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How can we help students develop digital accountability?

When I ponder how technology has transformed my way of living, I have to admit that it is far-fetched to imagine life devoid of technology. It has pervaded our entire society. Technology has transformed how I live – how I express my faith, how I communicate, how I interact with loved ones, how I raise my kids, how I perform at work, and essentially, how I function. Technology is embedded in everything I do and I consider it an integral part of my life. I have, indeed, become a digital citizen. 

There is no doubt that technology has profoundly impacted humanity for the better. Floridi (2010) describes Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as bringing “concrete & imminent opportunities of enormous benefit to education, welfare, prosperity, and edification, as well as great economic and scientific advantages” (p. 3). For example, technology has created endless opportunities and dismantled multiple barriers so many students can learn, collaborate with others, access tools and information, test ideas and conduct research. What was impossible in the past for students who have learning challenges have become possible due to technology. 

On the other hand, technological advancements have also put humanity at risk. It has caused strain on interpersonal relationships, violated privacy, promoted prejudice, diminished confidence and destroyed trust. Privacy, control, choice, balance, appropriateness, responsibility and accountability are some serious issues that need to be addressed, not to mention the irreparable damage that the misuse of technology can create. 

It’s this quandary that I often find myself wedged in. Is technology inherently good, inherently bad or simply neutral? Paulus (2016) brings some clarity to this dilemma when he writes, “Human agency is involved in the design and use of all technologies: a designer’s intentions shape a technology, and its efficacy is complicated by a user ’s intentions” (p. 5).  Because humans are at the core of the technological and informational reality, both as creators, designers and users, there is a most urgent need to develop character, wisdom and discernment. 

One of the core values that shape and guide my use of technology is integrity, which is inherently tied to character. What does it mean to develop character? Developing character calls for truth, honesty and faith intersecting with how we relate to others, how we interact with information and how we use technology.

How can we help our students develop an accountability mindset when using technology? When I ask this question, I visualize an internal compass that guides users to think of the impact their choices make on themselves, those immediately around them and those in the greater digital community. This question addresses the Digital Advocate Standard 7C from ISTE’s Standards for Coaches: Coaches model digital citizenship and support educators and students in recognizing the responsibilities and opportunities inherent in living in a digital world. 

The increasing use of and demand for technology and digital tools has caused educational leaders and teachers to reconsider their roles and responsibilities in leading their schools. This is a logical response to what we see happening around us. Technology is constantly evolving and new, more advanced digital tools are frequently being introduced and marketed. Training students to be digital citizens requires that educators dig deeper and understand the implications of the fast-changing, highly digitized and innovative learning spaces that technology has created. According to Ribble and Miller (2013), educators must learn to scrutinize the new technologies and use their positive attributes to combat and remove all the negative aspects of technology use. They need to help students:

  • build a solid philosophical understanding of the purpose of technology 
  • learn the core tenets of digital citizenship – its many components  and how they impact daily decision-making
  • understand the benefits along with the responsibilities that undergird digital citizenship

Digital citizenship has come to the fore in the last 15 years as a way of educating students in the appropriate and responsible use of technology. There have been several meaningful definitions of digital citizenship, and each definition addresses important core values and offers a proactive, positive and pragmatic approach to promoting accountability and responsibility. Common Sense Education (https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship) with research backed by Project Zero from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, launched its Digital Citizenship Curriculum in 2010. It defines digital citizenship as the “responsible use of technology to learn, create, and participate.” Common Sense Education created a full curriculum from kindergarten to twelfth grade that teaches skills and dispositions promoting responsible use and active participation. School leaders, administrators and parents can also use the Common Sense site to avail of resources, such as reviews for videos, games, books and movies. And this curriculum is free!

Here are the six core topics that inform the lessons for all the grade levels:

  • Media Balance & Well-being: We find balance in our digital lives.
  • Privacy & Security: We care about everyone’s privacy.
  • Digital Footprint & Identity: We define who we are.
  • Relationships & Communication: We know the power of words & actions.
  • Cyberbullying, Digital Drama & Hate Speech: We are kind & courageous.
  • News & Media Literacy: We are critical thinkers & creators.

Ribble, Bailey and Ross (2004) offer this simple definition of digital citizenship: “norms of behavior with regard to technology use” (p. 7).  These norms that govern behavior are:

  1. Etiquette
  2. Communication
  3. Education
  4. Access
  5. Commerce
  6. Responsibility
  7. Rights
  8. Safety
  9. Security

In 2009, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) revised the National Education Technology Standards (NETS) for educational leaders, teachers and students in response to the apparent lack of guidance in the responsible use of technology (Ribble & Miller, 2013).  Digital citizenship became a priority in many schools around the country. In 2011, ISTE released the second edition of Digital Citizenship in Schools and in this book, Ribble recaptured the 9 norms of behavior & organized them into three main categories: Respect – Educate – Protect, also known as REP (Ribble & Miller, 2013).

Due to the accelerated speed at which the digital world is expanding and growing, there is an urgent call to put digital citizenship at the forefront of school curricula.  Digital citizenship is a broad term that encompasses responsibility, accountability and respect.  It also brings focus to skills and dispositions that all students need to promote a positive digital culture where everyone can participate in using technology to better their community.


Borgmann, A. (2012). Contemplation in a technological era: Learning from Thomas Merton. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 64(1), 3-10.

Campbell, H.,  & Garner, S. (2016).  Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in a Digital Culture.  Baker Academic.

Common Sense Education. (2021, October). Digital Citizenship Curriculum. https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship/curriculum

Floridi, L. (2010). Information: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. 

International Society for Technology in Education. (2021, October). Standards. https://www.iste.org/

Paulus, M. J., Baker, B. D., & Langford, M. D. (2019).  A framework for digital wisdom in higher education. Christian Scholar’s Review, 49(1), 41-61.

Ribble, M. S., Bailey, G. D., & Ross, T. W. (2004). Digital citizenship: Addressing appropriate technology behavior. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(1), 6-12.

Ribble, M. S., & Miller, T. N. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: Connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, (17)1, 137-145.

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  1. Hi Chelly, congratulations on the successful launch of your blog and your very first post! I appreciate the simplicity and clean navigation of your site, being a minimalist fan myself. I like your quote by Ribble & Miller (2013) from your post – “educators must learn to scrutinize the new technologies and use their positive attributes to combat and remove all the negative aspects of technology use.” – this makes me think of just how important critical thinking and digital citizenship is. Not only do educators have to practice these skills, but they also have a responsibility to impart these skills to the next generation. I’m with you in advocating the need for digital citizenship advocacy and education in schools today. Thank you for your sharing.

  2. Hi Chelly,
    Congrats on your first blog post! I liked the way you connect resources and develop your thoughts around them. I support your idea of promoting digital citizenship and integrating it into education. I think not only the schools but also all the programs designed for a purpose should put digital citizenship into their priority to as something to instill into learners` minds. Thanks for highlighting this.

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