Fear Off…Power ON!

About two years ago, my school quickly but thoughtfully put together a technology Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for our elementary students. It was a very good call. A case of suspected password theft and near cyberbullying had arisen, and our administration and Tech Coach realised that we had to have school community members read and sign a document immediately that could begin to shape the online behaviour of our students.

In reviewing this document a few weeks ago, ISPP Tech Coach Matthew Dolmont, Grade 2 Teacher Shane Gower, and I noticed that some aspects of this AUP seem to reflect fears about students’ use of internet and how this usage can put them in touch with predatory strangers. In hindsight, it also is clear that this document was written in response to the two previously mentioned issues of password theft and cyberbullying. It is therefore a bit negative and a bit authoritarian with some “thou shalt not” sort of commanding language. Additionally, the tone of the document is rather official and is likely challenging for students and parents to understand, especially those for whom English is an additional language.

In light of studies that suggest fears surrounding students’ internet usage may be slightly unfounded, and wanting to encourage students to use technology to its maximum potential, we set out to create a more motivational document, one that could inspire younger students. As we all teach in International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) schools, we decided to draft an AUP based on the IB Learner Profile with a smattering of PYP Attitudes.

We also wanted to make sure that technology standards and ideals were incorporated in the document so we inquired into the PLAY (Participatory Learning and You) wiki guide to new media literacies, the ISTE standards for students, and many of the core ideas behind the Common Sense Digital Citizenship curriculum. We also wanted ideas from current principals and tech directors, so Shane Gower interviewed his head, while Matt Dolmont interviewed the ISPP Technology Director, Chelsea Woods. We wanted what Jeff Utecht has referred to as an “EUP – Empowered Use Policy”. We wanted a usage policy that would imply digital citizenship (or be explicit about it at times) but would also give kids a road map about how to use technology to make connections, learn whatever they desired, and be creative. Matt was also able to use his experience as an Educational Technology Coach to add great insights into what the kids needed to understand as good digital citizens. We also wanted to incorporate an acronym already in use at both schools. RESPECT, but modified it to be more in line with our philosophy of empowering our students.

In terms of planning and collaborating, we used a shared Google Doc and the comments features to add revisions, make notes, and have lasting conversations at any time of day and night that we could reflect back upon. This allowed us to collaborate in and out of school and across countries.  We also used Twitter direct replies to communicate in quick bursts…often to alert the others that we had just posted an email or edited a document. Matt then took all the information we planned together and whipped up a very professional looking Piktochart graphic.

What might we have done differently? In the future, perhaps we need to get the input of students on this document. Perhaps we might create a new document with the students every year.

Where do we have to go now? We need to develop lessons related to different segments of our EUP and connect them to units of inquiry throughout our program of inquiry at our schools. We want to look at assignments and design an assessment tool for how to measure whether kids are really taking on these Empowered Use principles. Perhaps we just need a checklist…every time we witness students demonstrating one of these behaviours or understandings we make a tally mark. We can look back on this tally sheet every couple of months and decide what we need to explicitly teach. At some point too, after students have learned each attribute of the EUP, we need to have an Empowered Use document they can sign like our old AUP…or perhaps we can have them develop Digital Citizenship portfolios that include evidence of how they have demonstrated, in their own opinion, each of these attributes.

PYP EUP

Tips for Educating Empowered Digital Citizens

A few weeks ago, I was made to understand that “a good [person] is a sentence” (Boothe Luce via Daniel Pink via Lisa Nielsen). While I’m still developing my sentence, this week it might run something like this: “J.Banules made people feel like they could DO IT!” In other words, I would hope that in general I empower people rather than cause them to diminish.

As educators, we have the power to help all our students realize their full potential to affect our world; part of realizing this potential is developing proficiencies with various communication tools, including the internet, apps, and mobile devices

How can we encourage growth in our students’ understanding and use of technology?

A good place to start is to help kids learn about and recognize the history and ethos behind the development of the internet. In the somewhat strangely titled 20 Things I Learned About the Internet, the Google Chrome Team for example begins this history in the year 1974 with the development of TCP/IP, a protocol that allowed computers to send and receive information from other computers. Students should know that communication and sharing were fundamental principles that the web was built upon and that the internet as we know it grew as more computers, and therefore users, became connected. When we plan for collaboration in our classrooms and discuss appropriate ways of sharing, attributing, remixing and mashing up, we are really setting our students up to use ideas from AND contribute ideas to the public domain.

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Photo Credit: Régis Gaidot via Compfight cc

Our students, many of them never having known an internet-less world, also need to comprehend the massive and profound effects that this sharing and communication potential have had on our species and our learning. In Small Pieces Loosely Joined, David Weinberger describes how the web as we know it allows us to connect to almost every other person on the planet in ways that our ancestors could have never expected or imagined. He suggests that such an innovation has conceptually removed many of the limits imposed upon us by geography, our physical makeup of matter and atoms, and even death itself. Who we know and share with is no longer constrained by where we live or where we have time to go. Our ideas and learning exist simultaneously in an ever growing number of places. Contributions we make online will persist, even after we cease to exist in this world, as long as the billions of computers, devices, and structural components that make up the internet continue to flicker in the background. When students understand this incredible reality, if they do not intuit it automatically, surely it can only empower them in their own learning.

To bolster in our students this sense of efficacy, this capability to learn from other people no matter where they are on Earth (or elsewhere), we can discuss (and demonstrate) the relative possibility of connecting that Albert-Laszlo Barabasi discusses in The Third Link: Six Degrees of Separation. For instance, we can help students: make Twitter contact with their favorite authors; read the blogs and websites of experts on topics of interest; and join forums of other learners who are perfecting certain skills, such as Minecraft wizardry. Experiences like this can help our students realize that the people they want to know, and the information they want are closer than they might think.

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Photo Credit: Global Water Partnership – a water secure world via Compfight cc

However, in order for students to fully utilize this connectivity to maximize their own learning, they need to develop research skills, particularly how to search for information online. Tasha Bergson-Michelson, in Building Good Search Skills: What Students Need to Know asserts that students need to undergo research challenges facilitated and guided by teachers in an inquiry based process. This must involve becoming familiar with where to find primary source material on the internet as well as distinguishing which search tools are useful. Students can learn to make lists of possible research tools, deciding whether each item on the list is “trash or treasure”, the same as we teach them to do with notes they collect during research. As teachers, however, we need to make explicit the value of new media sources of information, such as blog posts, Wikipedia entries, and posted images; traditionally, teachers have taught students that these sources were not reliable and thereby unacceptable.

Bergson-Michelson’s suggestions as to how to teach searching parallel models of the inquiry cycle as conceived by pedagogical thinkers like Kath Murdoch. Murdoch suggests that all inquiry should begin with a “tuning in” phase, in which students prepare to find information on a topic and ask questions. Bergson-Michelson suggest that before an internet search, students should be asking: “When I run this search, what do I expect to appear? When I find this answer, what do I expect it to look like? When I click this link, what do I expect I will see?” She then describes how internet based research should be broken into an inquiry phase in which students use the internet to freely explore a broad topic and conduct a literature review of a narrower segment of the topic. They should predict what the results of an internet search will be and reflect on their own choices of links. During this literature review, students should seek out authoritative sources of information, including experts, on chosen topics. This connects to Murdoch’s “finding out” stage of the inquiry cycle, in which students actively seek information of interest. Bergson-Michelson describes how researching using the internet should then involve gathering evidence from hopefully primary sources to support new conclusions. This echoes the “sorting out”, “going further”, and “drawing conclusions” phases of Murdoch’s inquiry cycle in which learners analyze information they have found, search for more information to satisfy hunches, and ultimately synthesize new ideas and conclusions that builds upon information they have found.

Most importantly, however, as we teach our students to navigate the internet we must allow them to take control of the technological tools available to them. Kids see, they hear, and they think. The worldwide web gives them a forum to express their often less socially encumbered or inhibited perspectives in ways that may surprise, anger, annoy, or hearten others. As educators, we must never try to silence or ban students from technology and the power of this connection just because they might write things that “embarrass some adults” as in the case of Martha Payne, a Scottish elementary student who started a blog about her dismal school dinners. Through her posts, Martha connected with school children around the world who also discussed their own school dinners. This discussion helped to raise awareness of the paucity of nutrition in the school dinners of a developed nation like the UK, and the lack of food security for millions of children. Although Martha’s blog caused a great deal of aches for the head of her school, it served as a tool that eventually helped raise awareness of hunger and funds for tens of thousands of childrens’ daily school dinners worldwide. Her freedom to post and share her developing ideas and her growing proficiency with blogging and web tools allowed her to connect at a deep level with other netizens about an extremely important issue.

If, as educators we get this drive towards digital citizenship and empowered usage right, we are hopefully equipping future generations to use technology in similarly previously-inconceivable ways to increase the common good.

Who Steers the Digital Citizenship?

 

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By KAB2013 – Photograph taken during Globaloria class in 2013.
Previously published: https://www.flickr.com/photos/globaloria/8450545513/sizes/m/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40943399

“Who should teach students to be great citizens?”

Answer this and you have also answered the question: “Who should teach students to be great digital citizens?”

It should be all teachers’ jobs to teach digital citizenship. As specialist and homeroom teachers alike, we all ask students to get online, use technology, bring iPads to class, add reflections to blogs, post videos, upload images, work on collaborative tasks, and more.  Also, we know that students are spending a huge amount of time online at all times…As we all teach the whole child, the teaching of digital citizenship has graduated from being strictly the domain and responsibility of our IT teachers and Ed Tech coaches.

Parents also need to be on board, as Mike Ribble from ISTE states in Passport to Digital Citizenship, in order to repair “disconnects” between what is happening and expected in schools and what is happening and/or allowed at home. As the concept of digital citizenship is so new, many parents might be unfamiliar with its intricacies that go beyond cyberbullying and internet porn/predators fears.

All adults in the lives of our students need to have conversations with them before issues arise in the classroom and online. We can’t wait for negative incidents to happen, either between students in our classes and schools or at a more national/international level as in these tragic cases of cyberbullying induced suicide. We must be vigilant and proactive as digital citizens, mentors, and teachers and make sure that our students know they can approach us with any concerns related to breaches of our, hopefully, Empowering Use Policies in our schools (and homes). The minute students start getting online and using technology independently or guided, we need to teach.

From a very foundational approach, teachers and parents need to recognize, as Marylin Price Mitchell reminds us in Creating a Culture of Integrity in the Classroom (or out of one) that digital citizenship begins with instilling students and all people with these five values: responsibility, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and honesty. Additionally, she recommends being explicit about academic integrity expectations and making students aware that grades are not the only marks of achievement that count in the classroom. We must reward hard work, real inquiry skills, and going through the steps of the learning cycle with enthusiasm.

Cynde Reneau in A new twist on cyberbullying also looks at the notion of how we as teachers can teach digital citizenship as the best defense against cyberbullying. Related to what Mitchell discussed, Reneau states that teachers must teach students to understand consequences of online actions and posts and to have strong identities that allow them to resist identities others might seek to impose on them.

However, I think the most important element that she mentions is empathy. It makes sense; we teach our students everyday to think about how peers in the classroom and on the playground might feel. When we teach children from an early age to be mindful that the creator of the words and the pictures of an online profile is actually a person with a heart and feelings just like them, it will be more natural for them to behave as citizens of a city might behave in a public venue.

In fact, from the start, we need to teach students that nothing less, in terms of principles, respect, tolerance, appreciation, and integrity is expected of them online than offline. We can do this through modelling, ideally by teaching students how to comment and post with respect.

Photo by author
Photo by author

I believe we are taking this teaching very seriously. For example, at my school last year, our principal called all students into important meetings to discuss cyberbullying, appropriate use of technology, and password protection after just one incident of email fraud was discovered amongst our students. We applauded her seizing of such a teachable moment. Furthermore students have signed technology agreements, we are redoing our Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), and are planning how to actually teach students parts of it from the beginning of the year. We are drafting a more positive version of our AUP, hoping that principles and the ethos behind it will guide our first generation of digital-native-citizens far beyond their digital experiences at our school.

Teaching Copyright Laws in a Land that Copyright Forgot?

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Karen Arnold CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

I have been wondering this week about what it means to be creative, where ideas come from, who ideas belong to, the purposes of sharing, copyright and patent laws, the infinitely profitable U.S. litigation system, and poverty. I have also been struggling to connect my understanding of each of these items in order to develop a cohesive opinion about what is “right” in the world of media sharing. I need to do this so that I can teach my young students to be ethical and principled digital citizens.

Whole Lotta (Illegal) Sharin’ Goin’ On…

For most of the past two decades, I have lived and taught in Thailand and Cambodia, two countries somewhat well known for copyright infringement. In searching “piracy AND Cambodia” or “piracy AND Thailand” the following headlines immediately pop up: Piracy Cramps Cambodian Creativity, Thailand Still Stuck On US Piracy List, and Intellectual Property Prosecution in Thailand. Indeed, while walking the streets of Bangkok or Phnom Penh one can easily see shops and stalls lined with pirated CDs and DVDs that entice music lovers and film buffs from around the world, including Cambodia and Thailand, with offers of cheap, current, and extensive global and local media collections. I have to assume that behind this very visible exterior of blatant copyright violation for profit, there is a much larger network of peer to peer file sharing going on, just like there is even in countries that have more efficient executive and judicial systems.

Now, some of this intellectual property piracy, especially that involving selling copied CDs and DVDs, can be partially explained by extreme and grinding poverty that faces many Cambodian people, for example, including producers and consumers of pirated goods. The average monthly salary of most Cambodians is between about $70 – $120. This cold hard fact effectively eliminates the possibility of a majority of local people paying the $14 or $15 that a legitimate CD or DVD made in developed countries might carry.  Simply put, would-be consumers do not have enough money to buy real media, and sellers of media have a high incentive to make cheap copies of films and music to either sell to local people or to Cambodia’s high number of expatriate residents. Combine this with low enforcement of intellectual property laws that DO exist in the country, few economic opportunities, a lack of understanding amongst Cambodians of issues surrounding copyright infringement, and a disregard for copyright laws that would be enforced in their home countries on the part of foreign residents, one can understand why sellers of pirated goods take the risk of an occasional police crackdown to continue their businesses. (For a more detailed version of the situation, read Cambodia Lags in Fight Against Intellectual Property Piracy by George Styllis.)

Cultivating Sharing in the Public Domain

So what is our obligation to teach our students, both local and international, about international copyright laws in a country in which these laws are openly flouted?

Our obligation is larger, I believe, than it would be if our students were growing up in a country where we could expect the government, businesses, and lawyers to likewise have an agenda to enforce copyright laws and demand they be followed.

One reason for this is that even though intellectual property laws are not consistently enforced in Cambodia, the country is still a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization and has had laws on the books since 2003 obligating its government and citizens to respect international copyright laws and works protected under these laws. In teaching local and international students to respect copyright laws, we are doing no more than encouraging them to follow laws they technically are bound to follow by their governments.

However, what we really want our students to learn is the difference between the sharing and using of ideas, the transformation and combination of ideas that is creation as explored by Kirby Ferguson in Everything is a Remix, and copying, especially copying in order to make a profit. As sharing of information and ideas becomes easier and freer, students need to know that the former type of appropriation is a positive and constructive use of the sharing potential that technology provides us; they likewise need to come to understand that attempting to profit from merely copying protected work is a type of theft that deprives an entity of legal rights to make a profit from an idea that required resources to develop. This use of technology is purely individual, selfish, and does not add to the common good of a society. Such anti-sharing can indeed poison the waters of what should be a developing public domain, a rich pool of information, opuses, and ideas to be freely drawn from by all in a society. If people feel that they have no protection to develop and profit from ideas, if they feel that thieves may steal their ideas with impunity, they may have less motivation to nurture and share these ideas with the larger society.

Which brings us to the reason, the big picture, of why we need to teach all of our students in especially Cambodia, a country that does not have a great track record of enforcing international copyright laws, about international copyright law. In explicitly teaching and requiring students to respect copyright laws, in making them aware of the differences in how stealing and sharing look in the digital realm, in modelling how to attribute and give credit to our influences in our own creations, and in encouraging an expectance of acknowledgement by others through attribution, we may be fuelling the further development of a vibrant public domain here in Cambodia, such as one envisioned by early leaders of the USA when they signed into law the Patent and Copyright Acts of 1790. Like the USA then and today, Cambodia, a developing country that has grown rapidly out of its tragic past, has need of great ideas. Teaching our local and international students to uphold copyright laws, and to expect to profit from them within reason, is a major step in the building of a public domain that could be a source of solutions for the country’s issues.

In order to reduce the preachiness of this blog post, let me leave you with this. Cambodia also has a unique opportunity to perhaps learn from the mistakes of international copyright law; maybe it is also our obligation to warn our students against copyright trolls and patent trolls and to encourage the development of copyright law that reflects common sense.

 

Coming Back to Earth From Cyberspace

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By unknown artist (The American Cyclopædia, v. 10, 1879, p. 310.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In the past few weeks, I have undergone a bit of a phase shift.  During course 1 of our COETAIL journey, I got hyped up about the power and potential of making infinite connections with other learners through the development of personal learning networks on the internet. I learned about Siemen’s theory of connectivism and really began to buy into the idea that our networking abilities allow us to connect with a world of  learners, all of us benevolently wishing to learn from each other and share our knowledge. I began to see myself as a bit of a digital hippy – peace, love, and information exchange – these were concepts worth believing in.

Course 2 has tempered this open-minded, and rightfully enthusiastic optimism about the quantity of learning possible when we knowingly and actively connect and share with similar learners through blogs, communities, Twitter, curating of online resources, and hyperlinks, with a healthy dose of realism, even a smattering of pessimism.

There are others amongst us COETAIL explorers out here in cyberspace…others with more singular designs on the knowledge and experience we are sharing.

Our development of a digital footprint can provide information of interest to employers, who may accept or reject us based on the information they see. Although we have been learning to make this footprint as positive by collecting engaging followers, posting mindfully, and using privacy settings, I find it intimidating that there are sites out there like www.ratemyteachers.com where students, many of whom are just beginning to learn about digital citizenry and and how to manage their own online reputations, but who are not necessarily aware about or concerned with how information is shared with unknown parties, can actually rate their teachers and schools. From looking at grammar and reviews, it seems that there is no moderation of comments, many of which have a negative slant. I’m wondering how others teacher feel about this site? It reminds me of International Schools Review, but without the $28 subscription fee, making it much more accessible to students and administrators. This increased accessibility does not necessarily correspond with increased reliability and quality of the information gathered and offered by the service. How much are employers beginning to use this sort of information in their recruitment decisions?

Course 2 also has reminded me that in using and enjoying social media, we often provide information that companies profit from. In situations of relative freedom, like democratic governments, unregulated markets, and the internet, people will often naturally try to manipulate systems to their own advantages. In cyberspace, corporations further their advantages by using information given freely over the internet to figure out how they can sell us products and services.

Sinking into more paranoia, I reflect that just as legal corporations have access to our information so do individuals or conglomerates who might have more sinister, even criminal, intentions, in particular the use of our identities for monetary gain.

I did breathe a sigh of relief to learn that, contrary to popular opinion, there is a actually a miniscule portion of the internet community who seek to exploit others, especially children, for more nefarious purposes than monetary gain. For many years, “internet predators/pedophiles” were seen as a major danger to children online. It was interesting to learn that studies of legal data have shown that media have exaggerated the scope of this problem and that children have proven to be much more savvy in avoiding unwanted attention on internet forums.

From reading this week’s articles, I have come to think that larger privacy and security issues stem from how corporations and governments assume the right to gather, access, and use information that we willingly (or unwillingly – in which case we opt out of this information sharing) turn over.  We, and our students, indeed might be releasing this information while pursuing the development of our own personal learning networks.  To learn about MineCraft, for example, students might be divulging their interests, names, locations, and motivations to parties who may, in future years direct pointed advertising towards the students. When I want to learn about appropriate apps for EAL teaching, I might be giving information that allows companies to track my digital footprint and contributions online. I have observed that as I gain followers and make more posts on Twitter about technology and education, I get followed by accounts obviously controlled by corporations selling educational or social media related products. In scanning my followers for instance,  I see “The Social Intranet” (@soc_intranet) following me “whose” blurb reads “Turnkey modern social intranet for Microsoft Office 365. One Solution. One Subscription. One Tool.” or the more nebulous – and grammatically suspect – “Giveaway Hoverboard” account with a profile that reads “Join the campaign before it closed! Everyone should eligible to own one.”

I find that some players in this larger debate on internet privacy and safety are something like heroes, while others are like bullies, trying to use influence, tradition, or public security as excuses to make our information less secure and private. One only has to look at the recent Apple/FBI quandary to see a manifestation of this larger issue.

It is hard to say exactly where I stand on information privacy though. In general, I feel that I post little information that I would be worried about companies, potential employers, or strangers encountering in an internet search; on the other hand I realise I can easily become complacent about my information, or less mindful, especially when I shift between work and holiday modes of existence (an occupational reality of teaching). I DO worry about inadvertently getting wrapped up in situations where others have made my digital footprint negative through tagging me, mentioning me, or spreading derisive information about me.

I am much more fearful of identity theft from criminal elements piecing together information that I have shared in order to get information and services quickly. I find myself developing a growing awareness of the possibility of internet leeches sucking info from this puzzle of my willingly given online information. As real life leeches anesthetize skin before blood letting,  these digital leeches anesthetize my mind with diversion, utility, and efficiency before mining me for information. Sometimes, in my excitement about a new app that is going to serve every teaching need, I don’t think twice about submitting my birthdate and “secret” information for a password retrieval question in the event that I forget yet another password. Sometimes this utility means not having to register, by logging in under our Facebook or Google+ profiles,  for yet another service. Feeling a little sheepish here as I realise when I do this, I am selling out my friends as well; in accepting that an app will access my list of friends on Facebook, I am releasing some of their information, if nothing else the fact that they know me.

I know now there are certain steps that I have to take in order to be a bit more proactive about stemming this steady loss of information, especially on Facebook. I’ve got to start culling apps from my profile, a first round of which I did this week. I’ve also instructed my iPhone to never allow location services with Facebook and have resolved to check my privacy settings for my profile every few months. Don’t get me wrong…I think Facebook is an incredibly useful and entertaining app; however, I want to be a more mindful user in the future and stay a step ahead in the information game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contemplating Footprints

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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:

“Hi Patrick,

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!”