Why does your footprint matter?

As a component of the Digital Citizenship lessons that Eden and I were teaching together, they had a cumulative activity where the students were asked to think about the impact of a “digital footprint” to someones life.  They drew from personal experiences and online research to share images and present their findings.

digital footprint

I think that the presentations that they came up with were very reflective of what we presented to them.   The majority of the presentations seemed to be centrally focused around the dangers of creating or leaving a bad digital footprint, which upon reflection was the central focus of our teaching.  If/when I have things to do over again, I think I would spend more time looking for positive examples of how to create a digital footprint that could help contribute to ones future aspirations, rather than simply inform them of what “not to do.”  I know by nature it is a lot easier to focus on the areas that we feel are risky than to actually focus on the positive, but in all honestly it is the negative aspects that scare us the most.

IMG_0832In an article found in Educational Leadership, called “Digitally Speaking, Positive Digital Footprints,” outlines, ” Schools—caught up in sensational stories about cyberbullying, sexting, and Internet predation—spend an incredible amount of time trying to frighten digital kids. Although some students are at risk because of careless choices—openly talking about sex in digital forums, posting inappropriate pictures of themselves or their friends to the Web, or failing to act when confronted with dangerous situations in social media spaces—those risks are often poorly understood by teachers, who receive little training about how to effectively introduce Internet safety and new media literacies to students.”

However, while that was generally the focus, there were aspects of the IMG_0831presentations that seemed to address the fact that they did understand that a positive digital footprint would be beneficial to their futures.  The article also talked about as teachers some postive ways for us to help students build on their positive digital footprint.  Many of the tasks outlined in the Twitter Matrix I created could contribute to helping student create a digital footprint.  Below are a list of other suggestions by the article of ways to help students build a positive digital footprint.

  • Take a tiered approach. Poke through the Youth Safety on a Living Internet (2010) report, and you’ll find that living online can be risky. Committing verbal and sexual harassment—as well as drifting into potentially unsafe interactions with unknown adults—is easier from behind a keyboard. But too many Internet safety programs commonly used in schools assume that all students are at equal risk in digital spaces. The truth is that students who engage in risky behaviors offline are more likely to engage in risky behaviors online.
    Responsible Internet safety programs are tiered: Although all students receive basic training about responsible online behaviors, students who—because of psychosocial factors—are at higher risk in online spaces receive more targeted instruction. As the authors of the Youth Safety report explain, one-size-fits-all approaches to Internet safety are “analogous to inoculating the entire population for a rare disease that most people are very unlikely to get, while at the same time failing to inoculate the population that’s most at risk” (p. 18).
  • Help students build positive digital footprints. Whether they’re working to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur—a project that George Mayo’s students tackled (http://stopgenocide.wikispaces.com)—or doing a good deed every day for a month and sharing about it online—an initiative that 10-year-old Laura Stockman started to honor her grandfather’s life (http://twentyfivedays.wordpress.com)—today’s teens and tweens can come together electronically to learn about and act on issues that matter.
    Students who see digital tools as vehicles for collective action around ideas they believe in are less likely to engage in risky behaviors online because they see social media spaces as forums for learning first and entertainment second. More important, students who see social media spaces as forums for learning begin to paint complex digital portraits of themselves by networking with like-minded peers, joining groups committed to studying topics of deep personal interest to them, and creating products that are an accurate expression of who they are and what they believe in.
    Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, digital footprints—which Richardson defines as “online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know”—are an inevitable by-product of life in a connected world. Instead of teaching students to be afraid of what others can learn about them online, let’s teach them how digital footprints can quickly connect them to the individuals, ideas, and opportunities that they care most about.







One thing leads to another…

This week we were asked to spend some time exploring the idea of “Shaming” as it pertains to social media and our digital identities.  I found as I waded through the content I was pulled in a few different directions.

Photo Credit: TEDxUIUC via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: TEDxUIUC via Compfight cc

First, I tackled Sherry Turkle’s article “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk” and her views on meaningful communication and conversation.  I could relate to what she was saying when she talked about how we are never fully immersed in conversation any longer because we are always “giving” our attention elsewhere, mostly to our devices.  Often I have sat with a group of friends that I have chosen to go out with and spend time with, only to find all of us at several points ignoring each other but all fully engrossed with what we had on our phones.  She made me question the level of conversation that we have on those meetings.  I do feel that it has declined somewhat, but at the same time, is it all that different than being in a pub and watching a random sporting event that might be on the TV’s?  I think that we do have the ability to focus in the on conversation when the need arises.  I would like to believe that if a friend that I was socializing with had a need for deeper conversation that it would be only a matter of tuning in to what they would have to say.  I believe that we do have the ability to connect, we just sometimes can be distracted.  I think that Turkle does have a point but her point only scratches the surface of the issue.

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon via Compfight cc

I then jumped into the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship.  Recently I attended the Saskatchewan Middle Years Conference in Saskatoon where several of the presentations were regarding our role as educators and digital literacies in the classroom.   It seemed to be a common theme there as well.  In reflection of my own practice, I think that as an educator I spend a great deal of time worrying about teaching students themes more from the “Protect Yourself/Others” category and not enough time giving a more attention to the other elements.  I think that partially I feel that is my responsibility to teach about the “dangers” that exist.  This lended itself nicely into the next reading of the Saskatchewan Action Plan to address Cyberbullying to help implement Digital Literacies into the classroom.

Photo Credit: herwordskill via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: herwordskill via Compfight cc

Jason Ohler’s article “Character Education in the Digital Age”  talked about the students living “two lives,” their online digital self and the self that they present inside of school.  The discussion reminded me of a sort of parallel example of when sexual health education was really being introduced in schools and at a younger age to students.  The “old” belief being that was a family matter, because that was their parents job to teach them or they would learn what they needed to from the world around them, it wasn’t the schools job to teacher about safe sexual practices, because it was something that effected their lives outside of school.  Listening to those arguments now and then applying the same arguments to students digital lives, outside of school, seems somewhat silly.  Our students are not leading two separate lives and the sooner we realize that education has to address their reality, what we try to teach them has more relevance and a greater impact on what they learn.

Perhaps the most thoughtful reflection from the week came from watching both the Monica Lewinsky and Jon Ronson pieces.  I think those pieces had the greatest impact because I was already thinking about how important our role is as educators to help students make good choices both in the “real lives” as well as the life they lead digitally.  I can remember when the Monica Lewinsky story broke and the frenzy the world was in to know more about her and the story.  The media cared very little for her as a person except for how the story could be expanded and explored from every possible angle.  Sadly, I remember believing the picture that the media painted of her, the horrible, disgusting, smear campaign that was her live during the heat of when the story broke to the years that followed.  I can’t image the emotional and physical strain that she would feel as an person, but also that her family and friends would feel.  I also reflect with a guilty conscience how I watched with interest as this woman’s life was town apart in the media.  Looking back now I would like to think that as a society and as a consumer of media we have gotten better or more moderate with our consumption but I’m not sure that is really true.  I think that we have more ways to consume, but we also have more ways to voice our side or stand up for theirs.  We have the potential to be more positive and supportive than in the past.  I guess this ties back to the importance of all Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship.  I think as consumers of media we know that the voices are often negative surrounding stories like this that break, but with the new power we have there is potential for us to have a bigger voice in our support for people when they do become the center of what we consider “public shaming”.  I think it is important for us to send a positive message to students in how we teach them to exist online, reflects the kind of people they want to be.  “Bullying” someone in person is no different that bullying someone online, even if that person is a stranger.  Online our lives become connected in ways not physically possible, but a person is a person regardless of ever meeting them face to face or not.  While we may never know the effect we have on a person as they read the comments left by us, we do know how we would feel reading what was posted.  We must always remember empathy and compassion, even for those who we may never actually know, because it is still a reflection of who we are as a person.

Getting some Exposure!!!

This week a few of my colleagues and myself attended the Saskatchewan Middle Years Conference in Saskatoon.  This year there was a presentation by Dave Burgess who is the author of “Teach Like a Pirate.”


This was a great opportunity to get some exposure for our hashtag #iam2yng2vote.  It was also a great place to do some Tweeting with fellow colleagues.  There were a few sessions that gave us the opportunity to share some of the things that we were doing in our classroom.  I brought up my major digital project.  I even when so far as to call it a shameless plug!  While we did get a lot of other classrooms following us (classroom Twitter account) @BESGr8  we did not get a lot of people contributing to the hashtag 😦 sadly.  I talked about contributing if you has a classroom were doing something regarding good citizenship behaviors or making a positive impact on our community and beyond.  I thought that because it was a middle years group, a lot of social studies content centers around these topics and really any contribution from someone outside of our school would be welcome.

Do you fit the mold?

Of all of the readings this week I feel like “Split Image,” by Kate Fagan, gave me the most thoughtful reflection on the idea of digital identity.  While reading the story I began to think about myself as a teenage.  I was somewhat awkward, very shy and often struggling to figure out who I was in the context of my peers and my school life.  At home I was comfortable, it was my refuge from the outside world.  One of my most concerning aspects of the new “digital ” world, is it seems to be that we are always connected.  We know from the students we teach and the interaction we have with friends and family that teens are constantly connected to their peers.  They are expected to always be in touch, either through texts or snapchats.  At first it can seem harmless, they want to talk and share with their friends, so what is the harm in that?  The article sheds new light on a darker side of connecting.

The story follows Madison Holleran, a collage student who on the outside and in social media seemed to live a happy life, full of things she enjoyed and successes she had accomplished.  But the article reveals that Madison’s identity online and her real life were really two different realities.  In actuality Madison struggled with fitting in, depression, and suicidal thoughts.  In the article it says,”Everyone presents an edited version of life on social media.  People share moments that reflect an ideal life, and ideal self.”  I think that many teens face the same pressure to present an online persona that projects what they believe the world wants to see.  How often have we ourselves removed pictures that were “less than perfect” because we didn’t want anyone to see them.  One of the reasons I resisted Facebook and other forms of social media for as long as I did was that I was apprehensive about sharing my life so openly for people who I am not that close with to look at pictures and make judgments or decisions based on that.  As an adult I felt pressure to post only positive aspects of my life and rarely share how I might actually be feeling.  As a teen, it would be very challenging to separate my digital self from my actual life.  The article describes it as absorbing others filtered images of life, while walking through your own realities.  It would be very difficult to not project a feeling of “if everyone else is happy, why can’t I be?”  when we are only ever seeing their “altered” realities of their actual lives.






Photo Credit: Christi Nielsen via Compfight cc



As a read through the rest of the readings for the week, I think that we have to be careful.  We want to feel connected to the world through our interactions online, but it can be dangerous to show who we really are to the online world.  It is not a caring environment all the time that we might like to hope it is.  I also think that it is important to recognize that for some of us, our online identities many not define us as accurately as we might portray.  to not let our online identities define us.  In a few of the articles like “Young Canadians in a Wired World,” “Welcome to the online world” and “Digital Diaries,” we realize that students are essentially growing up in a digital world that at points creates an identity that they may not eve be in control of.  Some examples where children have a digital footprint before they are old enough to use a computer.  Because these identities don’t go away, we want to make sure that we are addressing them in a healthy conscious of the lasting effect they might have.

Photo Credit: Meyer Potashman via Compfight cc

The last article I took a look at was  “She’s still dying on Facebook.”  The article looks at how we remember those that we have lost and how they still remain even after they have past.  Reminders/notifications/ etc. popping up because of an algorithm in the settings that could have very painful results.  But this raises the question of who should manage one’s social media presence in the event of their death.  In the not too distant future, this will become more and more of an issue, how to respectfully say good-bye or let go of someone’s online presence.

In closing, from in some cases even before birth, we are developing online identities that represent a version of who we are.  The difference is that these versions don’t really ever go away, and the versions created either through our own efforts or that of others all come together to create a representation of us online.


Step into the Matrix!

Here is an update on my major digital project.  Today I created and handed out the major component to my project.  I have created a Twitter Matix for the students to complete on Twitter.  The primary focus of my project is for students to engage in aspects of what it means to be a good citizen and to share with the Twitter world that even though they are only middle- schoolers they can still engage in the responsibilities of a citizen.  On the matrix I wanted students to first of all build some Twitter knowledge and add to their feeds a wider range of topics that they could engage with throughout the process.  So I had them do different elements of posting and re-posting of news stories that pertain to rights and responsibilities all citizens have.  I also wanted there to be some aspects that got them out into the community.

That being said I wanted to take some time and review with them from our Digital Citizenship mini-unit that Eden and I taught the rules that we would ask them to follow to help set some guidelines for them to think of before they posted.  We also did a refresher of what a good digital citizen looks like in their posts and in the ways that they would respond and engage others in the class on Twitter.  We started with a review of the “Golden Rule” of participation online.


And then tried to hit a few of the specifics that they might run into while completing the matrix.



And lastly wanted to remind them of some of the ways that they could connect with us.


At the end of the class we were excited to see them start to explore a little more of the Twitter community and ensured that they were able/knew how to post and reply.

Twitter Matrix


Time for the first assignment…

With the election right drawing very near, I wanted to get the first Twitter assignment up and running so that the students could feel like a part of the action.  First though we need to create a hashtag that the students could use so that all of their hard work could be found by me as we go through the process of using Twitter.  I decided that coming up with a good hashtag is quite challenging, so I toyed around with a few and finally decided that I needed help.  So in talking with a few students the classroom hashtag was born.

IMG_2829 (2) #iam2yng2vote

Was born out of the idea that I wanted the feed to look at ways that kids matter and can make a difference even though they are too young to vote.

The first assignment then is for the students to help remind their parents to take part in one of the most important jobs as citizens, and that is to vote.  They were to post on how they reminded them or how they might have helped them in making their decision about voting.  Some also spent time finding out where their polling station was, and asking grandparents etc. if they had rides to get there.  In social they had spent time talking about all of the barriers to voting that people faced and so some tried to post about how they had addressed those barriers.



Part of helping the students engage with the hashtag, I posted several stories and updates to the election prior to vote day.  Many of them had only started with me in there feeds, so unless I posted more things from the classroom account, they were pretty limited to what they say on their feed.  I also suggested they follow a couple of great hashtags such as @studentvote, and @civix_canada.  As well as any news sights etc. that they might be following.

In the end, I feel like this was a good first attempt. We talked about how some of the tweets could have been longer. Because we have only a few characters, we should still try to use all that we have to give more detail. We also talked about making sure we were not sharing too much info.  It was really great to connect over twitter with all of the schools around the country that had already participated in Student Vote.  I think it was worthwhile that students started to realize that it was more then just them  and enjoyed seeing pictures from other schools around the country that also participated.

Time to get started!

Finally after great anticipation and a little begging and pleading, all of the Twitter notes have been returned.  Interesting to note that out of all 52 students about 5 were not able to set up a Twitter account.  Those parents have opted for the option to have them use the classroom twitter account rather than their own.  I also had one interested response where the parent wanted me to email them what the student chose as a password.  I found that interesting because on one hand it implies that their might be some trust issues with that student, but then on the other hand, they could easily change it on their own and the parent would be none the wiser.  Sometimes I guess parents just feel more comfortable with a “perceived” level awareness of what their children do online.

On the day that we actually set up the accounts, I woke up as soon as the alarm went off with a horrifying thought crossing my mind.

“They might have Twitter permission, but they need an email account to set it up!”  This stopped me dead in my tracks. How will I set up these accounts without individual emails?  Do kids have emails?  Last time I tried to so something like this, less than a quarter of the students actually had email addresses.  What should I do?  I didn’t want to send an entire note home asking about permission to set up an email.  I decided to wait and talk it over with Eden and with my other grade alike teacher to get some ideas of what we are comfortable with.

Upon discussion with them, we decided to proceed without another note, on the basis of, a twitter account is much more public than an email account and therefore if a parent is ok with Twitter, they likely would be ok with email.  Those that accounts were set up for, I would let their parents know that we did the accounts for them.

Sometimes as teachers we worry unnecessarily.  All the kids in grade 8 except for 2 have email addresses.  Thank goodness for Instagram, because all of them needed an email to set up Instagram.  So we were able to proceed fairly painlessly.  The permissions for Twitter are far less invasive than perhaps Facebook or other social media sites, so Eden and I were able to get them setup with an account with minimal information about themselves included.  We even had them use only first names and icons rather than actual pictures.

Some of the students were shocked by Twitter matching them up with people they knew.   It was a great teachable moment when we could say, “Why do you think your cousin’s picture just popped up?”  They were shocked at the “levels of connection”  that Twitter made, just by the email that they used.

Another “aha” moment was when they learned that they could connect with people or celebrities.  For example, one student said, ” I could follow Taylor Swift!”  They found it exciting.  We soon explained to them that you could follow her, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she will follow you back, so in that regard it isn’t like a conversation, it is still only you reading about what she posts.

At the end of the class we were pretty satisfied.  52 Twitter accounts set up and profiles created.