Modeling Safe, Legal, and Ethical Use of Digital Information

ISTE standard 4 states that teachers should understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices. There are several parts to this standard, but I will focus on one: teachers should advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright, intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources.

As a teacher, it is important for me to understand rules around giving proper credit to sources, make sure I use Internet resources responsibly, and make sure I am being a good model for my students. One particular blog post I have found particularly useful is “The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons.” The two basic rules are “1) You can’t use everything you find on the web and 2) There are resources you can use” (Burt & Waters, 2017). For example, images are one of the most problematic for people unaware of copyright laws. Photos for Class is a helpful website that automatically provides Creative Commons images with image attribution quickly and easily.

While I focused on one aspect of the standard, a colleague of mine focused on developing and modeling cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital age communication and collaboration tool. McVeagh (2015) discusses creative ways to teach global awareness including Skype in the Classroom and Google Field Trip. For example, Mystery Skype “allows classes to play a guessing game with each other to try and figure out where each of the schools [on the Skype call] are located” (McVeagh, 2015). These tools seem useful for promoting global awareness and could serve as examples for how to safely interact with other people via the Internet.

According to Hollandsworth, Dowdy, and Donovan (2011), it takes an entire village to teach digital citizenship. Parents, teachers, librarians, administrators, and students themselves must learn how to proactively deal with the issue of digital citizenship. Many approaches currently in place in most schools are more reactive than proactive. For example, there are Internet filters and outright banning of cell phone and other devices. However, this doesn’t restrict student use of technology outside of school and we are doing our students a disservice by not educating them on how to safety, ethically, and legally use Internet content and electronic devices. Just like we teach students how to enter traditional society with basic concepts of legal, ethical, and moral conduct, we should teach them these concepts and the skills to use in the digital society as well.

Hollandsworth, Dowdy, and Donovan (2011) assert that research shows that middle school and beyond is too late to begin teaching digital citizenship because most students have already adopted their own rules for technology use (see figure 1). Furthermore, many states do not have state standards that encompass digital citizenship, therefore it is not stressed in various academic curricula. Educators need to take it upon themselves to force the issue and be proactive about teaching students as young as early elementary age what it means to be a digital citizen.

Figure 1 (Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends, 55, 4, 37-47.)

Figure 1 (Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends, 55, 4, 37-47.)

There are some curricula available online that address various topics related to digital citizenship. For example, Common Sense Media publishes a curriculum for grades K-12. It includes topics like self-image and identity, relationships and communication, cyber bullying and digital drama, and creative credit and copyright (see figure 2). One drawback I have to consider is the amount of time I will have as a busy elementary teacher to implement this type of additional curriculum. Perhaps I could use some ideas and embed them into the lessons I am teaching. For example, during a lesson about researching for writing a report, I could also teach students how to correctly cite and give credit for sources. I hope to keep these important topics in mind as I continue in my development as a teacher.

In the 21st century, all educators should work towards making sure students become good digital citizens. It really does “take a village.”


Burt, R. & Waters, S. (2017). The Educator’s Guide to Copyright, Faire Use, and Creative Commons [web blog post]. Retrieved from

Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends, 55, 4, 37-47.

McVeagh, R. (2015). 3 Creative Ways to Teach Global Awareness [web blog post]. Retrieved from