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Digital Citizenship Definition and Problems Proposal

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Updated: Sep 28th, 2020

Nowadays more and more students interact with the digital content for learning so that the concept of the digital citizenship is becoming one of the most relevant issues. Digital citizens have the same rights and responsibilities as ordinary citizens of the country including the right to study at university, to acquire real estate, or to learn. In this connection, the paper is devoted to the proposal of the digital citizenship necessity and its safe implementation including such integral aspects as digital literacy, etiquette, tolerance to other digital citizens, appropriate referencing, and others and resulting in the design of the methodology for the prospective study, the aim of which is to examine the level of the digital citizenship competence among students.

Digital Citizenship Definition

The digital citizenship, also known as the e-citizenship, involves regular access to networks and their effective use that require several conditions such as the presence of access to the Internet, the availability of computers or gadgets, the ability to use technology properly, and, last but not least, the critical thinking skills to evaluate the reliability of information that can be found online. More precisely, the digital citizenship is a new developmental stage of the society and technology that is associated with the impact of digital and communication technologies (Searson, Hancock, Soheil, & Shepherd, 2015).

The Internet becomes a factor of socialization and modernization of education changing the very paradigm of acquiring knowledge and skills. The variability of the digital education allows focusing on individual, group, and distance trajectories.

Who is a digital citizen? A digital citizen is a confident user of the digital technology, who uses it to participate in educational, cultural, and economic activities of the digital community. He develops critical thinking skills in cyberspace and competently speaks the language of the community. The digital citizen communicates with others demonstrating honesty, integrity, and ethical behavior. He respects the concepts of privacy and freedom of expression in the digital world and actively promotes the value of the e-citizenship.

Problem of Digital Citizenship Implementation

It goes without saying that the digital citizenship has great opportunities for learning and self-development. However, there are a set of problems related to the development of the Internet and the digital citizenship, in particular, which are pointed out below. The first problem concerns the provision of the information credibility. A wide range of educational resources offer new forms of social integration and social space practices on the Internet. In this connection, it is crucial to increase the digital competence of teachers, who would transfer the acquired knowledge to students (Hicks, Lee, Berson, Bolick, & Diem, 2014).

Therefore, the improvement of the digital literacy of teachers and reducing existing gap between them and students should be addressed. Teachers should be aware of broad possibilities of the Internet as a source of information and communication. What is more important, the second problem of teachers’ realization of the content, communication, and technical risks of the global network should be enhanced as well as they influence students’ psychological state, personality development, and socialization processes (Hicks et al., 2014). Taking into account all the above mentioned recommendations, special programs to improve the digital literacy of students are needed in the context of the overall educational program. The methodological support of teachers in their integration into the digital world also matters (Ribble & Miller, 2013).

The third problem is the access and use of the digital technology both in classroom and during the distance learning. One more problem is keeping students interested in the e-citizenship. For example, the digital education based on game tools and techniques consisting of alternate reality games (ARG), massively multiplayer online games (MMO), and global strategies (a genre of computer games that allow the opportunity to manage the entire state or civilization) might be useful (Hill, 2015).

The next problem of the security and safety of students in the online environment is the core of the proposal. There is a basic set of rights and responsibilities such as privacy, freedom of speech, and others that apply to all digital citizens. Let us consider the above aspect of the digital citizenship in detail. The safe use of the online content both in the classroom and home environments focuses on legal and ethical standards (Missingham, 2009). It is very significant to understand that it is not just about basic computer skills or expanding horizons about the possibilities of using the Internet services but also about the habits of communicative behavior while working on the Web and the use of web-based tools.

Literature Review

First, it is necessary to identify key factors of the digital education development. Technology becomes a tool that increasingly expands teaching and learning opportunities, means of communication, and socialization of students. The digital equality is currently regarded as the educational factor: those with technological skills have more opportunities for a successful start. At the same time, values of innovation and creativity are precipitously rising.

Searson et al. (2015) claim that the learning environment changes dramatically and expands from the classroom to the interdisciplinary communities, whose members are engaged, communicate, and collaborate virtually with the help of technologies. Thus, there is a growing interest in innovative areas of education such as online training, mentoring, and independent research

The diversity of the digital citizenship makes it even more attractive. For instance, flexible displays are considered an important new technology in education. Thin interactive displays and embedded boards might be integrated into a variety of subjects. Besides, tablet computers with big screens and rich interface make the ideal tool for presentations, content sharing, video, and images as they are easy to use and visually expressive. It is also quite important to note that the 3D printer is a device that uses a method of creating layered physical objects based on a virtual 3D model. Such a technology allows creating virtual three-dimensional models.

The research conducted in recent years by Ribble (2009) show that the rapid mastery of the Internet by students is associated with the lack of awareness of both the risks and threats of the digital world and the possibility of coping with them. According to Ribble (2009), a former teacher, university lecturer, the author of “Digital Citizenship in Schools”, and the creator of the digitalcitizenship.org resource, each digital citizen should have nine basic skills listed below.

Students come to university already knowing how to use electronic devices. However, do they understand how to use electronic devices properly? The evidence dictates that students should begin learning the rules of the digital citizenship at primary school throughout high school and put it in the curriculum. Today students get some skills, watch presentations, but they are not in the curriculum and students are to forget about it. Ribble (2009) states that such learning is necessary to educate the digital citizens. As a basis for the e-learning, the author offers nine fundamental elements of the e-citizenship that are represented in Figure 1.

9 elements of the digital citizenship.
Figure 1. 9 elements of the digital citizenship.

Let us consider each of the elements in detail.

  • Digital access assumes the electronic participation in digital society that includes equal access to technology for everyone and provides an understanding of what are the limitations and drawbacks when this access is not provided. In other words, the digital openness “implies that everybody could reach information which support civic and personal decisions” (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 132).
  • Digital commerce reflects how to be effective consumers in the digital economy and to be able to make informed decisions about purchases of both digital goods and other products online (Simsek & Simsek, 2013).
  • Digital communication suggests how to choose a way to communicate with others. Ohler (2010) considers that “digital communities might not be local, but they feel local. Members of digital gatherings feel they belong to a real community, and thus project themselves into cyberspace in ways that have meaning and emotional significance” (p. 42). For example, if one needs to send an e-mail or communicate through social networks, he or she would restrict the inappropriate communication.
  • Digital literacy reveals the need to know how to learn in a digital society. It includes the efficient use of various techniques and Internet applications. According to Ribble and Miller (2013), “Awareness means engaging students to become technologically literate” (p. 16). The digital citizens should have the opportunity to learn new skills as needed.
  • Digital etiquette reflects the notion of inappropriate behavior on the Internet as well as the need to know how to behave appropriately so that other digital citizens feel comfortable and safe.
  • Digital law explains how to use the technology in accordance with the law. In particular, digital citizens should not hack the information, download music illegally, use plagiarism, send spam, and engage in identity or funds theft.
  • Digital rights and responsibilities. Digital citizens need to take into account the virtual Bill of Rights. Issues such as privacy, freedom of speech, and others are also applicable to digital citizens.
  • Digital health and wellness. Digital citizens should know how to protect themselves from the dangers inherent in the technology. “Ideally cyber wellness elevates policy and practice to a more balanced level, where students can function productively in digital environments, yet, within a safe environment” (Searson et al., 2015, p. 738). Basically, the mentioned issue answers the questions of how to save eyesight and hearing or how to avoid overstrain syndrome and psychological problems such as the Internet addiction.
  • Digital security. Digital citizens cannot think that they are completely safe on the Internet. It is necessary to take care of the digital security creating secure passwords, using data backup, anti-virus protection, and other measures.

In this connection, the critical approach to assessing the reliability of the information found on the Internet involves a set of the essential gradation components: students’ awareness of the need to evaluate the credibility of Internet sources and assessment of the accuracy of the sources; teacher’s evaluation of the accuracy of the sources and motivation of students so that they are also guided by the principles of critical appraisal of sources.

There is also need to be aware of and avoid the Internet addiction (Rooij & Prause, 2014). As for the referencing and citation, students should be aware of the obligatory need for it, they should index and quote sources used in their work correctly on the basis of generally accepted rules of the particular referencing style. Consequently, students should be aware of the need to respect copyright and licenses.

Purpose of the Study

In order to design and implement the digital citizenship implementation program that would provide effective digital learning, it is essential to assure the safety and security of the learning process. Seeing the above literature review, I would like to study deeply the given concept of the digital citizenship from the ethical view to add to the growing body of literature related to technology-rich teaching and learning. In particular, I would like to address the following research questions in my prospective research:

  1. Focus Question 1. Do students know where to find quality information on the Internet? Additional Questions: What resources do teachers need to get to share quality information with students? How should the Internet be utilized in the classroom environment?
  2. Focus Question 2. What is cyberbullying? Additional Questions: How can students secure themselves in the online environment? What should students remember of the term of cyberbullying?
  3. Focus Question 3. What are online etiquette peculiarities? Additional Questions: Do students should follow rules when working online? How do students know what is appropriate to do online?
  4. Focus Question 4. Do students use technologies too much? Additional Questions: Where can students gain the information about the use of technologies? How much can group mates affect the use of certain technologies? Is there the increase of mental processes speed or the formation of neural connections deficit? Does the Internet necessary for success in the education?
  5. Focus Question 5. Is there the devaluation of the concept of “friendship” and avoidance of real communication? Does the digital citizenship mean the excessive network or a new way of life? Does the change of the mechanisms of thinking, attention, memory, perception, and speech make the excess of information or adapt to previously unimaginable amounts of information and communication?

Accordingly, the purpose of the paper might be formulated in the following way: the study is devoted to examining the ethics of the digital citizenship accurately and appropriately applying the concepts of Ribble and other scholars and conduct the research among students to examine their ethical level concerning various forms of the digital citizenship resulting in the recommendations and suggestions that would enhance it.

In other words, I would like to investigate students’ digital competence to design a comprehensive digital citizenship curriculum. Such research would integrate both theoretical and practical investigations to achieve more precise results. The importance of the proposed study is obvious taking into account that there are plenty of cases of inappropriate and illegal use of the Internet and digital technology in general. Above all, there is a need to guarantee the safe learning environment and increase the awareness of both teachers and students. Besides, the findings of the research might be beneficial to detect any gaps and limitations to eliminate them in future investigations.

Theoretical Framework

Since the purpose of the research is to examine the competence level of the digital citizenship among students and provide adequate recommendations, the following variables are identified: digital citizenship (independent variable) and competence level (dependent variable). It is anticipated that there will be differences in the quantity and / or quality of various aspects of the competence. A cross-sectional survey framework will be used to collect and analyze descriptive and quantitative data regarding the chosen topic.

The forms of the e-citizenship access adopted in the university and their impact on students’ learning will be analyzed based on questionnaires with closed-ended questions. According to Bryman (2012), the cross-sectional survey allows determining the possible changes and will either support or refute the anticipated outcomes with nominal and ordinal evidence that can be discussed with a reasonable degree of reliability. For this study, survey questionnaires are a cost and time effective way to request opinions and behaviors of students and their use of digital technology for learning.


Every research needs a study design before starting, because it is an integral part of the research. Therefore, there is a need to determine the methodology of the possible investigation.

Epistemological, Theoretical, and Methodological Research Perspectives

The Internet and digital technology are rapidly changing not only the science but life itself. Due to satellite communications, any citizen of the world can communicate with family and friends or find almost any requested information (Ohler, 2010). Most recently, the printed book was valued as an indispensable element of culture, but today’s young people increasingly prefer to use electronic resources.

To briefly summarize the epistemological perspective of the study, one can reduce it to a rethinking of the paramount concepts such as the subject of knowledge, the conditions of cognition, consciousness, and communication as well as a new vision of old problems of subject and object relations, truths and values, language and consciousness, and fundamental human rights. The first direction is associated with the construction and description of global web community’s safe development. The second direction is seen as a virtual image of the world as the digital citizenship environment becomes the universal communicative and informative space, where citizens’ rights and responsibilities should be accomplished.

The methodological perspective of the research reflects the fact that it cannot be based only on the central theories of such sciences as philosophy, sociology, semiotics, psychology, cognitive science, and requires its own theoretical framework that goes beyond the simple description of objects and their random classifications. The complexity of the situation is that no generally accepted theories in the field of the digital citizenship exist, even at the level of common discourse. Consequently, the research is expected to promote the establishment of uniform methodological ground to some extent.

As for the theoretical perspective, in the descriptions of the digital citizenship, one might find different notions, which are not always identifiable in terms of its conceptual accessories, though gradually it is possible to detect the description languages and their substantive focus. However, terminology rows go into the conceptual ones transferring to the next question of the paradigmatic relatedness that is aimed at the identification of the basic approaches and objects of the study analysis principles. In this regard, the study will contribute to answer to several questions such as how to describe and study the competence in digital citizenship or what are the adequate tools to analyze it?

Possible Participants

The purposive sampling will be used for the research. Two or three departments or universities will be contacted to participate in the research. Students of different sexes, ethnicities, and races will be interviewed on their approaches to using digital technology for learning. Overall, it seems appropriate to interview approximately 150 students from different departments and, perhaps, universities. It seems that the less number of interviewee would lead to the incorrect results.

Methods of Inquiry

Interviews will be used to collect more detailed information about the digital citizenship competence. A semi-structured interview will be employed to collect the required information from students.

In addition, I consider that it is a good idea to initiate anonymous questionnaire with the help of the special website. For example, Google Forms or Survey Monkey are useful and comprehensible tools to create specific survey and analyze results.

Study Reliability

In the framework of growing significance of learning through the digital media, it seems appropriate to investigate this field. The educational potential of the digital citizenship is high and empowers students to engage in the global research community (Simsek & Simsek, 2013). The adequate interpretation and modeling of large volumes of information along with data mining might improve learning adapting it to the individual needs and abilities of students. The competent digital citizenship would create safe collaborative environment of online resources that contain tutorials, tools, and other materials to provide effective learning.

Possible Method of Analysis

In my research, I would like to use the mixed design of the investigation. A qualitative method involves the collection of information in a free form; it focuses on the understanding, explanation, and interpretation of empirical data that is the source of speculation and productive ideas. Bryman (2012) states that the quantitative method comprises conducting various surveys based on the use of structured questions of closed type, which corresponds to a large number of respondents. The principal objective of the quantitative research is to obtain a numerical estimate of the issue or the reaction of respondents towards it.

For example, it would be better if the number of students would be accompanied the explanation of the situation. Therefore, the study will utilize a mixed methods approach in order to collect the data for analysis that allows collecting both descriptive statistical data through the use of a survey or questionnaire, as well as take advantage of the “richer data” that can be expected from qualitative interviews. After that, I would like to interpret and understand the results to make relevant conclusions and contribute to some extent to the digital citizenship appropriateness.


To conclude, this paper proposes the study of appropriate digital citizenship implementation among students. Through the literature review, I identified key problems and chose the problem of the digital citizenship competence among students for the further deeper examination. The proposal suggests several research questions that embrace a number of essential issues concerning the ethics of the chosen topic.

It was stated that the purpose of the study is to scrutinize the competence level of the digital citizenship among students and provide sufficient suggestions to enhance it. In order to achieve the desired outcome, the proposal includes the methodology part that describes in detail such significant elements of the study as participants, research design, methods of analysis, and others. All in all, the paper involves the comprehensible preliminary research proposal.


Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Hicks, D., Lee, J., Berson, M., Bolick, C., & Diem, R. (2014). Guidelines for Using Technology to Prepare Social Studies Teachers. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 14(4), 433-450.

Hill, V. (2015). Digital citizenship through game design in Minecraft. New Library World, 116(7/8), 369-382.

Missingham, R. (2009). Encouraging the digital economy and digital citizenship. The Australian Library Journal, 58(4), 386-399.

Ohler, J. (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Ribble, M. (2009). Passport to Digital Citizenship. Learning & Leading with Technology, 2(1), 1-17.

Ribble, M., & 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.

Rooij, A. V., & Prause, N. (2014). A critical review of “Internet addiction” criteria with suggestions for the future. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3(4), 203-213.

Searson, M., Hancock, M., Soheil, N., & Shepherd, G. (2015). Digital citizenship within global contexts. Education and Information Technologies, 20(4), 729-741.

Simsek, E., & Simsek, A. (2013). New Literacies for Digital Citizenship. Online Submission, Contemporary Educational Technology, 4(3), 126-137.

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