Developing a digital citizenship policy

In the previous course we explored the need to undertake a digital citizenship issues audit of existing school policy and programs, and the need for an awareness-raising phase with regard to stakeholders’ understanding of the breadth of digital citizenship issues, before making decisions about school-based policies related to digital citizenship, and the nature and scope of a digital citizenship program across the curriculum.

For many schools, their policy on digital citizenship does not get past the development of a technology and network policy, and/or an acceptable (or responsible) use policy. In fact, many schools mistake the updating of their AUP as their digital citizenship policy. Incorrect labelling of a revised AUP as a ‘Digital Citizenship Policy’ simply confuses people because it returns the focus of the policy to technology hardware and network usage, access and security protocols, and places an emphasis on ‘controlling’ the behaviour of students (and teachers, in some cases) when using technology. The power and potential of technologies and access to technologies as fundamental tools for learning is rarely the focus of such policies. It is about system expectations, and access and use as a privilege not a right, which are usually articulated as lists of “do’s and ‘don’ts”.

While it is important to have a technology and network policy that clearly defines the school’s technology infrastructure, the types of technologies that are supported by the school’s infrastructure and support staff, and the types of services and protocols required for users to effectively utilise the school’s technology, it is not a digital citizenship policy.

There is no doubt that school’s also need a clearly articulated acceptable (or responsible) use policy, which defines the school’s expectations of users in terms of compliance according to education system regulations, legislative and regulatory requirements (at state, national and international levels), and safe and ethical digital practices as deemed acceptable by society, in general, however, this is not a digital citizenship policy.

What is the difference? A digital citizenship policy is based on 21st century pedagogies and 21st century learning principles, which are integrated into curriculum units across all learning areas and grade levels. Ohler (2012) refers to digital citizenship as part of ‘character education’ in schools. Ribble (2011) argues that, “a self-sustaining digital citizenship program… will benefit all aspects of school technology use.” In other words, the knowledge and skills taught, and behaviours and dispositions developed by students, as a result of a digital citizenship program across the curriculum will assist in the informed ‘compliance’ of a school’s technology policy and AUP.

It is, therefore, essential that all relevant school-based policies be cross-referenced to explicitly state how the guidelines and practices within each policy relate to, and support particular aspects of other policies. For example, aspects of student welfare or behaviour management policies would need to be linked to a school’s technology, AUP and digital citizenship policy; aspects of the curriculum development, and staff professional learning policies would need to be cross-referenced with the above policies; and aspects of a school’s parents and community policy would need to be linked to sections of each policy.


Examine and compare the contents of the following list of school-based DigCit policy documents. Note: these have not been selected as ‘exemplaries’, they have been selected as examples of common school practice.

Take note of the titles and language used, look for any anomalies (inconsistencies or contradictions), summarise the philosophy or ‘drive’ underpinning each policy, and identify the scope and nature of each policy (what is the school ultimately trying to achieve by implementing this policy?).

Finally, extract those aspects of each policy that specifically deal with aspects of digital citizenship, and draw your own conclusions about what a digital citizenship policy should and should not include.

St Mary’s College (Adelaide, SA) Digital Citizenship Guidelines

Glen Waverley Secondary College (Melbourne, Vic) Responsible Digital Citizenship Policy and Guidelines

Landsdale Primary School (Perth, WA) Digital Citizenship Policy and School Acceptable Use Agreements

Mercedes College Digital Citizenship Policy (Perth, WA)

Sancta Maria Catholic Primary School Responsible Use Agreement (New Zealand)
 (note the file name is ‘Digital Citizenship Agreement’)

Australian Christian College (Singleton, NSW) Student Welfare: Digital Citizenship

Murray Bridge High School (Regional South Australia) BYOD Policy 

Dalat International School (Penang, Malaysia) Digital Citizenship Policy 


Discuss your own assessment of the content of these policies in relation to (a) your own school’s existing policies and practice; and (b) your vision for developing school-based digital citizenship policies to address the range of digital citizenship issues that you have previously identified as a priority for your school.

You may want to use the following template to develop a Digital Citizenship plan:

Louise Dean School Digital Citizenship Plan

In the final module, Module 3, we will explore the process of developing, implementing and evaluating a digital citizenship policy and program, and you will work on a draft plan for policy and program development in your school as the final learning task for this course.

References and further reading

Fredrick, K. (2013). Fostering digital citizenship. School Library Monthly, 29(4), 20-21. 

Heaser, C. (2012). How do you become a responsible digital citizen? Library Media Connection, 30(6), 18-20. 

Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., & Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 55(4), 37-47. 

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

Orech, J. (2012). How it's done: Incorporating digital citizenship into your everyday curriculum. Technology & Learning, 33(1), 16-18.
Orth, D., & Chen, E. (2013). The strategy for digital citizenship. Independent School, 72(4), 56-63.

Tan, T. (2011). Educating digital citizens. Leadership, 41(1), 30-32.