Footprints in the Concrete


Photo Credit: artolog via Compfight cc

The topic of debate 5 was, Openness and sharing in schools is unfair to our kids. Agree or disagree?The “Agree” team of Kelsie, Danielle, and Shannon began opening arguments by suggesting that digital footprints are like digital tattoos – once created, they leave a permanent mark. To reinforce this point they shared a TED Talk video – How to Think about Digital Tattoos. In the video,  Juan Enriquez questions, “What if Andy Warhol had it wrong?” Maybe instead of 15 minutes of fame, in our new digital world we are all destined for only 15 minutes of anonymity. The video painted a picture of advanced technologies such as facial recognition making it increasingly difficult to “hide” from anything these days.

The article, Does sharing photos of your children put them at risk? , supported the idea that we have the right to be forgotten, but that this is becoming ever more difficult in our “always on” society. The situation shared in the article provide a clear example of how smartphones have enabled people to quickly and easily post about anything. Unfortunately, because of this ease, people often post things without giving enough thought to what they are sharing. As teachers and parents, we must be careful about the type and the amount of information we are sharing, and we must be certain that the content we share about kids would be something they would want shared at a later date. The article also recognizes that short of posting nothing at all, there is no perfect protection. The group also shared a resource from the Peel Region School Board regarding Staff Guidelines for Social Media. Though most of the guidelines are (or at least should be) common sense, I think it is a very positive thing for school boards to be considering the potential advantages for social media use in the classroom, and for providing guidelines for integrating these tools into the classroom.

The “Disagree” team of Lisa, Haiming, and Stephanie, argued that we live in a sharing age, and that as teachers it is our responsibility to provide students with the opportunity to develop skills for positive online interactions. In their closing statement, the team compared sharing in schools to a house, and that we as teachers need to set a strong foundation for students to build upon.

The resource, Teacher, Take Care of your Digital Footprint reminds us, if you aren’t controlling who you are online, someone else will. Using Social Media in the Classroom stresses the importance of using digital tools to teach students. One potential benefit of tools such as blogs and digital portfolios is that it remains over time, and is something that students can use to track personal

In doing some of my own research I found a couple of other resources, including: 11 Tips for Students to Manage Their Digital Footprints; and Building and Keeping a Positive Digital Identity. Though I found these resources to be quite good, I question, are these tips enough? As teachers are we really allowing students enough control and ownership over their digital identity? In many cases, social media sites used in classes by teachers are accounts created by the teacher and ultimately controlled by them – with very little carry over into future years. A post from Audrey Watters (who will be a class guest for EC&I 830 June 14). titled, “The Web We Need to Give Students” suggests that while student privacy is very important, it is equally important to give students voice over deciding what to share online. Audrey contends, in most digital learning environments student work exists only inside of a Learning Management System (or blog) and cannot be accessed by the student after the course has concluded. She argues that students should be given the opportunity to develop a “personal cyberinfrastructure” which would enable them the agency and control over their learning, as well as their online identity. I am looking forward to hearing more on these thoughts later this month.

What are some of the thoughts of my classmates regarding this topic? Tyler Fehrenbach suggests that  if we want students to understand the concepts, we must allow them to experience them. This relates directly to Alec’s reference to driver training – we have students practice in real cars on real roads when learning to drive. Shouldn’t digital citizenship be taught in a similar way? Teachers uncomfortable unleashing students to the World Wide Web without any “practice” might consider Media Smart’s Passport to the Internet. This simulation tool provides students with the opportunity to practice critical thinking skills regarding online use in a safe and controlled environment. I have used it with students in Grades 4-8 successfully, and the conversations generated by some of the scenarios are very good learning opportunities for students.

Tyler also refers to a number of digital citizenship resources my colleague Leanne Forrest and I collaborated on for Regina Catholic Schools a few years back. One of the lessons we created as part of the resource package specifically concentrated on Our Digital Footprints. In the lesson we referenced a great video entitled “Digital Dossier” which brings into question a number of issues students face in regards to building their online identity.

Haiming Li reminds us that the divide between internet access exists for those in urban centers versus rural, which I agree is an issues and definitely creates inequity. I would argue that this divide of internet access exists within urban centers as well. My understanding is that with CommunityNet, not all schools receive the same connection service, in part due to the type of service entering the building. These differences in connection speeds definitely influence what teachers can do with technology in their schools, and in turn, how they can integrate digital learning into their teaching.

Erin Therrien recognizes that online activity leaves a footprint (good or bad), and that with tools like the Wayback Machine, these activities can have an impact on the digital footprint we leave online. This has me question, is it fair for teachers to “force” the development of a student’s online identity? In most circumstances, I feel it is a good thing, and a real benefit for the student. However, what about the student who, for any variety of reasons, does not produce online work of which they are particularly proud? Though I have been unable to find any examples during a quick internet search, I recall hearing of instances where students have been asked to create digital portfolios or blogs as a requirement for a class. These sites are sometimes managed and/or maintained by the classroom teacher. Does the student have the right to ask the teacher to remove this content at the completion of the class if that student does not feel it accurately portrays their desired online identity? Is it too late by that point anyways?

I feel that helping students understand and develop their online identity is a positive thing and is something which should be taking place in schools.  I will end where I began, with the title “Footprints in the Concrete”. As has been discussed at length this week, the online identities we are helping our students create are very much like footprints. However, unlike footprints left in sand (or snow) which eventually fade away, our digital footprint is much like those left in concrete: permanent.  We must keep this in mind when helping students forge their digital identity.



15 thoughts on “Footprints in the Concrete

  1. First off I love the “footprints in concrete” – so true. When we were kids in was footprints on the beach because they eventually were washed away – not any more. Second, love the resource you helped design – need to share it with more divisions. Lastly, I think we went to university together – what year did you graduate?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you trying to trick me into “oversharing”? Yeah, I was thinking the same thing when I saw your name as part of the class list. I graduated with a PE major 1n 1997. I am sure we had some classes together. Funny how life works, eh. Good luck as you finish up your final classes.


    2. I agree! This echos the idea of our digital identity being permanent and “concrete”! We need to accept this reality and start to take control of our identity in this online community, just as much as we do in offline communities.


  2. I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful post about sharing Dean! I agree with Tyler-The title you used is very creative and ties very nicely in how our digital footprints are permanent. Thank you for providing the links to the resources that Leanne and yourself collaborated on. I added the link into my favourites list so I can begin use it as a tool to help me continue to educate my students about being a positive digital citizen. I remember watching the Digital Dossier video before that your shared on your blog. It is an excellent video as it does a great job explaining how a digital dossier (digital footprint) begins and what it is. I think parents need to be educated about sharing! I do not think many parents realize how they are adding to their child’s digital footprint by sharing pictures and comments on various social media websites. Great post Dean!


      1. My husband and I do not have children yet, but I know that is an important topic to discuss as a family when we do. Yes they were very useful! I have added the links onto my computer so I do not forget about them.


      2. I find sometimes it’s not so much myself or husband that are sharing pictures or posting comments but other family members….that just aren’t aware of potential impact of sharing pics with names, etc.


  3. Great reflection. I appreciate the additional resources your posted! I feel very lucky to be with a division that is creating resources for teachers to use to build digital footprints with students. We also have a great support system to turn to. What do teachers do when they don’t have support in their division, or someone to ask when they have questions? Do you know if other divisions ever call and ask for PD or sharing of resources or do all divisions have a Digital Learning Consultant?


    1. I agree Lisa. Regina Catholic has strong Educational Technology supports in place, and a great IT team. I am not sure exactly of what exists in other divisions. I do know that Leanne collaborated with a number of school divisions at the provincial level when she was in the role of consultant.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great thoughts Dean. In my health class we talk at length about the perminancy of our digital selves. I agree that we can’t necessarily force the development of students’ online identities but we need to model the proper use of online sharing tools. Thanks for sharing.


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