Who Foots the Bill When it Comes to Developing Student Digital Footprints?

Who Foots the Bill When it Comes to Developing Student Digital Footprints?

Beautiful young family. Bare feet of father and daughter.

This week debaters in my EC&I 830 class asked us to decide whether it is the job of educators to help students craft their online footprint. Before weighing in, it’s important to examine what a digital footprint is. Rae and Funmilola from the agree side of the debate addressed this in their opening video explaining that it is “a trail left by all of your interactions online”. They further explain that this could include things like what you watch on television, your browser history, what you shop for, what you do on your smartphone, and the comments you post online. They argue that educators have a responsibility to provide students with the background knowledge needed to create and protect their online identity. As part of their argument, they explain that what students do and post online can have either a positive or negative impact on them and their future, as described in this video from The EdTech Show with Dan Spada. The argument being that formal education has a role in preparing students for their future and how they may be perceived online.

On the other hand, Gertrude and Kim of the disagree side have a different opinion on the matter altogether. Although they agree that having a positive digital footprint is a growing concern facing our youth, they believe this is an issue that is much too large to be placed on the laps of teachers and the education system. They explain that many students have already developed a digital footprint by the time they enter school, in their opening video here. Kim and Gertrude assert that as a society we need to hold “big tech” accountable in this situation. They provide this article for support written by Peter Lewis in The Guardian, which explains some of the ways “big tech” take advantage of their users by mining and selling their data without reproach.  

businessman working on digital diagram for program improvement, software developer work on digital improvement concept

So where do I side? Initially before the debate took place I sided with Rae and Funmilola on the agree side, but some excellent points were made by my peers during the debate and the ensuing discussion that made me reconsider this. During the breakout discussion, Colton explained that although he agreed with educators having a responsibility to pursue online safety and citizenship, but he questioned whether it was up to us to help them create their online identity. Upon reflection, Colton’s statement made sense to me. I think that presumably if we teach proper online etiquette, safety, and citizenship, students will have the tools and knowledge they need to create their own positive digital footprint. 

The lack of resources and teacher education in the area was also brought up during discussion, and this is indeed a distinct reality. Kari explained that we are just playing catch-up at the moment with our digital education, and I would certainly agree. I have often felt that I am floundering around on my own when trying to figure out what to teach for digital literacy,  and unsure what resources to use.  Additionally, as addressed in the discussion, the curriculum does not accurately reflect or support today’s use of technology. However, the point made by the disagree side that carried the most weight for me that teachers have the responsibility for far too much placed on them already, and this is an issue that is so vast and unexplored, that it simply cannot be the teacher’s responsibility. 

An illustration of a digital footprint with binary numbers on the background (3D rendering)

Enquiring minds want to know. Are you mindful of what your digital footprint looks like? Who do you think has responsibility in this matter? Do you agree with Kim that there needs to be a reckoning for “big-tech”? What do you think about the fact that there are no online privacy regulations that address children? Do you think that by providing instruction in digital literacy, digital citizenship, and digital leadership, that students will learn to be mindful and purposeful with their digital footprints? C’mon, spill the tea!

Spilled Tea on table

2 thoughts on “Who Foots the Bill When it Comes to Developing Student Digital Footprints?

  1. Hi Jessica,

    I, like you, definitely sided with the agree side at the onset of the debate. What I was thinking was that we should be teaching online etiquette, safety, and citizenship. But as the debate began to circle around the definition of a digital footprint, the word “responsibility” changed my mind. It became more than reviewing safe and responsible internet use.

    Christina (http://eci830.ca/author/christina-puscus/) wrote a lovely reflection on this debate, and in it she stated that her job as a teacher is to facilitate “an environment where students have access to knowledge about digital footprints, what they are, why they matter, what the consequences might be of a footprint that looks one way or the other, and some ideas or suggestions for how they could develop one that best reflects their identity.” Essentially, she can teach the information, but she should not be responsible for what the students choose to create. This aligns with Colton’s comment as well.

    Sometimes in these debates I feel like there is no exactly correct answer, and that we all are learning how to get it right alongside each other.

  2. Hi Jessica,

    I understand your concern that you are uncertain about what to teach students about digital literacy, and what resources to use. I feel there might need to be a systemic change in educating digital footprints to children. I agree with what you said that children probably already have a digital footprint before they come to school. Having a digital footprint and knowing how to build up a positive digital footprint are two different things. I feel they may already have one, but still need support and guidance on how to develop a digital footprint that would benefit their future employment. I feel the government and schools need to provide more training to teachers and provide more resources for teachers to use.


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