Digital citizenship in schools

'Digital citizenship' is a broad and evolving concept. It reflects a number of different behaviours which include, but are not limited to, appropriate and effective ways we interact with people and/or information through media and technology. It is built on and guided by a set of values and principles reflecting the greater communities in which we work and play.

The National Library - Services to Schools, has identified seven key themes we think are important to the development of effective digital citizens. Although this is still a relatively new space, these themes and accompanying questions can help you to collaboratively develop and promote digital citizenship among all members of the school community.


Defining digital citizenship
Understanding the shared landscape
Cyber-sensitivity and sensibility
Research and critical thinking
Intellectual property
Personal currency and digital footprint
Beyond our borders
Further information

Defining digital citizenship

The concept of digital citizenship is always evolving; shaped by cultures, institutions, politics, and information. However, the digital age has brought rapid changes in technology and an unprecedented access to information. This has had a major impact on issues such as rights, safety and responsibility. For citizens to be responsible, safe and digitally literate requires new social and technical skills and competencies. In the context of our learning communities, a digital citizen relies on the balance and synergy between several components (as outlined below).

Defining digital literacy

Digital literacy is the ability to:

  • navigate and evaluate information
  • understand and create meaning with digital languages and in variety of contexts
  • use technology and media to share ideas, tell stories, and provoke thought and emotion

Netsafe in consultation with teachers has produced this definition of a digital citizen:

A digital citizen:

  • is a confident and capable user of ICT
  • uses technologies to participate in educational, cultural, and economic activities
  • uses and develops critical thinking skills in cyberspace
  • is literate in the language, symbols, and texts of digital technologies
  • is aware of ICT challenges and can manage them effectively
  • uses ICT to relate to others in positive, meaningful ways
  • demonstrates honesty and integrity and ethical behaviour in their use of ICT
  • respects the concepts of privacy and freedom of speech in a digital world
  • contributes and actively promotes the values of digital citizenship


Just how does one go about being a good digital citizen? Your ability to draw on these elements while navigating digital spaces will allow you to be critical and mindful of resources and information, and relate to and problem solve with others in a networked community. It is about making sense of a world that is accelerating at an unprecedented pace. In a way, this is citizenship redefined.

Understanding the shared landscape - Engaging the School Community

Understanding the shared landscape requires you to know the environment in which you are exploring the concepts of digital citizenship. Staff, students, parents and various members of the community play an important role in identifying and reinforcing values, establishing expectations and developing guidelines and rules to live by. A co-created document that ties in with existing school values and agreements makes it more likely that the ideas and concepts of digital citizenship will be embraced. Questions you might like to explore before creating a document include:

  • How well does the community understand digital citizenship and its role in different learning environments? How has this been communicated to parents?
  • How does the school library support digital citizenship? Why is it an important physical, virtual and social space?

You can download a document outlining considerations around the concept of a 'good digital citizen' below, along with a sample digital citizenship agreement for teachers, students and home.

Raising potential issues with technology use, for example in the area of social media is a good entry point for assessing the staffs' opinions and understandings.  

Cyber-sensitivity and sensibility

Online and digital communication has a time, place and appropriate context. Behaviour online should reflect the values and principles shared by your school community. How you interact online also has an impact on self image, esteem and your ability to work with others in a variety of online spaces.

  • How do you ensure your behaviour online is consistent with your behaviour offline? 
  • How do you know who you can trust?
  • Where can you get support when you feel unsafe or unsure about what you see online?

Having cyber-sensibility is the ability to use the appropriate device for the appropriate learning purpose. It is also about knowing when to put the device or technology away so it doesn't interfere with your sleep or communication with others.

Students at Elim Christian College share their advice about appropriate use of technology.

Research and critical thinking

One of the most important elements of being a good digital citizen is the ability to be digitally literate. This includes being able to filter and make sense of the vast amounts of information available to us. Many online resources haven’t been scrutinised in ways that many hard copy resources have and require critical analysis. Although internet access makes locating tools and resources reasonably easy, you must also be able to effectively search for reliable and accurate resources and information, when it is most needed.

  • How can you become an effective ‘conscious curator’?
  • What search tools and strategies will most effectively support your learning?
  • How can you measure the reliability and accuracy of different resources?

Find out about some of the National Library’s online resources along with a selection from other New Zealand institutions.

Read Spot the hoax when evaluating web content.

Download the Website evaluation templates and modify to suit your students' needs. 

Intellectual Property

Possibly one of the most vague and grey areas of understanding at schools is copyright. The treatment of copyright and intellectual property at school can vary greatly between staff and students.

This can range from staff copying and pasting works of copyright holders without permission, to students sharing a slideshow with music without crediting the writer of the song being used.

While it is not possible to cover such a wide range of potential infringements or issues, it ultimately falls on teachers and librarians to model a mindful and deliberate approach to copyright.

  • What are the current common attitudes and beliefs of staff?  

Download Intellectual Property and Copyright - attitudes and behaviours documents below to help facilitate this discussion.

  • What are the important facts to know about copyright in New Zealand and how they affect teaching?

Visit the Ministry of Education's TKI - Te Kete Ipurangi site on Copyright in Schools for a good overview of what teachers, librarians, and other educators need to know.

  • How do you appropriately model best practice in using, sharing, and creating works and resources?

Creative Commons has created a central place to access a variety of free to use content. If you use Chrome or Firefox you can even add it to your browser as an extension. 

  • What guidelines and policies does your school have regarding copyright and intellectual property?

If you need to determine what licenses you require as a school, take a look at this video created by Get Licensed

With regards to sharing resources, some schools have been implementing a fundamental change to their policies related to copyright and intellectual property. This begins with the Board of Trustees. A Creative Commons policy for teachers' content while at a particular school allows for teachers to share more easily and transparently. Take a look at Albany Senior High School's policy.

Personal currency and digital footprint

How often do you read the terms and conditions when signing up for a new social media site, app or service online?

In 2011 an article in the Guardian looked at research, which showed that in the UK only 7 percent of people read the terms and conditions when signing up for services and products online. It also revealed that 21 percent of Britons said they had suffered as a result of not reading the terms and conditions box before ticking.

Questions to consider include:

  • Who collects my personal information on a social network? For example what are Facebook's policies around sharing, rights and responsibilities?
  • How does my personal information affect the way I navigate content and interact online?
  • How do I ensure my digital footprint represents the person I want to portray in an online environment?

It is an issue the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply, covers. Watch the trailer, from Hyrax Films/Variance Films on Vimeo.

Beyond our borders

We live in an increasingly globalised world - connected digitally to friends and family, colleagues and students around the world. Online tools and social media are used by many to inform, promote, transform and improve – globally and locally.

  • What examples are there of individuals using online tools and resources to inform or improve social justice?
  • How can I promote the values of digital citizenship in my school community?
  • How do I promote the values of digital citizenship to think globally and act locally?

Further information

NetSafe has a range of resources in their NetSafe starter kit for schools including a Teacher confidence survey.

Harvard University’s Digital Literacy Resource Platform (DLRP) is “an evolving collection of tools that you can use to learn more about online safety, privacy, information quality, creativity, and copyright”

Google has developed an interactive curriculum Understanding YouTube & Digital Citizenship for teachers of secondary students.

The NSW government provides an interactive Digital Citizenship toolkit for teachers as well as students at primary and secondary level.

Mike Ribble, author of Digital Citizenship in Schools, provides a comprehensive list of global resources and articles on his website Digital Citizenship.

Intellectual Property and copyright

The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) is the government agency responsible for granting and registering intellectual property rights. It also provides a range of information on copyright, trademarks, patents, design and plant variety rights.

Creative Commons in Schools provides information, case studies and resources for schools looking to develop a Creative Commons (CC) policy. Using CC licences enable school staff to legally share and collaborate with other New Zealand educators. 

The Copyright Council of New Zealand has a downloadable resource for educators.

TKI has information about Copyright in schools for principals, teachers, library staff and students.

View the Spartan Guide for more information about copyright along with sources of Creative Commons and fair use images and sounds.

Digital Citizenship downloads

Download the following documents for use in your school community.