Debate #4: Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint

There are times when we’re discussing different issues, whether or not teachers have a role in helping with this or that, that I feel myself almost being weighed down by the growing list of expectations we have on top of teaching the curriculum. But with this particular issue, helping students develop a digital footprint, I feel like it’s something we have already started to take on. Part of our job is making connections with these kids, helping them to figure out who they are, what kind of people they want to be, how to be functioning, contributing members of society, and an intrinsic part of that now is helping them to understand how the things that they do online are part of their character building.

JR and Laura had the “agree” side of the debate, and brought up a number of points that I strongly agree with. The one source they discussed, Andrew Hedges “Digital Natives: Citizens of a Changing World Fostering Digital Citizenship in the Classroom”, looks at the responsibility teachers have in ensuring this is a part of our curriculum and practice. Our students are going to end up with a digital footprint, which has “implications unprecedented in society, particularly for youth. Giving children the tools and ethical code to make good choices is vital.” And as we like to talk so much about preparing our students for life after high school (in my case), isn’t it important to talk to them about how what they post now can affect future paths, should the college or university or business they are applying to may choose to Google search them and see what comes up? Hedges goes on to say that our young people may be tech savvy, but they are lacking in some common sense, at times, or can be unaware of some of the downfalls to having a digital presence. So it’s important that we are “building awareness of the potential dangers of the Internet and the permanence of one’s personal footprint” and teaching them to keep their current and selves safe.

Tammi Sisk and Richard Stegman go even further in “How to teach students to build a positive online identity”, saying that “Schools should explore ways to help students intentionally build a positive digital identity. Student portfolios, blogs, and other online tools provide avenues to assess learning while simultaneously allowing students to develop a positive online presence. Students can use these tools to showcase their learning while also highlighting their strengths and personality. Having a positive identity that represents their authentic self will be valuable when the student applies to college or for a job.” And while parents are an important component of teaching students to make wise decisions, educators can be a common denominator, when parents aren’t necessarily covering information at home. The ISTE, in their “Building and Keeping a Positive Digital Identity” publication, wrote that “one of the best ways to help students adopt behaviors to keep them safe when online is for the adults in their lives to model them.” So in the same way that we are modeling other concepts and behaviors, this just becomes another way of knowing that is incredibly important for us to include in our classrooms.

Now, I’m not saying that Jessica and Rahima didn’t also make some very good points. When Jessica was talking about some of the legal liabilities we might be opening ourselves up to when helping students develop a digital footprint, or how this just becomes another thing that teachers are expected to take on – and without any real formal training, when we really get into the nitty-gritty details – I heard that. Felt that. But I don’t see this as an initiative that is going to fade, or be replaced by the next new thing, like some of these extra additions to our plates seem to be. This is something that is going to be a part of our students’ lives for the foreseeable future, which means that we have a role to play in helping them negotiate how to best use technology, and present themselves in this format.

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