Digital Footprints are things we talk to students about constantly.
“Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever” is a phrase I’m sure they’ve heard so much that it has most likely ceased meaning anything to them, but I had never really taken time to consider the Digital Footprint I had created for myself.
My parents have always been involved with technology, and have coached me from a young age to be safe on the internet and to make sure my privacy settings kept my information secure for online accounts. When I became a teacher, this became even more important to me because I wanted to be able to live a life outside of school without constantly worrying if parents, or students, or colleagues would be able to see everything that I posted. When I received the assignment to Google myself for a grad class, I was please to find that nearly all of the results that came up were things I intentionally put out there: My teacher twitter and Instagram accounts, my staff listing on my school’s website, blog posts I wrote for companies (like this one about what teachers need from administration, or this one about being an introvert and a teacher), and a blurb for a book I reviewed on Netgalley. My vigilance for making sure all of the boxes are checked on my private social media accounts so the profiles do not show up in public searches has paid off.
My image search resulted in about the same results, although a picture of Chris Pratt with a stuffed rooster appears for no clear reason, but who’s to complain about that?
The only blip in this is my old MySpace profile, which I have no doubt I had set as private at one point, but have no touched since approximately 2007. Since then, the privacy settings have probably changed and allowed old photos to show up in my search.
Although this is certainly not a significant problem, it is certainly not something I want my students stumbling upon, so I immediately went about deleting the account. How long, though, will those pictures remain in the search? I could not find any definitive answers about this, but am thankful none of the photographs I posted as a high schooler were anything more than slightly embarrassing. I am hoping the Google Alert I set up will help me monitor what else shows up without my intending it to.
I then took actions to intentionally expand my Digital Footprint, starting with About.me. Creating my About.Me page was a bit more challenging. I couldn’t decide what exactly I wanted to put in my bio, so I stuck with the site-generated information for now, and plan to do some research and continue working on it. I have added my About.Me page to my professional Twitter, and Instagram, as well as to the bio on this blog. I was also able to purchase my domain, TediSwanson.com from GoDaddy. Although I don’t know what I’ll do with this website, the possibility of a professional portfolio is intriguing to me.
The third action I took involved book reviews. Being involved in the book world is always something I’ve been interested in and I consistently use Goodreads, but Goodreads is a somewhat isolated world. This time, I copied the same review onto Amazon, a much more public market.
I think the important thing about this activity is that it made me think about actively creating the narrative that my Digital Footprint tells about me. I have been good about being a gatekeeper for my passive footprint, but have never truly considered creating and shaping what is available, beyond creating professional profiles. I think with students it is important for us to talk to them about this active footprint. It’s already frequently discussed that the persona created in public profiles is cultivated, but it is important to talk to students about the kind of persona they are projecting rather than using scare tactics or attempting to make them paranoid.
This summer, during a district sponsored professional development, I had the opportunity of attending a session with Rosalind Wiseman, who has a degree in Political Science but whose career is understanding adolescent social issues and teacher others about them. The session was about social media and started with an activity that asked us to look at our last 10 posts on the social media outlet of our choice, what that said about us, and if that was what we wanted said about us. I think an expanded version of this with students, potentially starting with made up profiles before asking them analyze their own posts, would be a great way to start talking to kids about how to cultivate a Digital Footprint that takes responsibility for what they are presenting about themselves. Helping students create an active Digital Footprint instead of merely telling them what not to do online honors the reality of technology in the 21st century.