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 digital citizenship, including looking at digital footprints (also called online reputations or digital tattoos).
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:
Digital footprint or digital shadow refers to one’s unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications that are manifested on the Internet or on digital devices.
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 wrote about back in 2009.
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.
It may be safe to say that day has come?
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
- you can control the privacy settings on many of your online accounts
- individuals can take control of their digital footprints
- Googling yourself can be a good habit to get into
- old or inactive accounts should be disabled or deleted
- we need to be mindful of the digital footprints of others too (eg. tagging others in photos)
- digital footprints can be helpful or harmful to reputations
Resources for teaching about digital footprints:
- Follow the Digital Trail: a Common Sense Media lesson for lower primary students
- Trillion Dollar Footprint: a Common Sense Media lesson for upper primary/lower secondary students
- Office of the eSafety Commissioner: Digital Reputations
Do you have any thoughts on teaching about digital footprints?
Please leave a comment and share your advice, resources or thoughts!
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