Monday, December 15, 2008

Digital Footprints

Is there anyway that we can disappear from the digital world once we are there? I say NO. No matter what we do on line, there are remnants of what we do somewhere, on some server that someone can access!

I try and teach my students and my teachers who work with them about the effects a digital footprint can have. Whether it is a picture we post, a comment we make, a file we send it is out there.

In my career the last week has been inundated with issues over what people are doing on line. Whether it is posting their full name, not making a social networking page private, or as bad as saying something mean or hurtful about another person. No matter which it is, all of these lapses in judgment can have far reaching implications. The one common factor among young people is the lack of understanding that they show about these implications. If you are a news junkie like myself you have even read how even our president elect's team is not immune! Here we can see how members of Obama's staff are impacted by their own digital footprint.

Will Richardson writes, "It's 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. In all likelihood, you, your school, your teachers, or your students are already being Googled on a regular basis, with information surfacing from news articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and Facebook groups. Some of it may be good, some may be bad, and most is beyond your control. Your personal footprint—and to some extent your school's—is most likely being written without you, thanks to the billions of us worldwide who now have our own printing presses and can publish what we want when we want to."

You might ask, what is a digital footprint. Defined simply, a digital footprint is the mark we leave on the digital world. The point we need to make with students is that there is no such thing as treading lightly. Once you step down you have left a permanent mark. You might have removed the footprint on your end, but someone else might have a copy, and someone might get a copy of their copy and so on. We need to make students aware of this permanence. On the flip side, we need to allow students to guide themselves through the digital age. Educational Leadership has a great article that addresses the issue of empowering students and the mark in the digital world they can and will make. According to Richardon, "On the surface, that's an unsettling thought—but it doesn't have to be. In fact, if we are willing to embrace the moment rather than recoil from it, we may find opportunities to empower students to learn deeply and continually in ways that we could scarcely have imagined just a decade ago." We as educators need to remember to embrace the moment and make sure that we prepare students for what they will encounter rather than to avoid what cannot be avoided any longer.

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