After having the pleasure of teaching the first course in our 5-course SUNY Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy, I’m now participating in the second course as a student. I’m really interested (and excited) to see what this course looks like from the “other side of the room.” I think it will give me a better understanding of what participants are looking for, and will hopefully open my eyes to improved teaching and learning strategies for adults.

It’s been around two years since I’ve taken a graduate course, and my last one was taught by two of my absolutely favorite instructors, Bill and Ochan Powell, so it will be very interesting to see how our style compares to classes I remember being so beneficial and productive (and by “our,” I mean all of the CoETaIL teachers, since we planned the 5-course certificate program together).

This second course is led by Jeff and Chad and focuses on issues and problems in 21st century learning (digital citizenship, digital footprints, safety, privacy, etc). In retrospect, it’s actually perfect that we have this course second, because these were the issues that were really coming to the forefront of our discussions at the end of the first course. It will be good to spend an entire 6 weeks discussing the challenges we all face with technology and learning.

Each week, course participants are asked to write one blog post about our essential question of the week. Since I’m late (as usual) with this post, it’s been fantastic to read some of the other participants’ thoughts on the topic and I’ve shared quite a few within Google Reader. This week’s prompt is:

When and where should we be teaching students about their digital footprint?

This quote from Seth Godin, perfectly and Zen-tastically represented here by Michael Marlatt, sums up my thoughts about digital footprints in general:

As Silvia stated in her presentation (about backchannel chats in the classroom), having a digital footprint is a good thing! You are in charge of your presence on the web – it’s up to you to make it what you want it to be. Presenting yourself as yourself, sharing your thoughts, developing deeper understandings about your professional learning, is what your digital footprint should (and can) be about. Learning and professionalism online is now viewed with the mindset of: you are what you share.

Your digital profile should be a representation of who you are, with the knowledge that you are responsible for that representation. If you choose to use rude language, post angry or consistently negative statements, continually share information that is a little too personal (I consider “too personal” to be anything I wouldn’t tell my employer), your digital footprint will represent that side of you.

It’s certainly worth your energy to think about the way you represent yourself – because your next employer will most likely start with a quick Google search to determine who you are… I know I want those search results to be something I expect, value, and would like to share with a larger audience (and specifically prospective employers).

All of our students must have the opportunity to truly understand this new digital landscape. The stories of students getting rejected from university due to their Facebook profiles, or people losing their jobs due to quick and thoughtless tweets are scary, sure, but do students really understand how this will directly impact their lives? I know at least one teacher in the international school circuit that was fired for posting inappropriate material on one of their web sites. I know I don’t want that to be me!

So, have you decided? Who do you want your digital me” to be?

Once again, I must admit that I feel quite lucky to be working at the elementary level. As much as I enjoy working with middle school students and teachers, I am realizing more and more that elementary is the place to instill good habits with technology.

Students are much more open to advice and suggestions from their teachers, parents are much more involved in their child’s schooling, and the elementary classroom is usually the place where students are learning to learn with these new tools for the first time. This is the time to instill safe habits.

By middle and high school, it may be too late. Students have already formed their opinions, habits are already in place, and they definitely are a lot less interested in discussing their online life with their teachers (and parents) than they would be in elementary school.

With that in mind, it’s equally important that elementary teachers are comfortable and confident discussing these kinds of issues with their students. We’ve recently had an epidemic of inappropriate (student-produced) material (nothing too serious, but also nothing we can condone at the school) being housed on the server accounts of elementary students.

When my principal asked what we can do about this, my first piece of advice was to have our students physically sign our Elementary School Acceptable Use Policy (if they don’t sign it, there’s no guarantee that they – or their parents – have even seen it) along with an in-depth discussion about appropriate online behavior in every classroom in our elementary school at the beginning of the school year.

To actually do this, we need every teacher to understand the implications of the AUP and to feel comfortable enough discussing it with their class. This is no small task.

Hosting appropriate files on the school’s server is an excellent, somewhat safer, learning experience for students to truly understand the impact of their digital footprint. If they are creating and saving inappropriate material on their school account, what are they doing online? And who’s watching them there?

When do you begin talking with students about their digital footprint?

The Age of Candid Camera image courtesy of Michael Marlatt
Silvia Tolisano image courtesy of Teaching Sagittarian (but I believe, taken by me!)

7 thoughts on “The Digital Me

  1. I think we, as teachers, need to model that sort of digital footprint making. I agree primary school students are easier to mould and suggest things to. But they are also less aware of how things might be interpreted by others. Their naivety is, in the same instance, wonderful and challenging.

  2. @Allanahk,

    Agreed. I think I should revise what I said in my post: it’s critical to start in primary school, but equally critical to continue throughout the grade levels to build each individual student’s understanding as they mature and continue to add to their digital footprint. I believe the key is to instill good habits when they are young so that it doesn’t come as a surprise as they get older.

  3. In regards to the advice you gave to the principal,
    “When my principal asked what we can do about this, my first piece of advice was to have our students physically sign our Elementary School Acceptable Use Policy (if they don’t sign it, there’s no guarantee that they – or their parents – have even seen it) along with an in-depth discussion about appropriate online behavior in every classroom in our elementary school at the beginning of the school year.”
    I feel that this should also be done in both the Middle School and High School. The Acceptable Use Policies are there to protect students, and the importance of the AUP should be stressed across the divisions.

  4. @Ms. M,

    Yes, I totally agree. I think we have a tendancy at the lower levels to think that these issues are more developmentally appropriate for the middle/high school students, but I’m realizing more and more that they need to be addressed at all levels. Especially lower elementary, when students are still forming their concrete ideas of right and wrong.

  5. Using tech is a mindset, not a skill-set. If more teachers understood this and took this approach to technology integration, there would be more teachers moving students forward. I think a lot of teachers feel it’s a skill-set and they don’t do more because they feel they don’t have the knowledge. However, if they change their thinking, and realize they can learn with the students, everyone will be better off.

  6. @Chad,

    It’s all about the paradigm shift, isn’t it. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it if you’re new to technology because it seems like there are so many things popping up every day, but it’s all about being flexible, willing to learn how to learn, to not be the expert and to take risks. Exciting for me, but scary for many teachers.

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