As we have introduced a 1:1 netbook program in grade four at my school, we are focussing on helping the students learn how to use their new devices to their full potential.

We have been doing some work on internet safety, and this week have been looking at digital footprints.

Not one of the 54 students in my double class knew what the term meant before we delved deeper.

Wikipedia describes a digital footprint as:

“…a trail left by interactions in a digital environment; including the use of TV, mobile phone, the internet and other devices and sensors.”

Unfortunately, I’ve come across a number of resources which only focus on the negatives of digital footprints and promote a culture of fear.

The message I like to promote is that we should protect our digital footprints and try to ensure that they are positive. Encouraging students to avoid posting or doing anything online just seems counter productive.

I’ve often wondered if having no digital footprint at all is almost as bad as having a negative one. This is something Chris Betcher has written about before.

Four years ago Chris said:

“I can see a day in the not too distant future … where your ‘digital footprint’ will carry far more weight than anything you might include in a resume or CV.”

Perhaps that day has come?

***

Alarmingly, even government sites like the Victorian Better Health channel begins their article on internet safety with a scary image of the term digital footprint:

“The Internet can be a dangerous place for the unwary, particularly children. A person’s ‘digital footprint’ can be as easy to follow as their real footprints.

I’m not denying that the internet can be a dangerous place, but so can the street. The internet can also be a wonderful place and this shouldn’t be forgotten.

I think it’s important to ensure a balance by teaching about the dangers of a negative or revealing digital footprint, while also promoting the benefits of a positive digital footprint.

The Age of Candid Camera

I’m sure I’m not the only one who cringes when I see teachers creating digital footprints that could be harmful to their own reputation (eg. on Facebook). Perhaps underestimating the public nature of the internet is a widespread problem.

Another scenario that I’ve observed fairly regularly is teachers not having a digital footprint at all. These issues are worrisome to me when thinking about the need for digital footprints to be discussed in classrooms.

If this article is to be believed, 92% of children under two already have a digital footprint. I think this shows how important education around digital footprints is.

So what do students need to know about digital footprints?

  • the internet is a public space with a large audience
  • digital footprints can be searched or shared
  • once online, things can be there forever
  • you should always think before you post online
  • you should keep certain personal details private
  • individuals can take control of their digital footprints
  • digital footprints can be helpful or harmful to reputations

Resources for teaching about digital footprints:

Do you have any thoughts on teaching about digital footprints?

Please leave a comment and share your advice, resources or thoughts!

Image attributions: The Age of Candid Camera; Footprints (by-nc-sa)