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How to teach students about their digital footprint

Students must know about their digital footprint and the consequences of online actions

digital-footprintTechnology is an integral part of teaching and learning in today’s classrooms. While educators are aware of privacy concerns surrounding students’ use of the internet and mobile devices, students don’t always have a good grasp of digital citizenship, and don’t necessarily know the consequences of their online actions.

The average young person ages 8-18 consumes 7.5 hours of media per day outside of school.

“Media is a huge part of kids’ lives, and we’re seeing amazing things in what it can do for learning,” said Kelly Mendoza, senior manager of professional development for Common Sense Media. “But there are privacy issues in what kids are sharing and leaving online.”

This is why it is especially important that students are aware of their digital footprint–the “trail” they leave online, made up of comments they make, images they post, and content they create.

(Next page: What should students do about their digital footprints?)

“Right now, we’re in this explosion of tablets and smart phones,” Mendoza said. “Kids are sharing information about themselves. They’re living in a culture of sharing–this is a big generational difference. The digital world encourages them to share, and they’re prompted to share–but there’s sharing and there’s over-sharing.”

Following a person’s digital footprint based on things they post online, images or tweets they like, or other online activity makes it incredibly easy to make judgments about that person, said Lisa Highfill, K-12 instructional technology coach for the Pleasanton Unified School District in California.

Even if online content is deleted, many internet users take screenshots of posts or images, so something is never truly “gone.”

It’s important for students to know that their online actions create that digital footprint, Highfill said.

“Is this the image that you want to have? Does that really reflect who you are?” she asked.

Highfill said it is important for adults to model positive online behavior and create their own positive digital footprints, because students will mimic what they see online.

“Instead of always focusing on the negative, I encourage you to start posting and focusing on solutions to this,” she said.

Anyone who is in front of or educating children today should know what a digital footprint is, should be able to teach students about their own actions and how they impact that student’s digital footprint, and should point students to resources about digital citizenship.

Some of the most important conversations about digital footprints and online behavior actually happen face-to-face, Highfill said. “That facetime is so important. Educate yourself on the conversations you should be having, and don’t assume that kids know this.”

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