George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Important Are Students' Digital Footprints?

How Important Are Students' Digital Footprints?

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In an age where everything can be “Googled” and online privacy no longer exists, students have a whole new reputation at stake—their digital reputation, or their digital footprint. A digital footprintis any online information about a person that can be searched, shared, and seen by a large, invisible audience.

According to Educator’s Technology, “Managing one’s digital identity is a skill, so to speak, that we need to learn and teach our kids and students about. In a world digitally focused, the boundaries between the real and virtual are blurred.”

Students may not understand the implications of what is shared via social media, and parents and teachers need to be cognizant and start teaching students about the effects and how to manage their own digital footprints.

So how serious is this, really? In Tech Hub’s “10 Things Your Students Should Know About Their Digital Footprints,” the gravity is noted when it comes to college and job searching. “College admissions and employers do read your online profiles and they do make decisions based upon information they find out about you online. In fact, colleges will make decisions based upon many forms of questionable involvement.” In many cases, one questionable photo or post can change how the student is viewed, and then in turn, negatively affect their future.

It’s imperative that students understand how an online blemish can make a negative impact on their education and careers, and this learning must start in the classroom. Teachers should embrace social networks and incorporate best practice teachings into the curriculum.

Here are five steps to get started.

1.         Google it. Ask students to Google themselves to see what and who comes up when they type their name into a search engine. It should be clear that anyone—from parents to teachers can do this and find the same information

2.         Select a “safe” educational-focused social platform for students to learn responsible behavior in the classroom. GoEnnounce ( is an example of this. . Understanding digital citizenship on an educational platform will translate to their other social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

3.         Help students create an online “portfolio” to showcase their work, best accomplishments, and the things that they are most proud of. A portfolio will help students curate their own identity and show the things that are appropriate for sharing.

4.         Establish a “Golden Rule.” Ask students to ask themselves, “Is this something I’d be embarrassed about if my parents, teacher, or principal saw it?” before posting online. Students should know that everything they put into the “digital world” is public, and people that they don’t even know can see it.

5.         Help students learn that their online persona should reflect their offline persona. Ask students to create a short video, blog or slideshow about who they are—something that reflects their good qualities and the things they want the public to know about them.

If social media platforms are embraced in the classroom rather than ignored, students will learn responsible online behavior from the start, which will carry with them through their educational and professional careers. And as the world becomes more digitally focused, they will be better prepared for what’s to come, and pass this behavior on to future generations.


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Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I completely agree. When I was a technology specialist, I taught digital citizenship lessons to students starting in kindergarten.

I worry about your negative association piece with digital citizenship, because I see this a lot. We don't teach kids to be good citizens because they'll get in trouble, but because it's the right thing to do. Do I worry about the negative issues and talk about them with my students? Of course. But we need to frame this as general expectations for how to live, not as an avoidance of problems. That's a side benefit.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

Good point, Dan. Living online is as common now as face-to-face, and I much prefer the "how can we be successful" approach over "beware the bogeyman." But I do tell my kids that it's less a digital footprint and more a digital tattoo because it can be so hard to erase.

I think one of the best ways to help kids understand this is within the context of online learning. So we blog, participate in forums, and share work online. Every week there are opportunities to talk about and practice good digital citizenship.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

This is great! I think it's very important for students to understand the implications behind putting themselves out there in the digital space. I incorporated a digital portfolio and a blogging element in my first year college class this year. At first students didn't see the benefits of building a professional online persona, but now that we're working on it together most of them see the positive aspects. I was surprised at their reaction, but their reaction indicates that a discussion of their digital footprints or digital citizenship for that matter was lacking in their previous years of education.

Incorporating your suggestions at any grade level would really be beneficial for students, and in fact acts as a way of protecting their privacy through digital awareness.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Design/Broadcast Media teacher

I agree, Rusul. I don't think we (or our students) see the full benefits of online work until we are in the middle of it. I also found that online portfolios provided far more benefits than simply archiving their best work online. And rather than teach my 8th graders step-by-step how to set up their sites, I have learned that if I give them some general directions and then tell them to figure out the rest, they learn so much more! They can usually find a "help" option on whatever program they're using, and I teach them to use very simple search terms to Google for answers. So as they learn to create their portfolios, they also learn how to navigate sites, find answers and solve their own problems. Really valuable work! I blogged about our portfolio experiences here:

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