How To Tackle Digital Citizenship During The First 5 Days Of School

digital citizenshipDigital citizenship is not a one time discussion. It is an ongoing process that needs to be taught to all grade levels and to all stakeholders. The problem is that things are changing so rapidly that it is difficult for everyone to keep up to date with the trends.  Everyone has to be educated and develop an understanding of the role digital citizenship plays in our everyday lives. There is so much that goes into being a digital citizen; from taking photos of others to knowing when it is appropriate to share something online.

Our students are like cowboys living in the wild wild west. Without any guidelines or structure they can get in a lot of trouble. Armed with a concrete plan for teaching about appropriate use you can guide your students to become better digital citizens, who will learn how to build their digital presence in a positive and productive way.

Day One: Create An Acceptable Use Policy WITH Your Students – Give Them a Voice

Every September we pass out the obligatory acceptable use policies with little thought to what they include. This has to stop!  Instead, the first five days should be a time for an amazingly rich discussion on safety and responsibility. Get the students involved by writing a classroom AUP together and begin the discussion with a framework of questions that guide the process. When you involve students, they will surprise you with their ability to understand the choices behind their digital interactions. Student voice equals more student buy-in.

For this discussion, think about digital citizenship in general, at school, at home and in transit. A rich discussion should include these and other components:

  • Who is responsible for the technology or the device – what does that entail?
  • Who is in charge of accounts and where do they keep their passwords
  • Discuss the idea of password literacies
  • Decorating of devices – can students put any backgrounds and homescreen they want?
  • What will be the limits on pictures and movies
  • When can they be on social media and communicating with others?
  • Consequences of off-task behavior in class
  • Limits on personal work on device
  • Charging of devices
  • Parents monitoring at home – should kids have to power down at a certain point

Day Two:Discuss “Online Privacy”

It is essential that we teach our students that NOTHING they do online is EVER private. Social media sites such as Facebook have created a false sense of privacy for our students. They are lured into believing that privacy settings allow them to be protected. It is crucial that they understand what “digital” means. This is not the diary under their bed, on the contrary, it is the diary under everyones bed! Their digital life is easily reproducible and shareable to audiences from around the globe. These concepts are foreign to them. Ask your students how many friends they have on Facebook and you will see that they are sharing things with hundreds of “friends” they don’t really know. These friends can easily take screenshots and re-share with an unknown network of people. Consider having  the students complete Facebook and Twitter cleanups as a possible homework assignment. Reflecting on this cleanup effort will segue perfectly into day three.

Day Three:Personal Identity – Their Personal Brand and Reputation

Students need to understand that everything they post becomes part of their “personal brand.” To begin this discussion, have the students google themselves or their parents. Develop a discussion around the results, and ask the students to share what  they found. Where the results positive, negative or neutral? If we put the results all together what does this tell us about their digital footprint. If there are no searchable results this could be even worse because it means the student is not in control of their digital identity. With little digital identity information available someone else could easily populate lies and inappropriate photos about that student and ruin their reputation. Understanding this personal branding component of digital citizenship is crucial for our students. They need to USE social media to create, collaborate and CONSTRUCT their own personal brand – before someone else does it for them. Their digital reputation may be at stake.

Day Four:Digital Communication

Day four should be a time to delve into the idea of appropriate digital communication. Digital interactions can quickly become a sticky issue with some students – especially with the 1:1 device classes. Students with iPads want to use iMessage to talk during class, ask their teacher questions after hours and to communicate with their work groups after school. This type of collaboration is powerful, until someone overuses the tool or sends messages late into the night. Is it appropriate to text your teacher a question? Should you use Twitter to carry on a private conversation? All of these questions need to be addressed early in the year. A  class discussion around this topic is essential to come to a shared understanding.

Day Five: Digital Etiquette

Thanks to the abundance of devices in our lives, there are now more cameras in any given classroom then there are people. Having a discussion about the digital etiquette of photos is now an essential component of any device infused classroom. Given that parent release should have  already been obtained it is imperative to address student to student permission. Our students need to learn that they cannot take a picture or video of someone and post it online without obtaining approval. As students begin to share more media projects with the world, it is imperative they follow certain guidelines. Students should have release forms ready for the other students to sign. This will serve to reinforce how important photos are to online privacy and reputation. A shared vocabulary around etiquette and taking photos should be developed.

These activities for the first five days will help lay the groundwork for a productive and positive year. It will lessen the potential to have to react to negative communication. Starting the year off building relationships is the foundation to healthy and positive student digital identities and classroom culture.


Holly Clark is a Google Certified Teacher and National Board Certified Teacher. She is  the newest member of the EdTechTeacher team. She will be featured in many upcoming webinars and speaking at the iPad Summit. Follow her on Twitter at @HollyEdTechDiva.

Tanya Avrith, MA. Ed Tech is a Google Certified Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator. She is the Educational Technology and Digital Citizenship Lead Teacher for the Lester B. Pearson School Board in Montreal Canada. Follow Tanya on Twitter @edtechschools

Both Holly and Tanya co-host where they highlight in short segments innovative teaching practices from around the globe.