Our first YIS meeting in the Loft for COETAIL Course 2 focused on digital citizenship. I recently posted Digital Citizenship, Does Delete Mean Delete after my students created blogs, using Edublog, for the purpose of sharing their school life and work with family, teachers, and other students. When processing the information associated with a creating and maintaining a positive online presence, one can be intimidated in terms of what is appropriate online content and what is not. I recently commented on a fellow COETAILER’s blog that, as we all know, sometimes the spirit in which we write can be misinterpreted by our audience. I recall the odd emails that have enraged or offended their recipient unintentionally. Of course, some people simply will not agree with what I have to say. That’s all good if I have presented my opinion in a respectful manner. Our students need to internalize this early in their cyber experiences.
This question emerges: Am I empowering my students to build a positive online presence?
I took this question to school and my students and I “unpacked” it a bit this week. While we have done quite bit this year with digital citizenship, I wanted to get a better grasp of what my students’ ideas were about digital footprints and how they perceive their own. I created an anonymous survey using Google Docs and asked the students in each of my Language Arts/Social Studies block classes to complete it. 36 students participated and what I found was quite interesting.
I think the best definition of a digital footprint was “a reputation that you create while you are online.” Four responses alluded to the fact that a digital footprint is permanent and might affect the way others perceive you. Five responses indicated that it was important to have a positive digital image. However, most of the responses were some form of ” what you do when you go online.”
Another question on the survey was to list the top five behaviors for online activity. In looking at the responses, three categories emerged: online safety, cyber-bullying issues, and positive interactions. The majority of the responses had to do with withholding personal information as a safety precaution online. “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Don’t give out your name and phone number or email.” At least half of them referred to cyber-bulling in some way. “Never post something that could hurt someone’s feelings.” “Tell someone if you or your friend get bullied online.” Finally, most of my students listed at least one behavior regarding a positive online presence. “You should not post anything that you might regret later.” “Think before you post.” “Never post when you are angry.” “Think about your digital footprint.”
Are my students thinking about their digital footprints when they are online? I asked students to rate themselves on a scale from 1 (always) to 5 (never). In the responses , 15 students reported that they always think about it and 5 reported that they never or almost never think about it. 12 students responded with a “2”, indicating that they think about their digital footprint often while online. The remaining 4 responses were “3”, indicating that these students sometimes think about maintaining a positive digital presence.
So, what does all of this tell me? I believe the survey results are quite positive. In my school, with the structure and support that we have in place, students are receiving important instruction regarding digital citizenship. I work in a 1 to 1 laptop middle school environment and, besides the day-to-day instruction that naturally occurs around our units of study, we kicked off the year with a “laptop boot camp”, led by our facilitator of technology, that contained a digital citizenship component. In addition, we are weaving digital citizenship into our advisory periods several times over the course of the school year. My students are getting the exposure, at the very least, and most of them will rise to meet the expectation.
William Ferriter in a recent Educational Leadership article, “Positive Digital Footprints“, has some interesting ideas about how students view their own digital footprints and what we as teachers can do to help them create an online presence. I found it interesting, though not surprising, that many of the student definitions of “digital footprint”, that he reported on, indicated a level of fear on the student’s behalf. Unfortunately, a lot of education surrounding online behavior, acceptable use, etc. contains an over abundance of information regarding predatory and cyber-bullying behavior. These are certainly important issues to inform our students and children about, but Ferriter insists that we not make online citizenship focus on fear. I agree.
Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education has created an effective digital citizenship curriculum that focuses on safety and security, digital citizenship, and research/information literacy. It’s free and the lessons are detailed and geared toward specific age groups. I am finding this to be an outstanding resource. The following is a video from the first lesson of the “digital citizenship” section:
In summary, we as teachers and parents can empower our students to be responsible online citizens. It’s the life skills that are being taught every day. So, in the end, it comes down to this. The things we do to be good citizens offline and the things we do to be good citizens online are the same. It’s about good CITIZENSHIP and being the best you can be, whether it be in the physical or cyber world.
Digital Footprint Photo: www.amfventures.com/siteimages/homepage/digital-footprint.jpg