Digital Footprints: Where Will They Lead?

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After reading the article “Your online reputation can hurt your job search” I did a quick search for myself on Google and I was pleasantly surprised that some of the first links to pop up were to COETAIL and Twitter and some other educational and professional sites and associations. “This is good.” I thought, remembering Kim Cofino’s advice about getting control of your online image by positive participation and engagement online. However I was a bit surprised when a link to a postcard I sent to a travel insurance site appeared in my top ten hits and looking at it from a ‘what if someone important sees this’ lens I was a little concerned. It’s a post card from Japan with drawings of sumo wrestlers. In 2007, I purchased travel insurance for a trip to Japan through World Nomads. They had a promotion where you could send them a postcard from your trip to be entered in a drawing to win a free t-shirt. While I was in Japan I bought some postcards at a sumo wrestling tournament and sent one in, just for kicks. Well, a few months later I received a t-shirt and congratulations. My postcard had been selected and now was displayed on their website. At the time I thought, ‘Cool!’ and I had actually forgotten about it until I did this recent Google Search. Now I look at the postcard (go ahead…go look at it!) still displayed on their website and this time I thought, “Oh no. What will people think?” I know how sumo wrestlers dress and the images on the postcards are typical sumo ‘moves’ but what about people who aren’t familiar with the sport. Should I contact World Nomads and ask them to receive my ‘once cool, but now possibly questionable’ postcard? Probably not. Really, it’s not that bad. Maybe I’ll go in and add a comment to it. Or just continue to ‘do good’ online and that link will move farther down the list.

But then I think about my students. My sumo postcard was posted almost five years ago and I have been very cautious about my life on the ‘web’ which I partly attribute as being an adult (digital immigrant) who recognizes how you can quickly lose control over what you say and what you show ‘out there’. But my students are growing up on the internet. All the silly notes my friends and I wrote to each other in junior high are either yellowing in scrapbooks in a box in a basement or have long since decomposed in garbage dumps. For my students, their ‘notes’ are digitally saved on social media sites for years to come. And what kinds of reputations or images will be assembled of my students’ online activity? Of course, my first reaction is to revert to the role of ‘the protector’. The role I worked so hard to redefine for myself in Course 1. But then I found redirection in William M. Ferriter’s article “Positive Digital Footprints”. Mr. Ferriter points out that schools “spend an incredible amount of time trying to frighten digital kids.” I believe that is partly due to the fact that schools and teachers are scared of the internet as well. I think we all have good intentions about wanting to protect our students but the digital world is not going away and we owe it to our students to prepare them to live successfully in the digital world just as we want them to be successful in the physical world.

Mr. Ferriter makes two suggestions in approaching this dilemma. One of them is helping students create their own positive digital footprint through productive collaboration and creation with others online. Sounds familiar…that is what I’m trying to do as well! The other suggestion was something I hadn’t thought about before. Taking the ‘tiered approach’ by educating students in general about online safety and digital citizenship and then identifying and focusing on those students with more risky behaviors for more targeted intervention. This reminds me of Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Supports, which both use multi-level prevention and intervention models. My next step will be to look into the “Youth Safety on a Living Internet” report that Mr. Ferriter refers to in his article and looking for examples of how a productive ‘tiered approach’ in regards to digital citizenship and safety would look in a school.
My hope moving forward is that while we (schools and teachers) identify and work closely with students who need more support and guidance regarding their behavior and choices online, we can work with all students in creating online images that reflects what amazing and creative kids they all are.

Again, as I continue to evolve through our COETAIL experience, I am reminded to reflect on where I am in my comfort zone is in relation to what my students need as Mr. Ferriter concludes,

“Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, digital footprints—which (Will) Richardson defines as “online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know”—are an inevitable by-product of life in a connected world. Instead of teaching students to be afraid of what others can learn about them online, let’s teach them how digital footprints can quickly connect them to the individuals, ideas, and opportunities that they care most about.”

So, I won’t worry about my sumo postcard, that’s done. I focus on what I can do, and what I can show my students they can do, to create a positive trail of digital footprints of my own.

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One Response to Digital Footprints: Where Will They Lead?

  1. Heather says:

    HI Diana, I really enjoyed reading your blog post. Yes, I did have a peek at your elicit postcard from 5 years ago and I think it is harmless. It shows your internationalism, which many schools would be impressed by. What you brought up in your post that I connected with was the notes and letters we would have sent in junior high school that are now in someone’s basement / or garbage dump and today’s kids have to see online. The notes I remember writing in those years were so tragic! I used to put hearts for dots on i’s, and use different colors of inks and write about complete nonsense. And sadly enough, I was obsessed with marrying a member of the New Kids on the Block, so I used to write about that very often, and (fine I’ll admit it, you showed us your postcard), I used to sign my name with my favorite New Kid’s last name as my last name. I feel sorry for kids these days!

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