Empower your Students through Digital Citizenship

Now, more than ever before, students will be on their devices, communicating, collaborating, and creating with digital tools.

An important back-to-school priority for many teachers is finding ways to keep students safe, secure and focused while learning online.

In this article on empowering digital citizenship we’ll cover the following:

  • How to foster digital citizenship in your classroom
  • What an Acceptable Use Policy is and how to create one
  • Successful Acceptable Use Policy implementation in school

I’ll cover insightful device demand patterns from the past few years, how best to create an Acceptable Use Policy and how a successfully implemented  Acceptable Usage Policy with student involvement impacts device usage in school.

First things first, let’s investigate the ever-growing digital classrooms in K-12 schools.

The Ever Growing Trend of Digital

The increased prevalence of digital learning in K-12 classrooms has been a challenge for teachers to ensure that their students are focused and not accessing any inappropriate content during class.

A study from 2020, found that K-12 mobile device demand had skyrocketed over the last few years with the estimated number of devices delivered worldwide to K-12 schools in 2019 being around 30 million and it was estimated that 36 million K-12 devices would be delivered to schools around the world in 2020.

However, by the end of 2020, a reported 51 million tablets and laptops were delivered to K-12 schools worldwide. A far cry from the original estimate of 36 million.

To confront these challenges, educators need to talk to students about how they can work appropriately online and become responsible digital citizens. This can be done by teaching your students to take ownership of their digital interactions.

How you may ask?

The short and simple answer to that is Digital Citizenship!

What is digital citizenship?

What does it mean to be a digital citizen?

Well, let us consider the first definition.

Digital Citizenship can be defined as the ability to engage positively, critically and competently in the digital environment, taking on the skills of effective communication and creation, to practice forms of social participation that are respectful of human rights and dignity through the responsible use of technology.

In simple terms, digital citizenship is when you can access digital technologies in a safe and responsible way, and be an active and respectful member of society, both online and offline.

Why is digital citizenship important?

More and more children are making use of technology recreationally as well as for learning purposes. A study from 2021 estimates that teens spend up to 8 hours per day on their screens.

With this in mind, it is crucial that students understand how to do the following:

  • Protect their personal data online
  • Balance and control their internet use
  • Communicate kindly with others
  • Stand up to cyberbullying when they see it happen
  • Carefully manage their digital footprint
  • Respect copywriting and intellectual property

It is also important that students know how to make smart online decisions and avoid traps of cyberbullying, irresponsible social media usage, scams and viruses.
How to promote digital citizenship skills in your classroom
Teaching digital citizenship is an important step in prioritising student wellbeing in the digital classroom.

An excellent process to promote student awareness is the creation of an Acceptable Use Policy for your class, with your class.

Let’s consider an overview of an acceptable usage policy and how it helps to promote digital citizenship in your digital classroom.

Acceptable Use Policies

First things first, what is an Acceptable Use Policy?


An acceptable use policy (AUP) refers to a document stipulating constraints and practices that a user must agree to for access to the internet.

Simply put, an acceptable use policy (AUP) outlines what is and what is not acceptable behaviour online.

Developing your AUP with your students not only provides an opportunity for collaboration, but allows the students to practice critical thinking, relationship building, communication, and digital citizenship all at once.

The responsibility and involvement of compiling acceptable use policies make students inclined to follow the guidelines and their greater awareness of the policies increases the likelihood they will police themselves.

Here’s how one could run an AUP session:

  1. Separate your classroom into equal groups of 3 or 4
  2. Ask the different groups to come up with 3 acceptable use policies for the class to follow
  3. After the task is done, select one person from each group to present their (AUP) to the rest of the class
  4. Combine all acceptable use policies excluding any repetitions and get final approval from the whole class
  5. Once agreed upon, request the 4 groups to create a graphic of the Acceptable Use Policies (AUP)
  6. This can include and is not limited to videos and images that explore the concept of kindness, mutual respect and appropriate commenting and replies
  7. Visibility supports recall, so print out physical copies of the list of Acceptable Use Policies to hang in class
  8. Attach the final graphics of the Acceptable Use Policies to Google Classroom, Teams, Seesaw, Flipgrid, or any other learning platforms
  9. Review the Acceptable Use Policies occasionally to help keep students accountable

For more information on how you can develop an effective AUP, visit our blog on how to create an Acceptable Use Policy.

But does this process work you ask? Well, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, well-behaved students.

Benefits of student involvement in Acceptable Use Policy creation

As part of a case study, Boston Public Schools (BPS) created an AUP for their 57,000 students across 128 schools. Similar to the example above, they enlisted the help of their senior students to make it easier for the rest of their students to understand, especially those in younger grades. In this instance, BPS high schoolers created grade-level podcasts to deliver the AUP message to the rest of the grades.

Here are some of the insights received:

  • In order for students to comply with the AUP, it is critical that they understand what the policy stipulates. Allowing students to be involved in coming up with the AUP is the first step in that process
  • Engaging high school students in the process of revising the AUP can result in greater student buy-in
  • Students can use their multimedia skills to help your class, school or even district develop effective messages that reinforce the AUP
  • High school students can assist in teaching younger students how to be safe online
  • Having a trained group of cyber safety mentors in senior students who can be deployed into classrooms is an effective way to deliver your acceptable use policies

All in all, the goal of facilitating this lesson is to get your students to understand how kindness really plays out online.

Empowering young minds

We live in a time where how younger and older generations consume and interact with technology in very different ways. But more than anything, it’s incredibly important that both voices are heard.

It is important that your students are able to illustrate their thinking and understanding of the topic of digital citizenship, which can be further explored in the creation of their own graphics to represent appropriate digital interactions. As mentioned previously, these can be posted in Google Classroom, Teams, Seesaw or on Flipgrid.

Another reason why it is very important to involve students in this AUP process is that it allows the students to think critically about their online interactions as well as explore and explain their thinking, so you as a teacher, are aware of which students might need assistance or is functioning outside of the given policies.

Lastly, students can understand the choices behind their digital interactions and involving them in creating these guidelines results in a stronger, more active student voice which equals greater student buy-in, and a more respectful and community-oriented learning atmosphere.

If you’ve gone through this process or a similar situation in driving student engagement in safe behaviours online, feel free to let me know at marketing@mobileguardian.com, I’d love to hear from you.

Panashe Goteka
Team Mobile Guardian


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