Posted in Digital Citizenship, Teaching and Learning, Technology in Education

Developing digital leaders = including students in your school’s digital citizenship strategy


We cannot predict what technology will look like by the time our students graduate so how do we educate them to be citizens of a digital world that does not exist yet?  This is a question I am considering as I do some research into developing a school-wide digital citizenship program.  According to some of the literature, one answer may lie in adding student leadership to the plan for a school’s digital citizenship strategy.

Over the past five years, mobile device and ubiquitous internet connection have become more accessible to adolescents and secondary schools have found themselves dealing with increasing incidents of digital behaviour issues such as cyberbullying and sexting.  For many educational leaders, the rapidity of technological change meant that these issues seemed to come out of nowhere and they responded to these incidents on a case-by-case basis (Ohler, 2012, p.15) and by developing Acceptable Use policies which are mostly lists of rules and what Crockett, Jukes & Churches call “the thou-shalt-nots of using technology” (2011, p.122).  Ohler states that the problem with these approaches is that they address symptoms not issues (2012, p.15).  It also means that schools are being reactive rather than proactive when it comes to digital citizenship.

An alternative approach suggests that schools should craft a vision for digital citizenship education that includes a set of core beliefs about what constitutes smart, responsible and ethical decisions both online and and in real life (Chen & Orth, 2013, para.5).  It is also advocated that students are included in developing and enacting this vision (Chen & Orth, 2013; Ohler, 2012; and Harper, 2008).  As Harper points out, “students make up about 92% of people in attendance in any school [yet] most technology plans focus on the role of the other 8% (teachers, administrators, adult technical support staff)”  (2008, p.1).  Furthermore, designing programs should incorporate the same principles as other forms of design and it is repeatedly stated that addressing the user’s experience is essential when designing innovative solutions (Brown, 2009; Bennett, 2007; Buchanan, 1992; and Kimbell, 2011).  In the case of education, addressing the user’s experience necessitates a co-creative design process that includes student voice (Sanders & Stapers, 2008, p.5).

Some of the benefits of including students in designing digital citizenship programs include:

  • an end product that is responsive to the reality of students’ cyber lives (Ohler, 2012, p.15)
  • an opportunity for students and adults to engage in conversations about living digitally (Ohler, 201, p.16)
  • increased relevance of education to students (Harper, 2008, p.2)
  • improved technology integration school-wide (Harper, 2008, p.2)
  • an opportunity for students to participate in leadership opportunities tied to technology (Harper, 2008, p.2)

Importantly, inviting students to partner with teachers, administrators and parents in the development of digital citizenship strategies means they are “taking action to proliferate new ideas and better habits of learning” (CSU, 2015, para.1) and this offers an authentic opportunity for student digital leadership.


Bennett, P. (2007, May 16). Design is in the details. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking creates new alternatives for business and society. New York: Collins Business.

Buchanan, R. (1992).  Wicked problems in design thinking.  Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21.

Charles Sturt University (CSU). (2015). Empowering digital citizenship action, ETL523 Digital Citizenship in Schools. Retrieved May, 2015.

Chen, E., & Orth, D. (2013). The strategy for digital citizenship. NAIS Independent School Magazine, (Summer). Retrieved May 16, 2015, from

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st-century fluencies for the digital age. Kelowna, B.C.: 21st Century Fluency Project.

Harper, D. (2008). Vision to action: Adding student leadership to your technology plan. Retrieved May 15, 2015, from

Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part 1. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285-306. Retrieved August 23, 2014, from

Ohler, J. (2012). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Education Digest, 77(8), 14-17. Retrieved May 14, 2015.

Sanders, E. B., & Stappers, P. J. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign: International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts, 4(1), 5-18. doi:10.1080/15710880701875068

Image Attribution

Engineering student reading a digital tablet in student lounge. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.



As the Curriculum Leader of the Mt Alvernia iCentre, my key areas of interest are: Teaching and Learning The information landscape Digital Literacy Digital citizenship Literature Reading

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