3 Things Students Need to Know About Digital Responsibility

The top three things students need to know to become responsible digital technology users.

Learning has changed drastically in my lifetime and unless something completely out of the ordinary happens learning will continue to evolve. As newer generations are born into a world where technology is so intricately woven throughout our lives, it is becoming increasingly important that young children start to learn digital responsibility. In a recent discussion about digital life and education I started to develop some discomfort with the phrase “digital citizenship”. I stumbled across a blog post from Edutopia entitled “Why I hate ‘Digital Citizenship’” by Keith Heggart. Heggart used the term digital responsibility as a way to more accurately portray the values we should be championing in our digital lives. Digital responsibility (or citizenship if you prefer) is a rather large and complex topic, but I believe I have boiled it down into three key points.

Digital Literacy & Just-in-Time Learning

Learning in a digital world has made learning both fantastically simple and infinitely complex at the same time. In the same amount of time it would have taken my ninth-grade self to go to the library, search for a resource in the catalogue of index cards, locate the physical resource, begin my research and finally develop a presentation I could have created a website, an interactive Prezi presentation and hosted a video chat with people all over the world about the given topic. The point being, our students today have access to incredible amounts of information and all of it is just a search engine query away.

The problem lies in the accuracy and credibility of all of this information. What is a good resource? What is a bad resource? Students need to be taught at the youngest possible ages how to assess a piece of information critically and efficiently if they want to be competitive in an ever changing job market. Just-in-time (JIT) learning is not an incredibly new concept, but it is starting to appear more frequently in my classrooms, both as part of my instruction, as well as the student’s learning. JIT learners are more engaged, have better retention and are more productive (Gutierrez, 2016). (JIT) learning has become a huge part of my life, both as an educator, father and content developer. The semesters I spent learning specific programming languages have been all but forgotten, as I now turn to JIT learning resources like YouTube, Code Academy and Wikipedia for initial information gathering, which is usually enough to accomplish small tasks. As more and more companies start to look for agile problem solvers in their new hires, JIT learners will be at the forefront of every hiring manager’s wish list.

Having the ability to expertly search the internet is only useful if you can quickly determine which resources are of high quality. The conversation regarding digital literacy should be had with a child prior to their first Google search. If we start at a young enough age perhaps our society can build some immunity to fake news and bogus research findings.

Copyright Law

I mentioned earlier how digital technology has made it possible to create a website, presentation and host an interactive group chat in the same amount of time a library visit would have taken me a couple of decades ago. With easy access to millions of blogs, news articles, academic journal articles, images, etc… it can be easy to forget to properly cite an artifact in your work.  It is unreasonable to expect students to possess knowledge of copyright laws as these laws are incredibly complex and ever-changing. Tudor (2015) states “technology advances at a rapid rate, and where relevant law exists, it has evolved piecemeal, making it difficult to identify and understand how the law applies” (p. 342). Teachers leveraging digital technology in their classrooms should make it a point to at the very least point their students towards their institution’s academic integrity policies. In an ideal world the students would complete a module about digital laws and how to properly cite resources they are using.


If security breaches can happen to massive companies like Home Depot, Yahoo! And countless others you would be incredibly naive to think it could not happen to you or your students. As we continue to integrate technology into our curriculum, we are asking students to put more and more of their work and information online. It is imperative that we teach students (preferably at a younger age) how to protect themselves online.

Basic security practices everyone should follow:

  • Using strong passwords
  • Restrict the amount of personal information you have on the web
  • Know which apps have access to personal data
  • Update your software
  • Backup your valuable data

The points above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to online security, privacy and anonymity. There are countless other low cost measures you can take to help secure your digital life, such as using a virtual private network like Private Internet Access, using a more secure operating system like Tails and perhaps the best advice of all, expect everything you put out into the digital world to be recorded and logged by anyone from your friends, hackers, cyber criminals and even your own government.

As our young children move through the various stages of their development as humans it is important for us as educators that only informing students about the dangers of strangers and to look both ways before crossing the street is not enough anymore. We now have to teach students that the person they are chatting with online might not be the person they think they are. We have to teach them about the importance of academic integrity. Perhaps most of all, we need to educate our youngest citizens on the importance of digital literacy and how to pick out facts from fake news.

Further Reading


Gutierrez, K. (2016, September 6). Is Your Company Embracing Just-in-Time Learning? Retrieved February 23, 2017 from http://info.shiftelearning.com/blog/just-in-time-learning

Heggart, K. (2014, October 26). Why I Hate “Digital Citizenship”. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/why-i-hate-digital-citizenship

Tudor, J. (2015). Legal implications of using digital technology in public schools: Effects on privacy. The Journal of Law and Education, 44(3), 287.

2 thoughts on “3 Things Students Need to Know About Digital Responsibility”

  1. David – you bring attention to the incredible responsibility that educators have when integrating technology in the curriculum. I appreciate your comments around “digital responsibility”, and believe that this new language may better resonate with learners of various ages. Responsibility is something interwoven into the education system, hence not a new concept for students to grasp. Students must understand the immense power technology brings, as well as the potential consequences of improper use (plagiarism, data breaches, cyber bullying, etc.). Working in the secondary panel, to what extent should digital responsibility be integrated into each class? Whose responsibility is digital responsibility – English, Math, Science? Or is a collaborative approach best?


    1. I think teaching digital responsibility has to be a collaborative effort, if there is bullying in the school yard we certainly do not try and find the teacher responsible for teaching respect and behaviour to come and deal with the situation. With well thought out assignments and clear expectations as to the manner in which the assignments are done, I truly believe digital responsibility can be ingrained in our students, to the point where they even start to “police” themselves.

      It dawned on me a few months ago as to why we are having so many issues involving poor digital responsibility (mostly cyber bullying as that seems to be what is making the news). I started high school in the mid 90’s and was one of the first homes in the neighborhood to get broadband internet, as a result I have grown up alongside the internet, the point being I already had a good idea of what respect for others meant, as well as a solid foundation of basic social skills. Children growing up today might start to develop some of their social skills online, quite possibly without any adult supervision. One can surely see how this might become an issue if they are learning their social skills in shady alleys of the internet’s darker locations.

      My wife and I being new parents have talked at great length about when to introduce our little guy to the internet, how we need to monitor him and teach him how to behave online. We have also talked about the importance of eventually letting him have some freedom, although we have not come to a conclusion on when that might happen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s