“Teacher, help! Who am I?”
Debate 7 – Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint.
(Just a quick heads up – I went a bit off the rails with this one into some borderline philosophical territory. Happy reading if you wish to continue (: )
[Quick nod to the debaters for topic 7. You did a masterful job!]
It’s no question that technology and the internet have become central and integral to our lives. As stated in the agree team’s intro for this week’s topic, online spaces are real spaces. Increasingly, it is difficult to differentiate where offline spaces end and online spaces begin. They are so interconnected that untangling them is near impossible. I brought this point up in the open portion of the debate, and I’m going to take a moment here to elaborate on this.
If we can agree that a digital footprint is equivalent to an online identity, and if we replace “digital footprint” with “online identity” in the debate prompt, would it change a person’s perspective? Not yet? Keep reading.
Back to the statement that online spaces are real spaces. At this point in history, I would venture that most, if not all, of us would prioritize educating our children and students that their actions in online spaces are just as “real” as they are offline and have real-world implications and consequences (things that are written on or for digital media, images or videos that are posted and how one is conducting themselves in them, communicating with others in respectful and responsible ways, not sharing unnecessary or private information that the general public can access, etc.). Maybe a stretch, but I suggest going back to the debate prompt and now replacing “online” with “real”
Here’s where we’re at: Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a real identity.
Is it just me looking at this new prompt, which is generally saying the same thing as the original prompt, and having a more challenging time agreeing? Responsibility is a loaded word. Correct me if I’m wrong, but my responsibilities as a teacher, as set out in the Education Act, are well laid out here. I don’t see anything about a responsibility for identity development (or even a digital footprint) and in 10 years, even with guidance from administration and the division to implement digital citizenship teaching, helping students develop a digital footprint was not ever mentioned, to the best of my knowledge. Of course, some of the responsibilities outlined could be open to interpretation and possibly include digital footprint development, such as:
“Teachers are expected to use professional judgment in determining appropriate pedagogical activities to ensure that students have the opportunity to have a successful educational experience. To this end, no specific methodologies are prescribed.”
Some educators might look at this and think that a “successful educational experience” undoubtedly means including a specific focus on helping students develop a digital footprint. But many will use their “professional judgment” to focus on other areas or methods to foster a “successful educational experience”. I’m not sure it is fair for educators to be responsible for something that is open to interpretation and invites personalization.
As Kelly mentioned during the open portion of the debate, educators interpret curricular outcomes differently. Nicole also made a solid point about the overarching identity focus throughout the Saskatchewan Grade 6 Curriculum. Here are some of the relevant outcomes:
- CP6.10 – Create visual art works that express ideas about identity and how it is influenced (e.g., factors such as pop culture, cultural heritage, peer groups, personal and family interests, gender).
- CP6.11 – Investigate and use various visual art forms, images, and art-making processes to express ideas about identity.
- CR6.2 – Investigate and identify ways that the arts can express ideas about identity.
- CG6.1 – Investigate the influence of a positive self-image on one’s life.
- CC6.1 – Create various visual, multimedia, oral, and written texts that explore identity (e.g., Your Choices), social responsibility (e.g., Looking for Answers), and efficacy (e.g., Systems for Living).
- USC6.1 – Analyze the factors that influence the development of personal standards and identity, and determine the impact on healthy decision making (including cultural norms, societal norms, family values, peer pressures, mass media, traditional knowledge, white privilege, legacy of colonization, and heterosexual privilege).
- IN6.1 – Evaluate and represent personal beliefs and values by determining how culture and place influence them.
I’ve highlighted the actions the curriculum is asking that students are able to do (alongside a supportive teacher facilitating learning activities). I interpret the above as more investigative and creative than developmental when it comes to identity, wherever one is being developed.
I then ventured over to my school division’s website where I found a variety of resources that appear to be helpful in educating students about their own digital footprints. The selection is impressive and I was happy to find that these resources exist and are available to educators. However, as they are not specifically mandated to be taught, it becomes an optional teacher endeavor. Are teachers, then, failing at their professional responsibility if they choose not to help students develop a digital footprint? What if it doesn’t even cross their minds as it is their choice to seek out and implement?
If digital footprint development was mandated in the curriculum or by my school division, with clear guidelines and specific outcomes, of course it would be my job, my responsibility, to carry this out. As digital technology continues to grow and develop, I imagine that digital citizenship education will become a higher priority and even earn a spot in the curriculum. Digital footprint development probably wouldn’t be far behind. But as was brought up during several other debates, professional development opportunities and teacher education is a crucial piece in making this come to fruition. The argument was made in class that teachers do a variety of things as part of their craft that they are not adequately trained in; I can attest to this as I taught grade 7 French for a number of years and was absolutely not qualified to provide a quality program. However, I’d argue that business of identity development is a different ballgame altogether.
I don’t want this all to make me sound crusty and jaded or that I don’t really care about my students. I just feel like helping someone develop an identity (digital footprint, in our case) is quite a personal endeavor. A digital footprint is EVERYTHING someone does (and does not do) when using the internet. To play devil’s advocate against myself, I suppose I could help guide students in what rules I have in the classroom around permitted websites to access, conduct when communicating using online platforms, appropriate topics to research in search engines, and the like. But as Gertrude also mentioned during the debate, we can’t click and type for our students and ultimately have no idea what they are doing on the other side of the screen a lot of the time. How can I be responsible for something I have so little control over?
As an educator, my responsibility is to educate. To teach. To foster a safe environment for learning. I can do all of these things to the best of my ability, but this is where my reach ends. Even the most engaging lessons and elaborate activities might not lead to meaningful learning; students have to make this choice by engaging in it themselves. As a teacher, this is the part I can’t do. I can do my very best to facilitate learning, but that’s as far as I can go.
When it comes to a responsibility to help students develop a digital footprint, my reach extends to facilitating 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. Actually helping develop the footprint? The online (real) identity? That’s their responsibility, and maybe more importantly, their choice.
One thought on ““Teacher, help! Who am I?””
I am so impressed by your fantastic reflection here. Your final paragraph is meaningful and powerful. You are so right; teachers have the responsibility to encourage learning, but they don’t have the responsibility to develop identities.