What is Digital Citizenship?

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) created a set of standards for teachers called National Educational Technology Standards (NETS). In 2008, these standards were updated to require that educators should “promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility. (Ribble, 2012). So how can we as educators accomplish this? First we must define digital citizenship, Ribble likens digital citizenship to citizenship in general terms in his book Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine elements all students should know (2015), focusing on the responsible use of digital resources, holding many of the same societal norms that make a “good citizen” as valid in the digital environment as well. Overall, citizenship refers to the need for individuals and groups to work toward the benefit of all. Good digital citizens, then, are those who utilize the tools and resources available to them through the digital environments and technologies they use as the tools and resources were intended, responsibly, and doing no harm to others.

Minjeong and Dongyeon (2018) define digital citizens as individuals who use technology responsibly, and digital citizenship as those attributes that are needed for digital citizens to utilse technology resources and tools and to interact appropriately in the digital environment. They go on to suggest that educators must model behaviours of good digital citizenship, along with providing clear guidelines and expectations with regard to digital resources to their learners in order to instill attributes of good digital citizenship.

In their article Digital Citizenship: You Can’t Go Home Again (Hollandsworth, Donovan, and Welch, 2017), the authors describe the role of educators, educational leaders, instructional designers and technologists as stewards of digital resources, guiding learners through the vast and rapidly growing technologies that are available to them. They add that digital citizenship, responsible and effective use of digital resources, must begin in early grades to ensure that good digital behaviours are instilled at an early age.

Lynn Mitchell (2016) describes the focus of digital citizenship on cyberbullying, safety, the use of surveillance technologies, and digital etiquette as insufficient for the needs of our students. Mitchell suggests that more focus on psychosocial development in children should be considered because of the prevalence of digital technologies and the ease of access to social media outlets for our learners. Mitchell goes on to suggest that a curricular shift is in order to embrace these technologies as a tool for educational and psychosocial development, citing the ways that these resources can allow them to develop social and political awareness.

Ribble defines a citizen as “a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a larger state or collective and who shares in the rights and responsibilities afforded all members of the collective.” From this definition, along with those described by other authors, a digital citizen would be an individual who operates in the digital environment and with technology within expected societal norms, using technology appropriately and responsibly, and who is mindful of the well-being of others, causing no harm to self or others.


Elcicek, M., Erdemci, H. and Karal, H. (2018). Examining the relationship between the levels of digital citizenship and social presence for the graduate students having online education. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education (TOJDE), 19(1), 203. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edo&AN=127503187&site=eds-live

Hollandsworth, R., Donovan, J., and Welch, M. (2017). Digital citizenship: You can’t go home again. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 61(6), 524–530. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0190-4

Minjeong K., and Dongyeon C. (2018). Development of youth digital Citizenship scale and implication for educational setting. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 21(1), 155–171. Retrieved from http://outlaw.odessa.edu:2102/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=127424788&site=eds-live

Mitchell, L. (2016). Beyond digital citizenship. Middle School Review, V1, Iss3. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1154813

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know. (2nd ed). International Society for Technology in Education.

Ribble, M. (2012). Digital citizenship for educational change. Kappa Delta Pi Record, issue 1. Retrieved from http://outlaw.odessa.edu:2316/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=9&sid=42794744-001b-47e1-8e4b-de1648fe254a%40sessionmgr4007