Photo Credit: ∆ zzg ∆ via Compfight cc
The digital footprint…a relatively modern phenomenon, the sum total of our contributions to and our usage of the internet, which is in itself a relatively permanent knowledge holding entity.
In this technology age, we teachers are in a bit of digital-footprint-pickle.
On one hand, we must create and cultivate digital footprints, as statistics show that potential employers now almost certainly examine the online presence of candidates. Digital footprints make our thinking visible, especially in terms of showing that we are thoughtful educators who care about learning and our students. Digital footprints express, even more than cover letters, CVs, and interviews how we think about education, the accomplishments of our students, and what sort of practices we might bring to a school. School recruiters are understandably more apt to take us on if they can see some of this professionalism online, in the form of our digital footprint, before they hire.
On the other hand, our digital footprints can work against us and prevent us from getting assignments at schools that we would like to work at. A negative digital footprint that paints us in a less positive or professional light, or lack of a digital footprint altogether, can cause recruiters to see us as less desirable candidates.
The main takeaway? We have got to manage these digital footprints, being sure that our uses and contributions to the internet, a device that never forgets, reflect us in the way we would like others to see us.
I have, for the most part, come to this realisation in a rather slow form of enlightenment. I know I for one did not think about how my wanderings and explorations of the internet, which began in 1995, could come to be a part of my public face when I began my digital life. Like many other people my age, I felt that the internet was a wonderful tool to learn about everything, including other people, in what seemed to be a quiet sort of anonymity. I also felt that it was a vehicle that offered many ways to express who I was to many different people. These perceptions become problematic when I think that until about ten years ago when I trained to be a teacher, entered graduate school, and began teaching in international schools, I did not see myself as a professional anything.
Reading Patrick Green’s lesson plan for upper high school entitled “Would you hire you?” and Henry Alan’s “How You’re Unknowingly Embarrassing Yourself Online (and How to Stop)” I began to feel a little concerned about my posts over history, and I reflected on them. I know I have never really published anything controversial in terms of public posts; however, Facebook could possibly be a problem for me if I were to run an analysis using Wordram|Alpha…mainly in showing the countries I have travelled in (developing countries, or countries that could be seen as countries on edge, countries that fall into war or have come out of war, countries with drug epidemics, etc.) I often laugh when I recall how various family members, based on my Facebook posts about visiting such countries as Ukraine and Guatemala, my living overseas for 16 years, and my various stages of proficiency with a few foreign languages, seriously concluded one year that I worked for the CIA. This seemed ridiculous to me, but I understood that my online evidence did not necessarily contradict this idea (to those not involved in the intelligence community).
I also thought about times when I have travelled with tech savvy friends and laughed at their serious requests of “Don’t post that [on Facebook]!” Once, an old friend, half laughing but half angry, asked while looking at ridiculous travel pictures of all of us over dinner on mixtures of our cameras and iPhones, “Is there not one single picture of me without a beer in my hand???!!!” Despite my laughter, I did hear the messages about privacy and public face in what they were saying. While I have occasionally posted pictures of craft or rare beers to prove my beer snobbery, a glass of rum and coke perched alone with the Caribbean Sea in the background to make a pirate connection, or pictures of friends in motorcycle gear with cans of beer in hands I had wisely, I thought, left myself out of these pictures.
In the past few years, I have become even more self-censoring, stopping myself from sending witty, but biting emails and refraining from making “controversial” posts about succumbing to frustration while doing reports. I have even started to curb my photographic travel posts on Facebook, an action which I have discussed extensively with the same tech savvy travelling friends; we have asked ourselves, “Do such posts just serve to make people jealous and hate us because we are somewhere “exotic” (even though it may simply be a country in which one of us currently resides and works) while they might indeed be at work in a snowy city). Despite this careful consideration of what I share on the internet, I still keep my Facebook at a relatively high privacy level and have done that from an early start.
I have tried to keep posts that show some creativity in terms of photography, an occasional drawing or two, blog posts with a sense of humour, and my musical interests/exploits/failures.
In general, I feel that over many years, my digital footprint has naturally evolved into a cyber representation of who I am that follows some basic guidelines offered by jalger in a post about teaching students to create positive digital footprints. In other words, I’m happy with it, but know I need to keep adding positive elements. My digital footprint indicates my personality a bit: I’m in awe of most people and places in the world, enthusiastic about most situations life throws at me, and generally mild mannered with a unique sense of humour. My blogs and Facebook posts show some creativity in terms of some art work and music situations that I get myself involved in, and some communication skills in that I can generally write cohesively and clearly, although a tad verbosely.
I need to keep adding professional blog posts detailing my teaching practices, Tweets related to education, EAL, and technology, and information about professional learning communities I belong to. In many ways, this COETAIL foray is helping me increase this professional aspect of my digital footprint.
Which brings me to the next issue. What if someone who was a teacher, and not just my tech savvy travelling buddies (although they have definitely prodded me along into the digital era), had advised me from the beginning of my digital existence to cultivate a certain positive and professional cyber presence? I imagine I would look much more attractive to potential employers, partners, or clients.
As a netizen, I began life at about 21 years of age, but I didn’t really make much in the way of contributions until about 32. Today’s students will potentially be connected to the internet almost their entire lives apart from a few screen-free months, depending on their socio-economic status. They can learn to create an overwhelmingly positive digital footprint that reflects their personalities, creativity, and interests. As teachers we can guide them to make good choices, explaining what makes these choices positive. We can set our students up with a history of good comments about their creations and guide them to make online reflections that make public their thinking and learning.
I’ll end this with a reply I made to Patrick Green’s blog post , “Would you hire you?“, even though the blog in general seems to be out of use now:
I’m a little slow on the uptake and I know I’m commenting on this post 3 years after you posted it, but I want to say that your lesson inspired me to ask myself the same questions that you asked your students, and has provided me with extra impetus to move my digital footprint from a neutral standing to a positive standing. I was introduced to your article while taking a COETAIL course and at the same time as reading “The Power of a Positive Digital Footprints for Students”. Both of these articles changed the way I had been teaching Grade 1 students how to interact in online communities in a unit introducing them to this method of communication. Instead of ONLY using usual “scare tactics” like “Posting mean things online will get you into a lot of trouble” or “How would you feel if someone said something rude to you online?” I also mentioned that it was important to say useful, constructive, and positive things online because of how employers, friends, schools, etc. would use “the online you” to understand what kind of person you are in the future. Good to start kids on the right foot(print) as they establish a digital identity. Thanks for the ideas!”