Developing a Digital Identity Among Middle School Students: An Action Research Plan of Study

Developing a Digital Identity Among Middle School Students: An Action Research Plan of Study

Katie Ann Wilson

Capella University


Technology to Enhance Innovative Teaching


Students at a younger age are becoming more active when it comes to the use of technology. Without guidance in the proper ways of using technology students become disconnected from the technology and do not understand their actions have consequences. Students use the technology to cyberbullying along with other inappropriate uses of the technology such as creating digital drama and spurring hate speech. A redesign of how we teach Digital Citizenship and the appropriate use of technology is needed. This study will highlight the areas that need focus in order to move forward in a redesign of the digital citizenship curriculum.


Digital Citizen, Digital Citizenship, Digital Footprint, Cyberbullying, Emotional Health, Social Media, Digital Identity, Online Drama, Hate Speech, Digital Dilemmas  

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Phase 1: Planning
  1. The Problem
  2. The Setting
  3. Intervention
  4. Research Questions
  1. Phase 2: Implementation and Data Collection/Analysis
  1. Implementation
  1. 6th Grade
  2. 7th Grade
  3. 8th Grade
  1. Data Collection and Analysis
  1. Phase 3: Evaluation of Outcomes
  2. Conclusion
  3. Resources


        Middle school students, in general, are becoming more and more reckless when it comes to their digital identities. At the middle school level we have had an increase in inappropriate use of technology, cyberbullying, and other violations with students using technology and social media. The result of the misuse of technology has been a higher rate of suicide attempts or self-harm among the student population. Students need to reconnect and understand their actions online have ramifications offline.

To successfully implement a new digital citizenship curriculum integration more than just three teachers need to be involved. To successfully meet the emotional needs of our students the entire staff population needs to be aware of the digital dilemmas our students face, thus professional development is needed in order to fully address this issue.  

Phase 1: Planning

The Problem:

        A growing number of middle school students attempting suicide or self-harm due to inappropriate or misuse of technology. Due to the increase in suicide attempts or self-harm a redesign of the digital citizenship curriculum is underway. A result of not implementing a new revised digital citizen curriculum could result in an even higher increase in cyberbullying and student self-harm along with an increase in the misuse of technology.

In recent studies, it has been reported that 45% of teens are consistently online (Anderson, & Jiang, 2018, p. 8). This has almost doubled since 2014. It was also reported that roughly nine out of ten teens go online multiple times per day (Anderson, & Jiang, 2018, p. 8). 24% of teens have also reported that they have mostly a negative experience while online ranging from bullying to harmful relationships and drama (Anderson, & Jiang, 2018, p. 6).

The Setting:

        A middle school with 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students located in a rural mid-western community. Inappropriate and misuse of technology have resulted in an increase in cyberbullying and other technology-related violations. Resulting in an increase in suicide attempts and student self-harm.

The Intervention:

         In looking through the available curriculum that focused on digital citizenship the Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum was chosen for the intervention stage in the redesign of the Digital Citizenship unit. The Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum focuses on issues that students face on a daily basis online. They also focus on the emotional well-being of the student. A family/home connection is also built into their curriculum which is also important in maintaining a healthy digital identity.

The Common Sense Media curriculum goes beyond just giving definitions and developing skills but goes deeper by providing scenarios of real-life situations that students face on a daily basis. Teaching students to think through their actions and decided on a course of appropriate action.

Research Questions:

Question 1: Will providing scenarios of digital dilemmas increase students’ understanding of their online actions among middle school students?

Question 2: Will the new framework of the digital citizenship curriculum reduce the percentage of students being victims of cyberbullying, hate speech, and digital drama among middle school students?

Phase 2: Implementation and Data Collection/Analysis


        The middle school Computer Science teachers will take the lead in the implementation of the new Digital Citizenship curriculum. The new curriculum will be introduced in the computer science classes then move into all classes while making connections at home and with families.

The following objectives will be covered via the Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum:

6th Grade: Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Lessons
Digital citizenship curriculum, 2019, August 9)

Finding Balance in a Digital World - How do we balance digital media use in our lives?

        Students will be able to:

Don’t Feed the Phish - How can you protect yourself from phishing?

        Students will be able to:

Who are you Online? - What are the benefits and drawbacks of presenting yourself in different ways online?

Students will be able to:

Chatting Safely Online - How do you chat safely with the people you meet online?

Students will be able to:

Digital Drama Unplugged - How can you de-escalate digital drama so it doesn’t go too far?

Students will be able to:

Finding Credible News - How do we find credible information online?

Students will be able to:

7th Grade: Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Lessons
Digital citizenship curriculum, 2019, August 9)

My Media Use: A Personal Challenge - What is your strategy for finding media balance?

        Students will be able to:

Big, Big Data - How do companies collect and use data about you?

        Students will be able to:

The Power of Digital Footprints - What is a digital footprint, and what does your convey?

Students will be able to:

My Social Media Life - How does your social media affect your relationships?

        Students will be able to:

Upstanders and Allies: Taking Action Against Cyberbullying - How can you respond when cyberbullying occurs?

        Students will be able to:

The Four Factors of Fair Use - What rights of fair use do you have as a creator?

        Students will be able to:

8th Grade: Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Lessons
Digital citizenship curriculum, 2019, August 9)

Digital Media and Your Brain - How does digital media try to hook you, and what can you do about it?

        Students will be able to:

Being Aware of what You Share - How can you protect your privacy when you are online?

        Students will be able to:

Social Media and Digital Footprints: Our Responsibilities - How does social media affect your digital footprint?

        Students will be able to:

Sexting and Relationships - What are the risks and potential consequences of sexting?

        Students will be able to:

Responding to Online Hate Speech - How do you respond to online hate speech?

        Students will be able to:

This Just In! - How should we react to breaking news?

        Students will be able to:

Data Collection/Analysis:

        Before the implantation of the Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum a pre-survey will be given to the students to determine a baseline of the understanding of digital citizenship, cyberbullying, and other digital dilemmas. Throughout the implementation process quizzes will be administered to determine if students are building an understanding of digital citizenship, digital footprint, cyberbullying, and other digital dilemmas. Reflection journals will also be used to progress monitor students response to scenarios presented during the implementation process.

 After the implementation process post tests, surveys, and interviews will be conducted to determine if there is a decrease of students falling victim to cyberbullying or other digital dilemmas. Self-efficacy surveys will also be giving to determined the emotional health of the students.  

The Digital Citizenship Scale will also be used to before, during and after the implementation process of the Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship curriculum. Digital Citizenship education should go beyond simple internet safety rules or simple cyberbullying intervention (Kim, & Choi, 2018, p. 155).

Survey questions and digital citizenship sale focuses on the following categories:
(Kim, Choie, 2018, p. 159).

Phase 3: Phase 3: Evaluation of Outcomes

        To successfully evaluate the outcomes of this study students need to be able to clearly define digital citizenship and how it affects their daily lives. Digital literacy also needs to be fully embedded into all content not just within the computer lab situation. Placing digital citizenship education as a focus in education conceptual and evaluation work is still very much needed (Jones, & Mitchell, 2016, p. 2064).

Bystander behavior also needs to be addressed during this study before the researchers can successfully evaluate the outcomes. Students need to build an understanding even though that they were not apart of the situation and they stood by watching what happen also has consequences (Jones, & Mitchell, 2016, p. 2070).


        In order to move students forward in their understanding of their digital identity a redesign of how we teach digital citizenship is needed. Students have become disconnected from their online selves and believe what happens online stays online. Digital citizenship education needs to go beyond tips for staying safe while online to more of an education on ethics. Our students live in a digital age where traditional and digital culture coexist (Kim, & Choi, 2018, p. 169). Our students to have an undefined understanding that their identities consists of both offline and online, that they are the same person. They also need to understand that there are consequences for the actions offline and online.


Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website: .31_TeensTech_FINAL.pdf

Digital citizenship curriculum. (2019, August 9). Retrieved August 17, 2019, from

Jones, L. M., & Mitchell, K. J. (2016). Defining and measuring youth digital citizenship. New Media & Society, 18(9), 2063-2079. doi:10.1177/1461444815577797

Kim, M., & Choi, D. (2018). Development of Youth Digital Citizenship Scale and Implication for Educational Setting. Educational Technology & Society, 21 (1), 155–171.