Chris Betcher once said “In the future your digital footprint will carry far more weight than anything you might include on a resume”. For this reason, the initial thought for teachers and parents was to have their students avoid social media at all cost. Their reasoning (however unsound) was that if students were not on social media, there is no way they could post any offensive that would damage them in their future. The issue with this logic is that if students are blocked from making any digital footprint at all, how are they supposed to create a positive one? Rather than assuming students will make the wrong choice, why don’t we empower and educate them to make the right one?
Do as I say, AND as I do
One of the ways to develop a positive digital footprint for our students is to model one ourselves. In the article “Teachers, Take Care of your Digital Footprint”, Meredith Stewart states “it astounds me when teachers/professors only digital presense is Rate my Teacher/Profs page. If you aren’t controlling your footprint, others are.” Therefore, in order for teachers to control their individual digital footprint, they must be willing to embrace the social media age. The Peel District School Board recognized this fact and published a set of social media guidelines for their staff. Let’s examine a few of the highlights. The first key point is the separation of a teacher’s personal and professional Twitter account. However, this does not mean that teachers are free to say whatever they like on their personal profiles: “’Tweets are my own and don’t reflect my employer’s views’ don’t hold true for educators.” Therefore, teachers need to ensure they are keeping their posts positive and avoiding critical conversations online, with either of their accounts. One of the most important points in the guideline is that social media operates 24 hours a day, and “monitoring and replying at any time of the day or night sets up an expectation that you will always do so.” Teachers need to ensure there are clear boundaries when it is acceptable for students or parents to contact them on social media. Another option for teachers to protect their reputation is through the use of google alerts, which can alert you anytime your name is posted or discussed online. If teachers can begin to follow these steps when creating their social media accounts, then they will be on their way to creating a positive digital footprint.
Benefits of Sharing Student Work Online
Once teachers are comfortable in the social media space, they can encourage their students to share their best work online as well. This will help the students, because when a prospective school or employer searches their name, they are more likely to come across a beautiful painting, or well-written essay instead of an embarrassing Facebook post or Twitter picture. Janelle Bence states many of the benefits to sharing student work in the following link. One of the key points she makes is the benefit of submitting work that will be seen by a larger audience: “Authentic learning is not demonstrated by a worksheet that’s turned into a teacher… Real learning, however, is manifested in learner creations that are published for consumption by a wider audience.” She follows up stating “we see learners accepting different roles when sharing work in public space. They are advocates. They are philanthropists. They are critics. They are teachers and learners.” Both of these quotes point to the benefits that can be extracted from sharing student work online. As long as it is combined with student/parent permission and a clear understanding of what will be posted online and for how long, the benefits will be immeasurable. Students will work harder, knowing that their work will be in the public eye, and teachers can share the work, inspiring students and teachers around the world.
The final point to consider about student’s digital footprints is the embarrassing pictures that can be posted online. With social media sites, the pictures posted become the property of the website and they are free to do with them as they please. The article “Does sharing photos of your children on Facebook put them at risk?” examines a few of the risks associated with that. Some of the concerns raised by Linda Geddes in the article are valid, such as “one is the amount of information that you give away, which might include things like date of birth, place of birth, the child’s full name, or tagging of any photographs with a geographical location –anything that could be used by somebody who wanted to steal your child’s identity. While this is certainly a concern, the article also highlights some parents who have gone to the extreme to protect their children, such as the Webb family who before naming their daughter, “ran their preferred names through an array of domain and keyword searches, checking for similar names or other negative content.” As well, the family “took digital ownership of it so that by the time their daughter was born, she already had a registered URL, plus Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Githun accounts, all linked to a single email address.” Again, these parents may have gone too far in their protection methods, their desire to look after their daughter was understandable.
Dangers of Snapchat and Photo Sharing
What we as teachers and parents need to make our children aware of, are the photos on the Internet that they did not post. While Facebook or Twitter pictures require you to tag a friend in order for them to see, apps such as Snapchat base their existence on the privacy of any photos that are sent, because they are erased moments after they are viewed. However, what young tend to miss is that there is nothing stopping the recipient of your photo from taking a screenshot and sharing it with whomever they want. As this Fox News article states, deleted does not always mean deleted. “Also, last October, hackers got their hands on thousands of “deleted” Snapchat images that had been stored on third-party servers. While it wasn’t exactly a breach of Snapchat, it’s further proof that pictures don’t always disappear.” Another piece of evidence surrounding the dangers of Snapchat comes from this article, where the FBI says Snapchat may be making children vulnerable: “The Franklin County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force says the FBI is warning that pedophiles are instructing underage victims to download the Snapchat app so they can exchange explicit photos, under the false promise the photos will vanish.”
There are numerous articles to be read on this subject that point to the dangers of Snapchat for young people. But once again, I do not believe that Snapchat should be banned or avoided at all costs. Instead, it is another opportunity for us to make our students/children aware of the possible dangers and how to avoid them. These discussion are necessary to ensure that our students create a positive digital footprint that will help them in their futures.