Just like Hansel and Gretel, we always leave trail, especially when we are online. The question becomes – Is that always a bad thing? I do want people to be able to find me and see what I am up to when looking for a job or building a professional network. According to careerbuilder.com, 70% of employers search social media during the hiring process. On the other hand, I don’t want people to know what I did that one time at the beach. When using the internet, it is important to be aware of which sites are or are not keeping your information. Depending on how private or concerned you are about your footprint, there are many other sites that can replace commonly used ones.

What is a digital footprint and why should we care. Wikipedia defines digital footprint as.

A passive digital footprint is created when data is collected without the owner knowing, whereas active digital footprints are created when personal data is released deliberately by a user for the purpose of sharing information about oneself by means of websites or social media.

It is important to build a positive footprint to show what kind of person we are and the good work we are doing. Isn’t building a network and footprint an a core tenet of COETAIL? The idea of creating an image and branding yourself was part of the first readings. As we all discussed in our lost blog post, most apps and things we use online track what we are doing. The most recent Facebook privacy scandal has brought to light how much data we leave behind and how clear our digital footprint is. It takes active management on the user’s part to reduce one’s negative and build a positive footprint. We can manage our footprint by being thoughtful about what we post online, be it social media, blog comments or or anything else associated with our name and/or image. For example, I will occasionally go through my Facebook photos and untag myself from ones I no longer want to be associated with, or delete them if I have posted them myself. I know that even if I untag myself that the photo still exists on Facebook, but at least my name is no longer connected to the photo. Luckily none have been offensive enough that I would need to contact the poster to ask to take it down. It is important to ask yourself the question – Do I want to see this photo/comment again in ten years? It boggles my mind that people still do things like this, such as posting offensive tweets, especially while running for office. This Maine politician was forced to drop out of the election after posting offensive tweets. He was running unopposed so he lost the election to himself because of his digital footprint.

I am not sure if it is a good or bad thing that when I Googled myself while researching for this post, besides Facebook, which I am on but could not find myself among the 5 pages of Brian Kaspers. There was even a different Brian Kasper in the town I grew up in, sadly we have never met. It would be cool though. I was not on the first 11 pages of the Google search either. There are many Brian Kaspers doing interesting things – a couple of PhDs, a few athletes, some business owners, and a couple obituaries. None of these things will help me stand out from the crowd when I am applying for a new job and the director Googles me. Sure, things I don’t want shown are hidden, but so are all the good things.  

Building a footprint to get a job is a good thing. Instead of just submitting a normal paper CV, I plan to recreate mine using some form of social media like flikr or perhaps designing an infographic CV. I need to make myself more marketable it is important that I can be found when someone searches my name. That is the purpose and benefit of a strong PLN, people begin to notice what I am doing in the classroom and what kind of person I am.

What do I believe in? What do I feel is important? I retweeted this article from @msrumphius. Even though I believe that all people are equal and should be respected, I paused before sharing it. By retweeting this article, I am planting my flag and stating to the world that this is what I believe. In regards to digital footprint, what happens if someone finds this post and doesn’t agree with it? How will that affect me if a principal or HR person doesn’t agree? Would it cost me the job? I wouldn’t want to work at a school like that anyway, so I guess it would work out for the best.  

When teaching students about digital footprints, it is important to be realistic and not simply try to scare them. The real reason we don’t want to leave a negative footprint is because in the future, posts could come back to haunt them. Being positive online should be the key to any digital footprint lesson. I know there are many digital footprint lesson examples that can found online, many of which use fear and scare tactics to get message of a digital footprint across. I don’t like lessons that use fear to teach a lesson.  I know I never learned through them. Positivity online goes along with positivity in the classroom. I work hard in my classroom to build a community of learners who respect not only each other as students but everyone who works in the school, from the cleaners to the director. The way we treat each other shows the world what kind of person we truly are. This is the message I try to get across to my students when teaching lessons about digital footprint.

At the beginning of the year, I cut out a large heart and the students sit in a circle as we pass around the heart. As students take it, they say out loud hurtful things that someone has said to them, and they fold the heart before passing it to the next student. When the heart gets back to me, I also take my turn before unfolding it for all then students to see. Of course the heart is covered with creases and can never be put flat again. The point is made that those hurtful things people say never truly go away. I find this lesson has a great impact on the students.  I am often surprised at some of the things that have been said to them. The heart stays on the wall all year so it can be referred to when students need a bit if a reminder to be nice to each other. In addition to linking this lesson to the creation of our classroom essential agreements, I emphasize it as they begin to use their laptops and Ipads in class.

A highly respected education advocate, Kevin Honeycutt, once asked me if any of us from our generation (GenX and before), had ever made a mistake in puberty. He then asked if our mistakes are “Googleable.”

The reality is that our mistakes from puberty are not “Googleable”. But our students’ mistakes are. “They’re on the record you see, ” Kevin continued, “so if they’re gonna do it (live online) anyway, I think it behooves us as educators to help our students shape and build a positive legacy.”

I like to use non-technology based lessons when first introducing a concept like digital footprint, as the concreteness of using the heart or glitter to show how things spread around seems to have more impact on the students. I have also used glitter in the past to show how an idea good or bad can be spread quickly.  I am sure you all know the glitter on the hands lesson used to show how germs are spread. I put glitter on one or two students and let them go about their day. At the end of the day we look around and see how much glitter is all over the room. We discuss how the glitter was spread by someone moving around touching things, and connect the idea to their digital footprint. How did that negative comment spread quickly and get everywhere? The glitter will normally still be found for a few days after, which makes it easy to point on that the mean thing they said online is still there. A digital footprint comes down to this simple idea. “How do you want to be known and remembered?”

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