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Digital footprint? Try digital tattoo, experts say

A digital tattoo, much like a body tattoo, has permanence, and online information is never truly gone

In digital citizenship education, the idea of a digital footprint—the “tracks” students leave behind online as they interact on social media and put information online—is nothing new.

But lately, the digital footprint is being replaced by the digital tattoo, to emphasize to students the idea that any information they put online is permanent, just like a tattoo. Even if they think they’ve deleted it, it could have been saved or screen-shotted by others, or saved by the app or platform they use to post it.

Check out this digital citizenship infographic, and other digital citizenship information, from ISTE. These resources from last year’s Digital Citizenship Week may help, too.

In Florida’s Gilchrist County School District, introduction to computers and proper use begins in prekindergarten classes. The district is 1:1 from 3rd grade, using laptop carts in grades 3-8 and assigning students take-home laptops beginning in 9th grade, says director of technology Aaron Wiley.

Sheriff’s deputies work as school resource officers (SROs) and conduct programs with students to drive home the idea that whatever students put online will remain there, no matter if they try to delete it or ignore it.

Once students reach 9th grade, and each year thereafter, the district conducts a digital citizenship and digital tattoo workshop for all students and parents. Students and parents rotate around stations in small groups to learn about the 1:1 program, including the digital tattoo they begin building once they become active online.

“What you put online reflects on you for years and years,” Wiley says. “Often, students have trouble with that concept. They see it as ‘here and gone’—if they delete something online, they think it’s gone. Once you get older, you realize it’s never gone.”

The district relies on keyword lists and filtering/monitoring tools, including Impero’s Education Pro and filtering software from Palo Alto Networks, to keep students safe and help them understand why certain information should not be shared online. Students sign an internet use agreement that outlines their responsibilities and details what they should and should not be posting online.

“When it comes to monitoring, we do direct intervention when we see students putting inappropriate or sensitive information online or into other programs,” Wiley says.

The district’s efforts have yielded some useful tips for other districts seeking to educate students about their own digital tattoos.

1. Communication is key

“Be aware of what the kids are interested in, and make sure they understand what their online actions mean,” he says. “Our SROs do a wonderful job of pulling up actual Facebook posts that illustrate how someone’s information is still out there and searchable.”

Communicating the “why” to students is important, too. Making sure they understand the different ways in which they create and leave a digital tattoo, and why they need to protect their information and online presence, may make them more likely to actually do so.

2. Parents should play a major role

Parents, caregivers, and guardians are a big part of helping students realize what a digital tattoo is.

“Technology is a wonderful thing, but there isn’t anything I can put on that laptop that’s going to watch a child as well a parent can,” Wiley says. “If a student can come to you when he or she is worried, that’s a big step. To try and get in front of [a privacy] problem, students have to be able to go to their parents.”

3. Find the right program and make it work for you

“There are a lot of monitoring and filtering programs out there,” Wiley says. “Find the one that works for you and does what you need it to do as easily as possible.”

4. Empower teachers

When the district first went 1:1, Wiley says one of its biggest complains from teachers was that students went off-task but had closed out certain browser tabs by the time teachers made it around the room. Monitoring and filtering tools give teachers the means to keep students on task and they remind students that everyone, from the administration down into the classroom, is enforcing safe and responsible internet use.

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Laura Ascione

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