How Large is Your Digital Footprint?

Digital footprints. We bandy about the phrase all the time, but what does it really mean? All we seem to want to do as educators is scare students and make them aware of how vulnerable they are online. But there is more to digital footprints than meets the eye. As William M. Ferriter states, creating a Positive Digital Footprint is in fact more important and effective than scare tactics.

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Ferriter‘s article opened my eyes to the trap that schools regularly fall into, and the one-sided concept of a negative digital footprint. We all seem to be caught up in sensational stories about cyberbullying, sexting, and Internet predation (Positive Digital Footprint). All our energy has often been focused on safety, predators and scary stuff. Ferriter, on the other hand, is focused on empowering digital natives and providing them with the tools necessary to survive in the modern world.

We live in an ever-changing world, and educators need to adapt and flow with the times. That’s the power of the COETAIL online course for my own ongoing education. It opens my eyes to new ways of looking at issues and ideas which are important to youth today. As Ferriter informs us in Positive Digital Footprint, scaremongering is ‘ineffective at changing student behaviors’ (Online Safety and Technology Working Group, 2010), and also ‘prevents students from seeing digital footprints as potential tools for learning, finding like-minded peers, and building reputations as thoughtful contributors to meaningful digital conversations.’

So, as Dan Bentley states, and Will Richardson (2008) implies, ‘The big question is, what would be worse, a possible employer finding some not so flattering stuff about us, or not finding anything at all?’ (Stay Anonymous…Just You Try) This is an issue I hadn’t considered before and I was, until now, quite happy flying ‘under the Google search radar’. In previous Google searches I had happily seen that I remained fairly anonymous and my personal details, and more importantly photos, were safe and secure. My latest Google search is quite different. While my personal information and photos remain private, I now feature on a wiki, Twitter, my COETAIL blog and LinkedIn, amongst others. In other words, I now have a positive digital footprint.

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As Richardson stresses, we should now be concerned about the consequences for kids who can’t be found online, rather than teaching students to worry about the consequences of being found online (Positive Digital Footprint). That’s not to say we should forget about online safety altogether.  Instead we should focus on differentiation in the digital classroom, just as we do every day in every other subject. In a tiered approach, all students should receive basic training about responsible online behaviors, while at-risk students receive more targeted instruction. Creating positive digital footprints is obviously an issue which needs to be discussed in schools more readily. Counselors and technology coaches should play an active role, working alongside classroom teachers to inform and advise students on how to create a positive digital profile.

This has great potential and implications in international schools. Global citizenship plays such a large role in our schools, so students should be strongly encouraged to create social networks with like-minded peers who care about the same issues. There should be a focus on creating an online identity – their own personal brand. (Would You Hire You?). On the flip side, students need to be aware of their prospects and clean up their networking profiles (Your Online Reputation Can Hurt Your Job Search). They should be shown how to evaluate their digital footprints and reflect on how they are portraying themselves to university admissions officers and potential employers (Companies Using Social-Networks to hire employees is on the rise). As getting admitted to the ‘right’ university is so important in international schools, creating a positive profile is vital to our students’ futures.

Take one (positive) step forward, this is just the beginning!




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4 Responses to “How Large is Your Digital Footprint?”

  • Profile photo of Clint Hamada Comment from Clint Hamada

    I think it’s awesome that you are now taking a proactive approach to your positive digital footprint. I think this is going to be increasingly important for everybody. If you’re not controlling your own online presence, then who is?

    As an ES teacher, what do you think are reasonable ways for your students to begin building their own positive digital footprint? I deal mainly with the MSHS but we have a 1:1 program that extends down into Grade 4 (with easy access for students at all grade levels).

    • Profile photo of Cheryl Terry Comment from Cheryl Terry

      Thanks for your message, Clint. Building a positive digital footprint is a big idea and is not an easy topic for Grade 4 students. We’ve worked a lot on making quality blog posts and creating an awareness of being safe online. I think that’s the first step for young users, as is making them aware at an early age that college admissions officers and employers do search the Internet. That way hopefully they can make good decisions and will be informed and proactive from the forefront.

  • […] self esteem, and helping them to gain a sense of personal identity at the same time. Creating a positive digital footprint is an important part in this process, as is focusing on personal virtues. If students have a strong […]

  • Profile photo of ppframpton Comment from ppframpton

    Wow! The idea of anonymity being dangerous is intriguing. I completely agree with you that we often over emphasize the negative side digital footprints instead of encouraging students to build more positive digital footprints. What with the social aspect of online networking I fear that sometimes older students resent warnings against dangerous online behaviour as censorship or infringement into their personal/social lives. Perhaps a more effective approach to dealing with the dangers of a negative digital footprint, would be to shift the onus to creating a positive footprint rather than admonishing against a negative footprint or advocating anonymity. I really admire your approach to doing just that! :)


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