The digital trail in and out of our classrooms…

This weeks debate topic – Educators should help students build a digital footprint.

This week, Funmilola and I debated in opposition to Kim and Gertrude on the topic of whether educators and schools should help students build a digital footprint. Great job to Kim and Gertrude. I loved the thoughtfulness and creativity in your “Unsolved Mysteries” style video and your comprehensive resources. I will admit, this debate topic got a bit “muddied,” as the wording shifted from digital footprint to digital citizenship and back again. I found it challenging to separate digital footprints from digital citizenship and even digital literacy. I believe they go hand in hand. A “good” digital citizen is someone who has a “good” digital footprint or online identity. If we believe that educators should model and teach digital citizenship, then we are essentially modelling and teaching students to build a digital footprint within the classroom.

The comprehensive definition of a digital footprint is key as well. 

A digital footprint is a trail left by your interactions in the online world including:

  • your use of TV
  • your use of mobile phones
  • wearing tech devices like FitBits and Smart Watches
  • your browsing history
  • the comments you leave on social networks and gaming sites
  • your shopping history
  • what you read on your Kindle
  • films you watch
  • and the music you access. 
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Let’s get into my thoughts on this topic looking at the arguments for and against.

Agree Arguments

1. Teachers and schools are best positioned to undertake this work for ALL students.

We can’t assume all families/caregivers can do this work at home. Many students will not have access to devices or internet access at home. And furthermore, parents/caregivers may not be equipped with the knowledge or skills to teach their children to build positive digital footprints. As mentioned in Buchanan et al. parents tend to focus on educating their children on the negative ramifications of a digital identity, rather than building a positive footprint.

2. Teachers and schools have a responsibility to keep students safe online.

This is especially true, as students are often issued division supported email addresses as early as Kindergarten. This means that as soon as our students are given a division issued email to logon to a device, they are creating an education-based digital footprint. Whether it be purposeful, through using educational apps like Seesaw, RAZkids, or Mathletics… or passive, through the websites they visit and the videos they watch, our students are creating an online identity. 

3. Family/community engagement is key.

Educators and schools can host digital literacy workshops to help engage families in digital citizenship and ultimately, helping students build a positive digital footprint. When the message is the same at school and at home, students’ understanding of building a positive digital footprint will be clear.

Disagree Arguments

1. Students’ digital footprints are already developed before they get to school.

Many children’s digital footprints begin in-utero, as families post ultrasound pictures of their babies to social media. Their digital footprint continues to grow before they arrive at school. In the article by Steinberg, the topic of “Sharenting” is discussed as the oversharing of personal information by parents potentially putting children at risk. What rights do parents have to share? And what about the child’s right to privacy and autonomy? 

2. Building a digital footprint is reactive rather than proactive.

The onus should not be on parents or educators, but on government and policy-makers to ensure students’ identities are being protected.  Both sides presented information stating that Canada needs to do better. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has issued guidelines surrounding protecting children’s data, but it is not enforceable by Canadian Law.

3. Schools are not protecting the data of students adequately.

Do we really know where our data is being stored? With the recent hack on Regina Public Schools, it is concerning to know that the data created by educators and students is not safe. More needs to be done by government to protect the data created by EdTech products and digital medias. In the article, “How Dare They Peep into My Private Life?” Children’s Rights Violations by Governments that Endorsed Online Learning During the Covid-19 Pandemic, research found that EdTech products that were being used during pandemic learning targeted children with behavioural advertising. Children were targeted with content and ads that followed them across the internet. This is concerning as students were in a vulnerable emotional and cognitive state during that time and may have been more easily influenced.

4. Teachers do not feel trained or equipped to do this work.

Professional development in educational technology is not mandatory for all teachers. Consequently, many teachers simply do not know about digital citizenship (in general), nor do they feel supported to do this work by their schools and coworkers.

Final Thoughts

Although the wording of this debate was muddied, both sides have some valid arguments. In the end, I believe that educators should play a role in educating students about their digital footprints, their online identities and how to be good digital citizens. I do not necessarily agree that we need to help them develop a “large, comprehensive, positive” digital footprint aimed at employers and educational institutions per se. However, I do think that if we are using technology in our classrooms, we have a duty to protect them online and that means guiding them as they create an “educational digital footprint.” In the past, I do believe I have been careful about what I have posted online concerning my students. However, after learning more about EdTech products targeting students, I am concerned and worried.

Share your thoughts with me on this debate topic.

  1. Do your students purposefully create positive online content? Is it made public or kept “private” for only family, teachers and the student to see?

3 thoughts on “The digital trail in and out of our classrooms…

  1. Hi Rae, great job on the debate. There were so many angles to consider in this issue. I had a great discussion with my students about their digital footprint after this class. From that discussion it became clear that my students were not aware of the digital footprint they leave behind. I may not be comfortable helping them to create one, but it’s obvious that myself and others need to at least address the topic with students in our learning plans. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. Hi Rae,
    As I said after the debate, I certainly agree with you and Funmilola about this topic. It’s so nice to address your questions from my actual viewpoint now. It is so hard to separate digital citizenship from digital footprint. If you’re teaching citizenship you’re teaching them about their footprint, too (in my opinion). I love your mention of school programming/informational sessions for parents. I wholeheartedly agree we need more of this to address that digital divide. Researching the DISAGREE side, I was definitely concerned about our children’s lack of online rights in Canada and big tech corporations’ desire to profile children. In reference to your question, before researching this topic, my students’ eportfolios were not that difficult to find. In the future, I will really be reading the terms of service and privacy settings more closely. I will also be discussing school posts with my Division office – as I do not feel like Facebook is a necessarily safe place for students to grow their digital footprint! I felt that way before, and even more now. Thanks for being such great debate opponents and classmates. Best wishes!

  3. Debate 7 In education and schools, are they responsible for developing a digital footprint or helping to students TO CREATE a digital footprint? WE need TO TEACH appropriate digital skills to ward off long term consequences. There must be less reactive responses and more preventative measures. This is the agree side the discussion was to cultivate positive digital front print to have more community involvement to achieve positive digital footprints foster change in the digital technological policy. There were also major concerns with parental sharing of digital information prior to entering school. Another area of concern was the proper instruction for educators when relied upon to teach the digital aspect of technology with their students. The onus that parents who shared their child’s technology / digital information does not leave teachers at an advantage because it is already “footprinted on the internet”. So how do we address the issue?
    On the disagree side we need more security with kids on the internet. There is lack of parental control and mechanisms in place for children and the teacher need the digital skills to adapt with students today. With teachers there needs to be advanced training for the 21st century. The training and specific skills taught to parents and students will rectify problems and curb the “foot printing” and add a more positive presence for universally for all involved. The controlled environment with properly explained rules and guidelines will be taught universally to ADDRESS current and future problems,
    I ENJOYED the debate on both sides, and I often was not aware of the greater problem. I have become aware and I will continue to seek or address online foot printing that is safe for all involved/ Thank you for your input and hard work/

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