Little Green Librarian

Blogging my way through a Masters in Teacher Librarianship at CSU!

What is good digital citizenship?


Image of a girl using social media on a laptop.

Good citizenship, as a concept, is hard to define. Is it a combination of characteristics? A list of actions? A set of values? We know that to be a citizen is to be a recognised member of a country, but how do we define and measure what good citizenship is?

When we apply these musings to the concept of digital citizenship and what it means to be a good digital citizen, our questions are answered in different ways by different people and organisations. There is no agreed-upon definition, nor are there any globally accepted benchmarks to measure digital citizenship (Greenhow, 2010 , p24). So, where do we start?


To be a citizen is to be a recognised member of a country, so we can extrapolate that to be a digital citizen is to belong to a community. When we begin by acknowledging that the purpose of teaching students to become good digital citizens is to teach them how to belong to the community that exists online, we inevitably begin to think about what that might look like.

Behaving like we belong

If we belong to a community, what does that entail? There is no one way to be a community member, but the following traits might be part of the package:

  • Interact with respect and kindness. I belong to my local neighbourhood, so when I interact with my neighbours I try to be respectful and kind, both in the way I communicate and in my respect of their privacy. This same approach can be taken in the online community.
  • Think before sharing. There are many aspects about my life that I keep private from my neighbours. I also don’t tell neighbours information about other people that I don’t have permission to share. Sometimes sitting behind a computer screen makes us forget that we are communicating information to real people about real people. It is important to remember that what we do and don’t say matters.
  • Be an active community member. Students should be encouraged to contribute to the online community by creating and sharing content, as well as adding to the conversation about content created by others.
  • Give back. Sometimes it can be easy to be an anonymous consumer of online content, but this is not a community-oriented mindset. Use of creative commons licenses and social media encourage sharing.
  • Acknowledge others. Plagiarism is rife online, so it is little wonder that students pick up on this behaviour and copy it. Yet they are angry (justifiably) when others take their hard work without permission or acknowledgement. Students should be explicitly taught how to acknowledge sources of information so that they can correctly reference the ideas of others.
  • Obey the rules. Most students wouldn’t knowingly break laws in the real world, but they regularly break rules and laws online by taking what doesn’t belong to them and engaging in harassing behaviour. Students can be made aware of the law and best practice when interacting online, then encouraged to interact thoughtfully.
  • Use good manners. Pleases and thank yous are magic words everywhere, and they certainly enhance online communication!

Useful resources for teaching digital citizenship


Useful websites for teaching digital citizenship


Greenhow, C. (2010). New concept of citizenship for the digital age. Learning & Leading with Technology, 37(6), 24-25.


Image source: Social by ijmaki. Public domain.

2 Comments to

“What is good digital citizenship?”

  1. May 1st, 2016 at 11:42 pm      Reply Lisa Says:

    Your comments resonate with my ideas too. One of the most fantastic aspects of the Web 2.0 arena is that it has levelled the playing field. As teachers also, we are able to be content creators; sharing with and contributing to the online conversation through online professional learning networks. The other aspect of your points that stands out for me is the acknowledgement of content. In the busyness of our work, teachers can overlook their responsibility to correctly acknowledge sources (particularly images, as we are more used to acknowledging written content). It becomes unreasonable to expect students to be on top of these requirements if teachers are not being responsible digital citizens also. This is an important challenge that require not just strong policies but strong leadership to ensure we are all good digital citizens.

    • May 1st, 2016 at 11:57 pm      Reply LittleGreen Says:

      Hi Lisa, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I think leading by example when it comes to acknowledging sources is super important, but also really difficult for many teachers. I’m in my 30s and I think my generation is particularly terrible at this – we are so used to a culture of consumption. I think many teacher librarians will find that the biggest challenge is actually shifting the consumption culture with staff, rather than students! Kelly.

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