Monday, December 8, 2008

Leaving Digital Footprints That Count

I was excited to attend Stephen Ransom's session on a new field some call "Online Identity Management." In business, this is called "Search Engine Optimization." Stephen put together a very coherent, thought-provoking session that rightfully contradicts some of the fear-based presentations that are being given to students and parents about having personal information online. Ransom's term "Digital Footprint" is a play on the concept of a "Carbon Footprint." He asks what kind of digital footprint do we all leave behind. We were asked to think about the outcome of college admissions or an employer finding something about you online or finding nothing about you online. Is finding nothing preferable to the potential of finding a positive digital footprint? In a time when employers expect some online self-marketing, finding nothing might lead to someone else getting hired.

Ransom showed two videos that illustrated the point that we have to ask ourselves who we have in our networks. Even though we may be safe and smart regarding the online content we decide to share, we also have to be aware of how our friends might share information about us. This is more difficult to control. I couldn't help think about situations where a quick cell phone picture that is posted online could damage a reputation or career very quickly. One story I recall hearing is about a college football coach who attended a frat party, got his picture snapped and lost his job as a result. Ransom shared a story of a young college student who was about to earn her education degree and the college withheld the degree because of pictures found online.
Since some Board of Director's now send "friend requests" to prospective employees, it might be time to decide who you want in your friends list.

If you Googled yourself right now, would your digital footprint be trivial, damaging, positive or nothing at all? Ransom suggests that all your work should be online (ePortfolio for students?). Since others can help write your digital footprint without your control, you have to be involved in leaving your own footprint. Students are currently writing their own digital footprints without us. In fact, our students are the number one creators of online content. How many of your students would allow you to bring up their MySpace or Facebook accounts during class tomorrow? You might not get many takers which would demonstrate the need for schools to help students create a positive online presence. And if students believe their space is hidden behind privacy settings, then they also need to know online privacy is an illusion. If you want to give your students a great example of young student who is managing her own digital footprint then share the story of Laura Stockman.

Ransom blogs about his overall impressions about NYSCATE and can be found here. I agree with much about what Ransom has to say, and as a classroom teacher I am always coming back to the instruction, but with the technology not far behind. More on this later when I review the Sylvia Martinez session.


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