Nicole Krueger
Three boys enthusiastically look at a laptop.

In the famous words of Spider-Man writer Stan Lee, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Actually, Voltaire might have said it first. Or possibly Jesus.

The point is, if we're going to empower students to create and share online, we've also got to teach them how to responsibly wield the power of connectivity and be good digital citizens. When we don't, we end up with misattributed quotes like the one above — or worse. Cyberbullying, plagiarism and a detrimental digital footprint are just a few of the problems that can arise when kids treat the internet as an information free-for-all.

Every school approaches digital citizenship a bit differently. Many teach it as a separate unit, often as part of health or character education classes. But it's most effective when it's integrated into the curriculum across all grades so the message gets reinforced again and again.

"You want to create a positive culture in your school, so the more teachers who can address it across subjects and grade levels, the better," said Kelly Mendoza of Common Sense Media, which offers a free K-12 digital literacy and citizenship curriculum for educators. "It has to be ongoing. You have to keep doing it and reminding your students."

Fortunately, in a classroom where students already use technology, it's a simple matter to incorporate a digital citizenship component into any lesson — all addressing ISTE's Digital Citizen standard. For example, teachers have the opportunity to address digital citizenship whenever students:

1. Create digital presentations

Anytime students create content to share online, teachers can supplement the lesson with an age-appropriate discussion about copyright and fair use. Mendoza suggests going beyond simply showing students how to properly cite ideas and images.

"Flip the tables on them. When they're creating and sharing their work with the world online, ask them: How do you want other people to use your work? Would you want other people to make a profit off it, share it or alter it? That's when it really hits home," she said.

Students should understand not only the rules of copyright, but also when a text or image falls under fair use rules. Watch the video below to find out what Kerry Gallagher, assistant principal for teaching and learning at St. John's Prep in Massachusetts, thinks every educator should know about copyright:

2. Study historical figures or literary characters

Prompt students to think about how they present themselves online — and what it means to leave a digital footprint — by creating fake social media profiles for the characters they're studying in history or English classes.

"If Lincoln had a Twitter feed, what would he tweet? Get students to think about how these characters might present themselves online," Mendoza said. "Reframe social media to look at how the characters might have exemplified themselves in a digital world and how it might have impacted them."

Add another dimension to this activity by using characters that have two very distinct sides to their personalities, such as Jekyll and Hyde.

"It helps them think about how sometimes people present themselves online in a whole different way than they really are in person and why we might share things about ourselves that might not really be in line with who we are in person."

Being aware of online actions and knowing how to be safe and create safe spaces for others is just one of the five competencies of DigCitCommit. Watch the video blow to learn about all five DigCitCommit competencies: 

3. Research a project

Help students find and evaluate sources of information, categorize what they've found and create new meaning from those materials by adding personal insights or findings. Curation addresses the ISTE Knowledge Constructor standard, which expects students to "curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions."

"Diving into student curation without practice can lead to lackluster work products: Imagine students just picking images from a Google search at random and pasting them into a document," writes Kate Harris, an instructional coach for the Smithsonian Learning Lab. "Students need support in all stages of the process: finding appropriate resources, analyzing their selections, citing their sources and making and presenting something new."

She points to the Smithsonian Learning Lab as one resource that develops curation skills. Within the free online platform, students can select and aggregate individual resources and also annotate them with questions and text. The lab offers more than 2 million authentic Smithsonian digital resources, such as artifacts, images, texts, videos and more. 

Join the #DigcitCommit movement! Get the latest digcit resources for educators!



Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.3 way

This is an updated version of a post that originally published on March 15, 2014.