Building Positive Digital Footprints

Digital Footprints, a shift?

During the last several years I have seen a shift in students’ understanding of their digital presence and the permanence of that presence. Three years ago when I presented to 9th graders and we discussed digital footprints the main messages I heard loud and clear were:

  • Their popularity depended on the number of ‘friends’ they had, even though they knew digital ‘friends’ weren’t really friends. (Many even admitted that some digital friends they didn’t even know, but they ‘needed’ the numbers.)
  • Being judged by what they post, especially what they posted in middle school, was ‘unfair’. Most admitted that they made poor choices in middle school and it shouldn’t be held against them.

Three years ago many students weren’t ready to even have the discussion about building a positive digital footprint. For a variety of reasons, I have seen a shift happen. For the last two years I have gone into 10th grade health classes and discussed their digital tattoos, or footprints. Through student responses and comments I now see that they are ready for the next discussion.  They are now accepting that what they put online is permanent. They still admit to making mistakes and posting things they shouldn’t online, but they are also ready to identify what they need to do. But it isn’t just about cleaning up their digital footprint. At this point in their lives it is more about how to ‘put their best digital footprint forward’ and how to ‘sell’ themselves as a positive citizen.

So what is our role as educators in building positive student digital footprints?  I think it is two-fold.

  1. Educate older students about how to ‘clean up’ past digressions and manage their current footprint.  Googling themselves is a good start, but this also involves cleaning/deleting old accounts and setting up RSS feeds on their usernames and names so they can keep up on what is being said about them, and what they are being tagged in. It also involves understanding privacy settings and knowing when to be open, and when to be closed.
  2. Celebrate their unique qualities and help them frame their own digital footprint ‘resume’.  What do you want the world to see about you? What makes you, you? This also involves having teachers support projects that involve authentic digital products that can then be celebrated and published online. This helps students celebrate their successes and gives them a starting point even when they don’t know where to start themselves. If you are a Google Apps for Education school it would be easy to have students set up their own ePortfolio using Google Sites. At the end of each school year students can post their polished written work as well.  Of course ultimately the key is to make sure the students make the final decision on what is published and what isn’t.  They need to take ownership of their footprint.

How do your educators support building positive student digital footprints? Do they simply tell them what not to do, or do they educate and celebrate?

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