Highlighting Digital Footprints in an Elementary Setting

Just like your credit rating (or credit score) has the potential to open and close doors and have a serious impact on your life, so too does your digital footprint.  The ideas and discussions around digital footprints really captured my attention this week as I reflected on my own footprint both passive and active.  Then I started to move my thoughts to my students and the importance of teaching them about their digital footprint.  While we have regular conversations about our online safety and privacy, thinking about digital footprint is much broader than that.

footprintPhoto Credit: Katelyn Kenderdine via Compfightcc

As a cheerleader of my students, I’m always encouraging students to broaden their audience by using the internet to publish their work online. I want them to extend their audience beyond me and their immediate peers as I believe they have much to share.  In doing so I’ve been unknowingly increasing their digital footprint without having conversations about what it is and how we can manage it.

 So, I’m really thinking about what digital footprint means to elementary students.  They as yet do not have social media accounts (like Twitter or Facebook), but my students do have an active online life through blogging and commenting, collaborative projects, online games, subscriptions to accounts, researching, e-Portfolios, and creating digital media projects.  A lot of resources and discussions on digital footprint out there are really focusing on internet safety and privacy or are more geared towards teens.  But I want to look at this from a branding point of view and start conversations and develop some key understanding about the larger topic of digital footprints with my students, because it’s not all bad.  Creating the ‘right’ digital footprint can open doors, connect you with the right people, and get yourself heard.  I like the idea of starting conversations with our younger students and being proactive about their digital footprint. These will form the foundation of their thinking and provide a strong base on which to make digital decisions throughout their life.

One way to get the conversation started is to use Daniel Pink’s question ‘What is your sentence?


This will get them thinking about what image they have for themselves and is it portrayed or perceived by others. How great would it be for kids to be involved in periodic reflections about their digital image throughout their life and look to see how their values and persona changes. How great would it be for students to track their sentence over time?  What was my sentence when I was 9? 14? 19?

In elementary school, we devote significant time to knowing ourselves as learners.  If you work in an IB PYP school, you will hear students describe themselves with the learner profile and attributes.  How great to extend this and incorporate this in conversations about their digital footprint.  If a student has described them self as a knowledgeable, empathetic inquirer then they can ask if their digital presence reflects this.  Or the reverse; ask students to look at some of their online work and ask what learner profile or attributes are reflected in their work.

Here’s another good place to start the conversation:


I also think it is powerful to do some analysis of the footprint of others.  We can use the question “What does their online presence say about them?”  For example, if we googled Super Awesome Sylvia we’d come to her webpage and other sites.  Have kids explore her sites and content and pose the question ‘How about the digital footprint of Sylvia?  What does her online presence say about her?

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You’ll notice you have to search a bit to find her name.  Mostly she is known as Super Awesome Sylvia, but with a bit of looking around you can find her full name.  This is an interesting discussion in itself to have with students.

I’m very mindful of presenting a balanced view of digital footprint to students.  One which is relevant and appropriate to the age of my students (9 – 10 year olds).  We are educating not scaring.  So I’ve been searching for elementary appropriate material to use.  There’s not a ton but enough to get started.  I like the questions posed in this video:[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwFE25f50P4[/youtube]  I like the questions: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind?  as these are important questions to ask not only in a digital context, but in our daily actions.

So rather than scare kids into an appropriate digital footprint, let’s empower students with skills, knowledge and attitudes through authentic and relevant discussions and experiences to building a positive digital footprint that reflects who they are.