Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Positive Digital Footprints: Minding Your Own Business

We need to teach students to Google themselves on a regular basis.

Like it or not, the internet is changing not only the nature of privacy, but people's attitudes about privacy. A 2010 Pew study found that only 44% of 18-29 year olds actively manage/limit their online information, though that number goes up (65%) for those on social networking sites such as Facebook.

A Will Richardson post got me thinking about moving beyond just  teaching research skills, digital citizenship or cybersafety, and actually crafting  a program to guide students in actually building an online presence. With the advent of Web 2.0 (3.0!), there's an increased "pressure of participation." If potential schools or colleges do a search and not only find nothing negative, but don't examples of a creative online life, what does that say about the student?

Students are increasingly aware of the potential to be "Googled" by prospective colleges; many have taken to posting on Facebook and other sites under avatars or assumed names.  But I doubt many have considered actually trying to manage and build their own digital footprint. I don't think Middle School is too soon for students to be thinking about this, but definitely by 9th grade.

One 17 year old who is consciously developing her online image is Motzie, who started a blog for exactly this purpose.  As she states,
"I don’t claim to have an in-depth knowledge of the workings of the www, but I do understand that anything and everything you post or do on the internet is stored, in some form, and can be traced back to you... I am someone who is very conscious of the trail I leave online – this blog is in some ways an attempt to not only keep my footprint neutral, but even leave a positive impression. " (linked with permission). 

(btw: I'm hoping to have Motzie as guest blogger sometime in the next few weeks, discussing her views on how we can help students me more footprint-aware.)

So here are my thoughts--so far!--on what such a program would look like. 

1.  Raise Awareness  

First, get students thinking about their online life.  What activities do they engage in? With which communities do they connect? Is there any overlap?  How does the web enrich or limit their daily life? 
I ran across this great project from Luther Jackson Middle School, which obviously encourages students to think along these lines.  Have students do an ego search and think about the results.

2.  Self-Analysis
Have students do an ego-search.  What do they find?  What does it say (or not say) about them (i.e. what is their "brand")? What would a stranger think?  One potentially nifty tool (though I wasn't able to get it to work today) is this Graph IT facebook app, that makes both a Wordle-like or 3D cloud of your status updates. Great for giving an overall idea of how you come across online.  Here's mine... 

In addition, students should ponder what is in their control and what's not, and how to minimize "bad press." Tony Fish, who blogs about digital footprints for business, reminded me in the comments on my last post that  digital footprints consist of not only what you say about yourself, but also of what others say about you.  Unfortunately, we don't have much control of that. Students can, however, start thinking about just what sort of pictures they allow to be taken of themselves, and whether they really need 937 friends on Facebook.

In worse case scenarios, there's always the Web. 2.0 Suicide Machine, which claims it can wipe out your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles/feeds/updates.

3.  Action Plan

I read somewhere that if you're not taking control of your online presence, someone else will.  Students--we!--need to develop a specific plan for building a digital profile, considering
  • What information or traits would they like to have available?
  • What are the best tools for creating those...blogs? Uploaded videos/art/photographs?
  • Collaborative comments/posts on other sites. I'm always surprised when I do an ego-search, how many of my comments on Amazon, Ning,  and various news sites or blogs come up.  These are also venues for students to build their online profile.  

As Media Specialists, we also need to encourage teachers to embed these opportunities into their own lessons and assignments, as well as providing those opportunities for students ourselves. 

Please post any thoughts you have on additions to this, or anything you've done with students that helped raise their awareness.

Preview of Upcoming Attractions:  Today I was lucky enough to be able to talk with Michelle Luhtala, one of the winners of this year's AASL  School Library Program of the Year Award. Her school is just down the road from me, and she generously let me not only visit her library, but ask a volume of questions about her program.  I recorded a 20 minute interview with her, which I will transcribe and post sometime in the next several days.  She's an amazing  and energetic woman, who is doing a great job getting students excited about libraries and media.


  1. thanks for the link - also have posted a wordle of my digital footprint on my blog

  2. Wow, that Graph IT tool would be a great lesson for some teens who tend to use/overuse many inappropriate words in the status updates

    So true, we have to focus on the positive footprint !

  3. Thanks for the mention and link - would you mind if I linked to this post from my blog?

  4. Of course not, Motzie! Link away! : )