Thursday, April 19, 2012

Taking the first step forward to a positive digital path, Day #10--building positive digital footprints

 Students are taught that their digital footprints are a breadcrumb trail for bullies and sexual predators and not "potential tools for learning, finding like-minded peers, and building reputations as thoughtful contributors to meaningful digital conversations," says Bill Ferriter in his April 2011 Digitally Speaking column, "Positive Digital Footprints."

As I listen to my aunt tell her precocious nine-year old daughter (who enjoys making movies about a variety of topics with the help of her little sister and iMovie) about the dangers of the Internet, I think about what she is NOT telling her. Rather than instilling a philosophy of fear, she should continue to support a nine-year old, who is already asking for her parents to reserve a domain name for her movie site, in a way that encourages her creative potential and instructs her on how to continue doing good right now. As a nine-year old, her digital footprint is full of Websites containing movies she has developed about topics that are significant to her. As a nine-year old, she has more significant work to her name than many adults. And, that needs to be encouraged.

We all agree that the digital world is a powerful place, but it is not necessarily an entirely negative place. It is the world we make it become. The Youtube sensation of "challenges" like the "am I pretty" videos encourage the predators to pounce. However, teens like Katy Butler show that the digital world is more than one full of predators, it is one full of people like her who devote it to creating positive change. Before even entering college, Katy caries a digital footprint that has enormous amounts of power. This is the kind of digital footprint educators need to support, encourage, and facilitate.

Blogging, social networks, online communities, professional learning networks, wikis, and online forums are all powerful media. That power does need to be managed, but isn't that what we teach students in all other platforms: responsibility? Unfortunately, we often avoid teaching citizenship on the Web and, instead, cast it off as a dangerous place where we should not enter alone. This is the world where we live. Do we want to set students free into a world where they have not received proper education?

Let's take the first step into making a positive digital footprint by looking at the following resources:

  • William Ferriter's article, Positive Digital Footprints, suggests taking a tiered approach to Internet safety  by giving all students basic instruction and targeting those most at-risk. He also recommends providing structured opportunities for students to do positive work online. Those who understand that you must act safe online and that the Internet is a place to do good, usually do not engage in the risky behaviors that fill the headlines. 
  • However, students must be aware that their footprints can do damage. Once they are aware, however, the focus must be on creating opportunities for them to do good. Lessons for teaching the power of the Internet include: Would you hire you and Your reputation can hurt your job search
  • CommonSense Media has a great curriculum for teaching digital citizenship and digital literacy for grades 6-8 available here. This can be adapted, however, to fit other grades.
  • Digital Citizenship Adventures offers an outline for bringing a digital citizenship curriculum into the curriculum along with citizenship guidelines. 
  • Career Builder provides a site on building a digital footprint you can be proud of. This is a great resource for high school and college students--even teachers! 
  • My Media Footprint, a site created by Terra Kirsch, offers links to tools like Voki that can create an active, positive digital footprint. 
  • The AASL blog has a good write-up on digital footprints and a listing of resources for classroom teachers. 
  • ISTE provides a page navigating the digital world. On the page, they list a variety of projects to engage students in that will promote positive digital footprints. This is a great place to begin! 
  • Edmodo even has an article from an eighth grade student and his work in creating positive digital footprints. 

Stay tuned for a wrap-up of the 10 days to building a positive digital footprint tomorrow. It starts with recognizing that the digital world has the potential for positive growth. Now, it needs to be taught and encouraged. 

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