Literacy · Technology in Education

Essential 21st Century Skill: Managing Digital Footprints

Understanding media, and being able to analyze and produce it has become an essential workplace and social skill for 21st century students. But how do we support them in navigating something that is changing so rapidly as it encroaches into every area of our lives?

Each school year, I try to focus on one ‘big’ media concept or skill in each of my classes; this year my senior groups will focus on crafting and developing a plan to maintain their digital footprints. We’ve know for years that our interactions with the Internet leave a trail, but only recently have come to understand how important it is to manage and craft this data.

As stated in the video, Digital Footprints: your new first impression , crafting a positive, personal digital footprint is something that could potentially impact a student’s relationships with family, friends and romantic partners, as well as education and employment prospects.

In the past, I’ve played a bit with the concept of the digital footprint, but focused more on examining what it was or ‘cleaning it up’. This year, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into this process and have students learn about the importance of digital footprints, evaluate their own digital trails, then work on not only cleaning up their digital footprint, but crafting it into something they are proud of and that reflects who they are.

Why is Crafting a Positive and Personal Digital Footprint Important?

  • Thanks to today’s digital society, it is often your first impression. Think about it when you first meet someone new….do you Google them?
  • It effects your relationships. If your digital footprint is fully of negativity, insults and arguments, aggressive opinions or inappropriate humour you will lose followers and friends alike. Moreover, your digital life could spill out into your physical life if your digital behaviour embarrasses or aggravates family, friends and romantic partners. Similarly, if an acquaintance or colleague meets you online due to a positive media presence you can just as easily develop new, fulfilling relationships as a result of a positive, personal and interesting digital footprint.
  • It can impact your educational options. The New York Times has recently published an article titled “The Loved your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets“. Enough said. Educational institutions are pretty tech savvy and in the competitive realm of post-secondary education, the digital footprint has become yet another tool to evaluate potential students.
  • It effects your employability. A current article in the Huffington Post cited that 80% of employers Google applicants before even offering them an interview. Moreover, many millennials are also finding employment due to their positive digital footprints, such as those mentioned in the article: “I Got A Job Through Social Media“.

How do you ‘craft’ a digital footprint?

  • Start at the end – think about what story you want in your ‘digital footprint’. What should it reflect about who you are, what’s important to you and what you want to accomplish in life?
  • Next, figure out what currently exists in your digital footprint- create a list of email addresses, social media applications and Google yourself. Analyze what is already out there and compare it to what you want to portray.
  • Cleaning up your footprint should follow. Remove images or posts that you feel don’t reflect who you are or what you want the world to see. If necessary, contact friends or other publishers to un-tag you or remove content that includes your name.
  • Then, work at adding to your digital footprint: include images that you love and are personally meaningful, produce and share data that reflects your personal values, and avoid online arguments and negativity.  Don’t forget to also tweak your privacy settings so that others can’t abuse your data.
  • The final step is ongoing – you need to maintain the positive and personal digital footprint you’ve worked hard at creating. Be vigilant about sharing and posting only what reflects the digital image you want to portray.

Resources to Support Teaching About and Creating Digital Footprints

Have you taught your students (or staff) about the importance of maintaining and crafting a positive digital footprint? Tell your story! Comment below:)







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