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Do educators have a responsibility for developing students’ digital footprints?

I believe that educators have a responsibility to teach digital citizenship in schools. However, how students present their digital footprints online is out of teachers’ control for the most part. Can we influence what they might post in the future? Hopefully. But, most of our students already have a digital footprint. By digital footprint, I am referring to what information can be collected on any student by researching them in online databases. Students who enter kindergarten might even already have a digital footprint because their parents have been posting about them on social media for the first five years of their lives. By the time students reach middle school they have usually created at least one type of account whether it be on social media, video games, and most commonly, school email addresses.

Parents have a very large role in teaching their children about their digital footprint. Most commonly, they will be teaching this by example. Most children are growing up with parents who also have their own personal digital footprint and they are going to look to their parents as role models for what that might look like. Education for parents around digital footprints and our digital identities is crucial for our students understanding of it.

Many families don’t understand documents such as media release forms and digital contracts that are often used in schools. Parents must give permission to schools to post pictures and school work of their child on school platforms and public platforms. There is often a lack of understanding of what those documents actually mean. People can feel that their information is going to be given out or that their privacy isn’t going to be protected. They often feel forced to have a digital identity at school and in the workplace.

Growing up I was always made aware that what you post online will stay out there forever. Even if you think that you can delete it, that is not always the case. I believe that I learned that from both my parents and my teachers and I didn’t have formal digital citizenship education like students do now. I remember being in high school and always thinking to myself that my parents would kill me if I ever posted pictures or posts involving illegal activities, bullying or just inappropriate content for a teenager. But, I was probably one of the few kids who actually had my parents on Facebook. Maybe that was the way that my mom kept tabs on me haha. Then, in university, I was constantly being told by professors and instructors to keep my social media clean and private, because it could be used against me in a job interview in the future.

Teachers have very limited resources currently and it often feels like we are experiencing an uphill battle when it comes to teaching digital citizenship alongside parents. Through digital citizenship education, we can teach students to be more aware of their digital footprint and the impact that it can have on them. We can’t however be expected to develop, mould or shape their digital footprint for them.

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3 thoughts on “Do educators have a responsibility for developing students’ digital footprints?

  1. Kat, your explanations of how the digital footprints of our students are largely out of our control, and not to mention, probably not our responsibility, are well laid out and well argued. You make an important distinction between the influence we can have on our students and the actual shaping and changing of their digital footprint. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Kat! I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I thought the point brought up in the debate in regards to most children already having a digital footprint by the time they go to school was interesting. I had never thought of that before! This may lead to a tense situation when, later in life, the child gets older and sees what (perhaps) their parent(s) posted about them on the internet. I firmly agree with your sentiments that the parent must play a role in teaching their children about developing their digital footprint. Yet, I also believe teachers and schools have some responsibility. Schools must be responsive to the rapidly-changing society they are situated in; we have now become a technologically driven society and, as a result, the concept of digital footprint should be taught in school and, in turn, by teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

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