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10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints

December 10, 2012 9:00 am

Building a digital legacy is an issue I believe doesn’t garner enough attention in our personal and professional lives. In fact, some of the heaviest users of online tools and social media are our young students, who are growing up as a generation of visual learners and visual attention seekers. This is in fact the Facebook and YouTube generation, and the reality is that many teens are unconcerned about the dangers of sharing personal information online.

A highly respected education advocate, Kevin Honeycutt, once asked me if any of us from our generation (GenX and before), had ever made a mistake in puberty. He then asked if our mistakes are “Googleable.”

The reality is that our mistakes from puberty are not “Googleable”. But our students’ mistakes are. “They’re on the record you see, ” Kevin continued, “so if they’re gonna do it (live online) anyway, I think it behooves us a educators to help our students shape and build a positive legacy.”

With that in mind, I have developed some important facts and opinions that our students should be completely aware of as they live in their digital world, creating digital footprints along the way.

10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints

1. College admissions and employers do read your online profiles and they do make decisions based upon information they find out about you online. In fact, colleges will make decisions based upon many forms of questionable involvement. Scott Cornwell, College and Career Adviser at Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis, Missouri said, “I had a case where a parent sent an email to a college suggesting they look at the Facebook page of a student who was applying to the same school as her daughter.  The Facebook page showed the other student at a party with alcohol.  The mother’s goal was to get rid of some of the competition her daughter would have at this selective school.  In the end, both the student at the party and the daughter of the mother were rejected (the first in part because of the Facebook page, the second because the college was concerned about dealing with such a manipulative mother for four years).”

2. As illustrated in the example above, educators and parents do see, read, and hear about your online escapades, even though you go to great lengths to hide them from us. There have been many times I wish I hadn’t stumbled upon a student Twitter or Facebook post, but I have. These experiences, which included foul language, cyberbullying, and basic immaturity, have only reinforced to me that digital citizenship needs to be taught in our schools as early as possible.

3. Educate yourself on the basics. What does Digital Citizenship mean to you? What should it mean? These are important lessons that students can research on their own. However, wouldn’t it be fantastic to offer some of this education in our schools as well?

4. Create a profile that says simple, non-specific details about yourself, but that is still identifiably you. Ultimately, we are all personally responsible for our digital reputation, but many of our students, and quite frankly many adults, don’t know how to accomplish this important task.

5. Create separate accounts so you can consistently remain positive in public online spaces. If you have already developed a full identity online, you don’t necessarily need to “scrub it clean”, but it would make sense to create a professional identity, and limit the amount of personal information you share publicly. Increase your privacy settings on all of your personal information, and publicly share all the wonderful things you are contributing to the world.

6. Learn from others. Find teenagers, professionals, or reputation resources that are doing things the right way and model your online presence in a similar manner. Read the survey’s that have been conducted and make informative decisions on what personal material is appropriate to share publicly, and what is not.

7. Keep private information private. Have you heard the saying the “Internet is forever?” You may think you can easily hit delete, and what you sent goes away. But it truly doesn’t. Be aware and learn why the Internet is permanent.

8. The Golden Rule. Never has this rule applied more than to how you speak to others online. What are you truly accomplishing by saying things behind the veil of a computer screen, that you would never say to someone in person? Treat others, as you would like to be treated. Simply put, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Remember, you can’t truly delete when you SEND.

9. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. But be mindful that being careless, too open, or too trusting, or spending too much time on the Internet, has real consequences.

10. Build your own positive image and brand yourself in a great way. Say “iAm” to the world. I created a wonderful lesson for my class by asking them who they are as people, not as students. I then asked them to create a short video to show me who they are. It was a great success and I learned a lot about my students in a very positive way.

I hope you will find this information helpful. I would love to hear your feedback in the comments section.

Good luck!


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