Dr. Christine Johns

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Leaving a Positive Digital Footprint

Our kids call it TMI – Too Much Information. It is a message they send to friends to show there are some things they just do not need to share.

It is the same message we need to send our students about the information they post in the digital world.

Just as our children leave foot imprints in the sand, they also leave an impression when they interact on their digital devices. However, unlike the footprints in sand, the impressions they leave in a digital world can stay with them long into their future. We call the concept digital footprinting.

Anyone sharing information through digital media needs to understand that they are sharing things about themselves to a broad audience. Just like adults, children need to be aware that what they write in a post is open to a wide audience and inappropriate use can have a long-term impact. Employers and even college admissions officers are using social media with greater frequency to review applicants.

Kaplan Test Prep, a national company that prepares students for college recruitment and tests, surveyed college admissions officers last year and found that over a quarter of them now use social media to check backgrounds of applicants (Kaplan Test Prep Survey Finds That College Admissions Officers’ Discovery of Online Material Damaging to Applicants Nearly Triples in a Year – (http://press.kaptest.com/press-releases/kaplan-test-prep-survey-finds-that-college-admissions-officers-discovery-of-online-material-damaging-to-applicants-nearly-triples-in-a-year)

Likewise, a recent study commissioned by Microsoft found that 79 percent of employers considered an on-line background check of their prospective employees. (On-line Reputation in a Connected World: http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9709510).

I work closely with a student advisory committee that consists of a representative from each secondary school. The students talk a great deal about the importance of technology in their life. These secondary students see the critical role of technology and how the use of their personal devices – their phones or tablets – can be powerful tools in classrooms.

As we discuss these tools, we also talk about the need to teach young students the appropriate use of technology for acquiring information and learning both inside and outside the classroom. They see in their friends and in their own interactions the importance of setting limits and using good judgment when using digital media.

In response to this issue, Utica Community Schools has partnered with Common Sense Media to develop pilot lessons on digital citizenship.

In early elementary, the concept of a digital footprints is shared with students through an activity called “Follow the Digital Trail.” Students learn that what they put on-line leaves information about themselves. As students move into junior high, the conversations focus on how they can control their digital footprints through their on-line actions and posts.

Parents are important partners for us as we teach students the appropriate use of technology. There are a number of resources available that will help guide you on talking to your children about digital footprints.

Some reference articles include:

A video on digital footprint from Common Sense Media
A site for students – What are digital footprints?
Digital Life – Our Kids’ Connected Culture
Discussion Guide – Privacy and Digital Footprints

Dr. Christine Johns
Utica Community Schools


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