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.
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.
In 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 presentations 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.