Teaching Digital Ethics

Teaching Digital Ethicsdigital ethics

This year my school has the opportunity to incorporate five digital ethics lessons into the required ethics course. Digital ethics lessons include:

  • Behavior and Relationships
  • Understanding Plagiarism, Citing Sources, and Giving Credit
  • Fame and Digital Celebrity
  • Generational Differences
  • Digital Reputation and Digital Footprint

Teachers are protective of their classroom time. Because it is rare to have this much time in a single course, we plan as much as possible to connect and incorporate the AASL Standards into our lessons.

Behavior and Relationships

The first digital ethics lesson is about online behavior and relationships. This segment is integrating the “Include” Shared Foundation where “learners exhibit empathy with and tolerance for diverse ideas.” Common Sense Media lessons are a great starting place for these concepts. Using the Common Sense Media lesson plan titled “Online Disinhibition and Cyberbullying,” we emphasize online citizenship. This material explains the idea of anonymity contributing to cyberbullying. We use additional Common Sense Media materials specifically about acting with empathy and positivity online.

Understanding Plagiarism, Citing Sources, and Giving Credit

The most obvious lesson of digital ethics is plagiarism. Somehow, this was the one lesson not in my original proposal.  However, the ethics professor asked that we make sure to cover this topic in one of our five class times. The Engage Shared Foundation encourages learners to “responsibly, ethically, and legally share new information with a global community.”

In 2010, I had an author visit with the talented author and neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer. Lehrer is the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. I felt an instant personal connection with Jonah during his visit. I am sad to think about how his budding career is interrupted amid allegations of plagiarism. As an opener for this class, we read an online article about prominent plagiarists, and unfortunately, Jonah’s name is on the list. As a result of our school’s connection to the author, students seem more engaged in the account. Lehrer’s story also helps us define the types of plagiarism. Many students are often unaware of certain types of plagiarism, including self-plagiarism and fabrication.

Fame and Digital Celebrity

According to a British study, one of the top career choices of young children today is social media influencer.  The third lesson is about the ethical dilemmas that digital celebrities face. There is no shortage of examples for this class. Many influencers today make missteps that cost them thousands of followers and sometimes end their careers.

We discuss our students’ favorite online celebrities and the idea of “famous for being famous.” With the digital celebrity piece, we show clips from the documentary Jawline. This film follows a rural Tennessee boy who seeks fame as an influencer.

Generational Differences

In the fourth lesson, we wanted to acknowledge that teachers and parents could learn things from students. Discussions surround topics like tagging, being “left on read,” and screenshot etiquette.

An excellent book for generational discussions in the workplace is Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart.  Of the twelve “sticking points,” respect and communication are the most important for our students.  Students’ communication formats do not always align with those of teachers and parents. Many students admit that they do not read emails, but they also feel teachers often do not adapt to changes in technology. In addition, the concept of respect shows a disconnect. Students today do not think adults deserve respect unless they show them respect first. In other words, the adage “respect your elders” or “respect authority” does not ring true with many students.

Digital Reputation and Digital Footprint

The fifth and final lesson in our digital ethics series is about digital reputation. We are not taking students to the familiar “everything online is permanent” lecture. Instead, we are talking about digital branding and protecting their privacy online. In addition to helping students plan for their near future of college admissions, we also cover career and business practices online.  Each class in this series brings ethical questions and builds the digital skills of our students. We are very happy about the collaboration!

For more information about teaching digital ethics at your school see the following resources.




Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Technology

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