Putting Your Best Footprint Forward

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



Video:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2QpzIAPXXA


About Jamie

I am currently a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at The American School in Japan.
This entry was posted in COETAIL, Digital Citizenship and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Putting Your Best Footprint Forward

  1. Sean says:

    First of all Jamie, thanks for the comment on my blog. I was planning on adding more to the post later (and now have). I guess I should have saved it as a draft, eh? Anyway, thanks and now on to your good work. I found your use of a google survey inspired. What a great way to create your own authentic content. It was interesting to see the misperceptions that persist even when students have undertaken some study of the issues surrounding their online presence and safety online in general. The next paragraph’s reference to not giving out personal information and being cautious of potential reaction to posts shows a positive level of insight on the part of your students as do the other follow up observations you make about their responses to your survey. Never posting angry is something you, yourself, alluded to both here and in your comment on my blog. I use the gramma test myself when cautioning my students about what they post. “Would you want your gramma to know you said or did this? Then DON’T tell the innernet!”

    I attended a workshop at my previous school in which we were told of an incident in which a cyber-bully was put face-to-face with her victim and asked to read one of the hurtful text messages she had sent. The response was that, “I can’t say that!” (paraphrased) This struck me as an effective way of making the reality of hurtful digital communication real for students.

    The integration beyond the “ICT” lesson, so obviously apparent in your school, also sounds wonderful. Another school that ‘gets it’. The critical mass is coming. Thank you for the great links and the fantastic resource from Harvard on digital citizenship. All have been bookmarked for my own classroom use. Reading this post reminds me of just how much richer and more meaningful our online thoughts are when hyperlinked to more information and, more importantly perhaps, RESOURCES! Great stuff.

    Thanks for the thought provoking insights.

    • Jamie says:

      Thanks for your response, Sean, So sorry for jumping onto your post before you had completed it. The cyberbullying incident that you describe is such a great example of how kids sometimes are unaware of how hurtful inappropriate digital text can be. The fact that they they would not verbalize the text themselves is so powerful. Apparently this student had not used the “gramma test” before posting! I’m pleased that you find the Common Sense information helpful. It has been an important resource for me over the past months.

  2. Pingback: Course 2 Week 1 Reflection Including Commentary on Steven Anderson’s Taking Care Of Your Digital Self | Sean`s COETAIL Blog

  3. Viviane Van Esch says:

    Hi Jamie,

    Thank you for a great blog post on creating a positive digital footprint.
    I agree with Sean, that you have given us some great resources to teach digital citizenship.

    Your Google Doc survey for the kids was a great idea and I think genuinely reflects the current laize faire attitude toward what kids post on the Internet. However, I have noticed this attitude among adults as well. I am fairly certain that my adult peer group does not realize the consequences of having a digital footprint that is less than positive. It would be interesting to do the same survey with adults and compare the results!

    I had a conversation with a teacher from Germany last night discussing digital footprints. She told me that she is forbidden to have any type of social networking as a teacher. The concern is that the schools do not want students to find out about their teachers’ private lives. In fact, she said, if you insist on having a public blog or website, then it is likely going to impede your progress to advancing into positions of administration or achieving tenure status.

    It is not the first time I have heard this. Friends of mine in England are also forbidden from having Facebook, for example.

    Having heard this, it has made me re-evaluate the discussion at COETAIL last Tuesday. I am not sure if there are some cultural factors that need to be considered when contemplating the privacy issue and digital footprints.

    I liked you blog’s conclusion very much in that digital citizenship should be equated with being a good citizen in real life, in real time.

    Thank you again for a helpful and insightful post!


    • Jamie says:

      Thanks Viviane for your comments. I agree that many adults are not being as proactive as they can be when it comes to maintaining a positive online presence. Of course, your digital footprint is affected by what others post about you, which makes it all the more complex. I’ve never heard of any teachers being forbidden to participate in social networking sites. This conveys information to me regarding how that particular school views the use of technology in education. And I agree, cultural factors do play a role, but I don’t believe that you can effectively “forbid” anything. There are always ways to work around the establishment.

  4. Thanks for this fascinating post. I like the idea of asking students their responses in regards to online privacy using an anonymous format, particularly as it offers time for reflection. The age group of the students might also reveal contrasting responses; I teach both MS and HS and see some interesting differences in the way they both view and treat technology. Will you share your survey form and results with teachers of different sections of the school? How do we approach digital citizenship with different age groups?

    As a separate point regarding cyberbullying, I found Sean’s comment regarding the student cyberbully’s horrified reaction to her own words to be a powerful reminder of their impact. Whilst we focus on the impact of cyberbullying on students, it happens to adults too. I wonder what the cyberbully of Phil Hart, who blogged about his experience, would say to this post:


    • Jamie says:

      Thanks Madeleine for your comments. I have shared the results of the survey with my grade level. I have not shared with any other divisions, but it is a great idea. I was captivated by Phi Hart’s blog regarding his cyberbullying incident on Twitter. I’ve often been prompted to think that what our students are learning in their guidance lessons should be taught and reinforced among their teachers. As adults and teachers, we have expectations for civil behavior from our students, but we sometimes fail to meet that same expectation with one another.

  5. Reiko A says:

    Great to read your survey result (^_^)
    Your students already know importance of being responsible in their cyber world (^_^)

    I agree — knowing digital foot print, building a positive online presence concept, cyber-bulling, etc; those are the life skills that our students should know nowadays. Students need to know they should be responsible citizens whether in physical or online world.

    Thanks for sharing some digital citizenship curriculum site. I book marked them. I like your YouTube movie, too — relates to students daily life / good intro talking about the Creative Common marks.

  6. Kim Cofino says:

    So pleased to see your students are so aware! It sounds like your team is doing a great job of bringing digital citizenship into their awareness and understanding. I would love to see the survey, if you feel comfortable sharing – not the results, just the questions. It would be interesting to run something similar here at YIS and see where our students fit as well.

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