Egyptian pharaohs had to spend years creating propaganda to promote themselves and earn immortality. Today it’s as easy as creating and managing an online presence for yourself. Okay, so immortality might not be as easy as that but promoting and representing yourself certainly can be.
Whether we like it or not, we are all creating a digital footprint and this footprint can be as influential in defining us as the way we dress, the car we drive, the language we use, the job we do and the political views that we follow. As a society and as educators we can approach this phenomenon in one of two ways, that of fear, suspicion, paranoia and trepidation or enthusiasm, opportunism and pro-activism. With this in mind it is important for educators to raise student awareness about the identity they are creating for themselves online and to teach them how to turn this collection of data to their own advantage.
In his article ‘How to Build your Digital Footprint in 8 Easy Steps’, Mitch Joel outlines many practical approaches to making your online presence a positive one. He suggests that the first step is to consider what you hope to accomplish with your online presence. In a classroom setting, this could be as simple as having a discussion with students about how they would like to appear online and what kind of branding they would like to give themselves. The way we brand ourselves is informed by the kinds of things that we enjoy creating or producing. I would like to spend more time with my students exploring and experimenting with the various digital mediums available to us today. Once you have considered your preferred medium (photos, videos, words), it is time to select an appropriate channel. This could lead to a discussion about the many different ways we have available to us to publish content on the Internet and the appropriate norms for each channel.
Joel argues that the more active and involved you are in a community, the more rewarding your experience will be. He suggests that before you start creating content yourself you should take an active role in reading and commenting on what other people in your field of interest have produced. By following people with strong online voices on sites with a high amount of traffic we can quickly become familiar with what other people are saying and how they are saying it. I think that this is an excellent way to begin in the classroom as well and can lead to discussions surrounding the type of language that is most commonly used, the elements of a thoughtful comment, how to reply to comments or maintain a discussion thread. Involving students in this kind of a community will help to expand their learning network and add a high level of collaboration into their learning experiences.
The Internet and the emergence of social media sites really has provided the catalyst for an educational revolution. Students and teachers now have access to unprecedented amounts of information. Don’t believe me? Here are some facts and figures
* In 2010 on Facebook alone there were 30 billion images published by millions of “authors”
* 5 Billion Photos published on Flickr by 2010
* YouTube figures reveal that 48 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded every minute as of May, 2011
* It is estimated that over 330 million blog posts are published every year
Instead of being afraid of this phenomenon, we should embrace it. Let’s expose our students to the content and teach them how to find it, analyze it, synthesis it, curate it and evaluate it. Let’s teach our students how to comment on it and discuss it. Let’s teach our students to create it and in doing so create for themselves a powerful identify that enriches their lives, leads to personal growth, introduces them to new people, expands their horizons, offers them unprecedented opportunities and helps to craft them into citizens of the world, the digital one included.