn’t learned in kindergarten. In fact, it takes me six years, a little bit at a time, before students accept these truths as their own.

Research smart

Today’s students are expected to understand how to find information despite the billions (literally) of places to look. For example, if you Google ‘space’, you get over 4 billion hits. That much information is worthless. Students must learn how to whittle this list down to what their specific need is.

Collaborate with others

Where students used to have to find a common time that everyone was free, arrange to meet at someone’s house or the library, and then share notes by copying them and passing out hard copies, now students can sit in their own bedrooms, or on their own laptop or iPad. They collect information, post it to a common document, and edit it collectively in one of many ways:

  • via Google Apps–an Education account that allows for real-time editing of documents and enables teachers to see who’s doing what
  • through a Wiki–students collect all the information on a required subject in one spot and go from there
  • for larger docs, a Cloud-based storage site like DropBox–invite group members to view
  • with the teacher via email or the transparency offered by Google Docs (now, Google Drive)
  • with subject experts via Skype

Share the wealth

Sharing used to be via PowerPoint slideshows, a written report, a student-driven play, maybe a poster. Technology has opened the floodgates of student creativity. Some Web 2.0 options for publishing are:

  • blogs–post the article of all classmates and comment on each other’s work. Then, edit the article to incorporate changes
  • website–via Google Sites. If students have Google Apps for Education, this is included and requires no additional set-ups or log-ins.
  • wikis–again, a great way to share information, videos, music, widgets of all kinds in a creative manner where presentation is as powerful as the content
  • web-based tools (see below)

One of the most gratifying changes in my view as a teacher is the equity afforded by web-based tools. These online programs have flipped the classroom, turning student into teacher, making learning inquiry-driven, encouraging risk-taking rather than memorization. No longer does a family have to shell out hundreds of dollars for software because their children must have it for school. Now, there are a plethora of web-based, mostly FREE tools that record movies, sounds, turn pages into magazines, take polls, brainstorm, test knowledge. Here’s a list of my classroom favorites, including:

  • Puzzlemakers (prepare for quizzes)
  • Voki (create avatars)
  • Shelfari (share books)

It’s not your mother’s classroom–or even yours. With the advent of interactive textbooks and Siri-type voice input devices, who knows where we’ll be in another decade.

Click to be notified when the K-6 Digital Citizenship curriculum is available.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeacherHUB, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to TeachdHUB and Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me

Leave a Reply