Science 2.0: When Students Become Digital Citizens

Modern science learning requires the use of digital tools and a shift in teaching philosophy and pedagogy. The backbone to this shift rests in a skill that we’ve not yet addressed: digital citizenship.

Last month, we wrote about the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Empowered Learner standard ( This month, we discuss the Digital Citizen standard where “students (will) recognize the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living, learning, and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal, and ethical.” While this might seem like a lofty goal, we can make sure that students fulfill the requirements of this standard by meeting its four performance indicators, which require students to:

  • “cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world”;
  • “manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online”;
  • “engage in positive, safe, legal, and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices”; and
  • “demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property” (ISTE 2016) (italics added).

As science teachers we must remember that our students’ digital footprints, or “digital exhaust,” referring to data collected on their travels across the digital landscape, will exist long after they leave the classroom. We refer to this as permanence.

To safeguard students’ digital privacy and personal data, it is important to read the Privacy and Terms of Use conditions for websites on which they compose and post content. Teachers should be aware of privacy laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and the Family Education Right to Privacy Act, which we discussed in an earlier column (Smith and Mader 2014). Students must understand how to change the privacy settings on their profiles to prevent others from accessing their content. Even with the most robust security settings, however, content can still leak out into the public area of the digital world. Thus, they should be continually reminded of the importance of reviewing their own content.

Next, teachers can engage students in activities that promote positive, safe, legal, and ethical online behavior. The activities can occur before, during, and after formal instruction.

Before instruction, teachers can use word clouds, graphic organizers, and podcasts to allow students to share what they want to learn from a unit’s explorations. During instruction, students can moderate each other’s discussions and provide feedback using the social platform Todays
Meet ( This is an excellent way to talk with students about constructive criticism and the appropriateness of their conversations. After the science lesson, students can engage in deeper discussions about their content mastery through discussion boards such as Schoology or Canvas or by critiquing other students’ work with tools such as Padlet or VoiceThread.

A long-standing tradition in our classrooms is the concept of UCC (user-created content)—the idea that students should create their own artifacts, digital content, and media, instead of resorting to Google. UCC gives them an understanding of using and sharing intellectual property. In this type of classroom culture, students create their own media for their products and ask permission, or even “pay” using points, to use another’s work in the class.

Science teachers must create a classroom culture that prepares students for a world of transparency and permanence. The skills that students develop through the Digital Citizen standard will benefit their lives far beyond the classroom walls.

Ben Smith ( is an educational technology program specialist, and Jared Mader ( is the director of educational technology, for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. They conduct teacher workshops on technology in the classroom nationwide.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). 2016. The 2016 ISTE standards for students. Arlington, VA: ISTE.
Smith, B., and J. Mader. 2014. Science 2.0: Protecting students’ online privacy—by law. The Science Teacher 81 (9): 8.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

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  1. Jane Jackson
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    What about evaluating information online? Fake news, and the like. That is crucial for digital citizenry! A new research report is relevant for ALL K-16 classes: a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college — on how they evaluate information they find online. “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.” Freely download it at

  2. Rebecca Montgomery
    Posted June 17, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the information on digital citizenship in this blog post. It is relevant to teachers at every level, beginning in the lower elementary. Common Sense Media is a fantastic resource for educators, parents and students to use. The free information and already-built curriculum by age band, to teach our students how to be good digital citizens is very useful. It is complete with lessons and standards, videos, activities, and also extensions. A preview of several of the lessons show a correlation to the standards, age-appropriate material and opportunities for critical thinking.

    Another aspect of becoming good digital citizens relates to online plagiarism. This particular area is less focused on in the early grades. However, due to the increase in the use of technology, it is definitely worthwhile to begin teaching students in the elementary school. Oftentimes it is the librarian who is responsible for teaching about the impact of plagiarism, but regular classroom teachers should also be supporting this idea. Aside from the fact that plagiarism has serious consequences, it will also never lead to growth in student learning. Students also need to be aware that it is much easier for teachers and professors to identify work that has been plagiarized now than in the past. There are many websites available that act as detection agencies to spot papers that have been plagiarized. Academic integrity is essential for our young learners and is also an important aspect for digital citizenship.

  3. Allyson K
    Posted June 18, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    This information on digital citizenship is very useful as students are becoming more familiar with technology at younger ages. I like the suggestions on how to incorporate online activities for students at the beginning, middle, and end of lessons. At the end of the lessons, it causes students to use higher-order thinking skills when they are critiquing.

    I agree about the topic of online plagiarism. One day I was supervising the computer lab for a research project that sixth grade students were working on. Almost all of them opened up a Google Doc and copied and pasted whole paragraphs from websites that they found useful for their topics. I talked with some of them to see what they were going to do with that information. They said they were going to print it out and turn it in. Right then, I stopped the students and did mini-lesson about plagiarism.

    When talking about students leaving their digital footprint, this is so important. It seems students do not understand the severity of posting things on social media, which is why it is so important to teach students to not only be safe online but to be respectful as well. In a recent article that I read, it pointed out that the rules that we use in public to interact with people are the same rules that should be applied when communicating online.

  4. Erica Fabyanic
    Posted June 19, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    As technology continues to take a larger role in the classroom, it is imperative that educators teach students about the proper use of technology. The International Society of Technology in Education standards provide teachers with the guides they may need in order to effectively incorporate technology into the classroom. These standards support educators and students alike by having clear procedures for the skills and information necessary to move away from the traditional teaching and learning style. As a nontechnology advanced educator, I found the guidelines of the standards to be extremely hopefully in allowing me to rethink my way of teaching and impacting my students’ learning.

    In this blog, the focus was on one of the ISTE standards, Digital Citizenship. I appreciate the information provided on this topic because I feel that this an important aspect for students to understand in order to enter the digital world effectively and safely. Provided was a website titled, Common Sense Education, this website contains and entire portfolio on Digital Citizenship which is both beneficial for educators and students. This online Curriculum is designed to empower students to think critically, navigate carefully, and contribute responsibly in the digital world. With the help of this website, teachers will be to educate their students on how to become an active Digital Citizen without jeopardizing the safety of the students.

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