Two years ago I wrote an article for our school newsletter discussing the concept of a digital footprint and the implications of this for our children. At the time my daughter was eight years old and I used her online activities to highlight some examples. She just turned ten & I have been reflecting on what has changed over the two years? The answer: everything except the final sentence.
Below, the original article appears with my recent reflections interspersed in bold.
Whether we like it or not, we all have a digital footprint. Even those who are reading this and thinking, “I’m not on Facebook, I’ve never shopped on eBay and I don’t even want to know about Twitter” will have a digital footprint. You may be a ‘dinosaur’ in the digital age but you are still leaving tracks of information about yourself when you search the net, bank, text messages, borrow a book from a city council library or even read your school’s newsletter.
Reflection: Most of us accept now that just living in the 21st century incurs a digital footprint.
When we engage in any online activity, we are building a digital footprint. Let’s take my innocent eight year old daughter as an example. Last week she logged into her Reading Eggs account, recommended by her Year 2 teacher, she went onto the Beanie Kids website to look at the collection of toys she loves and to enter a competition, she read a chapter of Enid Blighton’s Naughtiest Girl in the School on my IPad and fed and groomed her pet pony in the My Horse game on my mobile phone. All fairly harmless but these activites paint a clear picture of who she is and what she is interested in and the databases collecting this information are building a profile of her and are already pushing information back. I received an email to activate her Reading Eggs account and a text message telling me that her horse, Tiffany, missed her. By the time she finishes school in ten years, her online activity and the information collected about her will have increased exponentially.
Reflection: The ten year old is involved in a much more sophisticated and connected digital environment than the eight year old was. She now uses Kik, Skype, FaceTime and Instagram. Some of her friends from school have been so present (digitally not physically) in our home at times that they have been part of our conversations and even arguments! Her choice of games has changed from My Pony to Clash of Clans in which the competition now is real people and she can and is connecting with strangers from across the globe. This has huge implications for us as parents and we have had to have many conversations about online behaviour and what is appropriate from her and from others.
As an educator, I believe these conversations are a great and wonderful thing. We discuss the rules and boundaries around being allowed to use these social media and gaming platforms and we talk about the dangers and consequences of types of posts and behaviours. Perhaps our most powerful conversations and learning experiences have come from the mistakes she has made or those made by her or her friends. One example was a creepy “chain letter” sent on Kik. Another was when she indiscriminately “liked” an inappropriate photo message on Instagram and in doing so spread the harm of that message to those who were following her.
A digital footprint is now unavoidable. This is articulated by educationalist, Will Richardson, who tells us:
It is a consequence of the new Web 2.0 world that these digital footprints—the online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know—are becoming increasingly woven into the fabric of almost every aspect of our lives. What we say today in our blogs and videos will persist long into the future and not simply end up in the paper recycling bin when we clean out our desks at the end of the year. What we say is copyable; others can take it, use it, or change it with ease, making our ability to edit content and comprehend the ethical use of the content we read even more crucial. The things we create are searchable to an extent never before imagined and will be viewed by all sorts of audiences, both intended and unintended.(Richardson, 2008)
Reflection: Will Richardson made this observation in 2008 and from our hindsight in 2013, his understanding of the digital environment proves his reputation as a leader in this field is well founded.
It is essential then that we teach our children to be aware of the information they are putting out there, to control that information and to leave a footprint that is positive and safe. This goes beyond having a good online reputation. When future employers Google her name, our daughter needs them to see a clever girl who has a sophisticated presence through what she publishes online, is well connected and makes astute decisions about who she associates with. When she applies for that job, she will need a qualification, an impressive résumé, good interpersonal skills and a smart outfit for the interview. She must also possess a digital footprint that enhances rather than betrays all the hard work she has done to get to this point.
Reflection: This conclusion is mostly true except we now know that our daughter’s qualifications and résumé will be online and her digital footprint will both prove her skills and qualifications and be fundamental to her employment opportunities.
Richardson, Will. “Footprints in a Digital Age.” Educational Leadership:Giving Students Ownership of Learning:Footprints in the Digital Age. 2008. ASCD. 31 July 2013 http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/Footprints-in-the-Digital-Age.aspx