Q&A: The Importance of Digital Footprint & What Students Need To Know

Check out why you need to be teaching your students (and faculty) about digital footprint
Contributed By

Sarah Jaffer

Content at Schoology

Q&A: The Importance of Digital Footprint & What Students Need To Know

Posted in Community | November 27, 2019

We spoke with Sean Coffron, Instructional Technology Training Specialist at Manassas City Public Schools about digital footprint and why it's so important.

Tell us about your district, Manassas City Public Schools, and the role you play in it.

Sean Coffron: Manassas City Public Schools is a Division of about 10,000 students that includes five elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. We are a school system with over 40% learners of English as a second language and over 60% minority.

I currently serve as the instructional technology training specialist at our middle school. My projects over the past five years have included the initiation and implementation of our 1:1 program, a multi-tiered embedded intervention system, and a dynamic professional development platform.

Digital footprint is a widely talked about topic, but can be hard to understand. How would you define digital footprint?

SC: A person's digital footprint is her or his identity as manifested through his or her interactions and actions online. There are three aspects of a person’s digital footprint: the static profile as seen through search results, the dynamic profile in social media, and the data analytics available to third-parties through the user’s online commercial and informational activity.

With social media and the internet being so prominent in our everyday lives, what are the implications of having a bad digital footprint now, and in the future?

SC: An undesirable digital footprint can not only impact present relationships on and offline, but also create a historical profile that will impede future opportunities including career advancement, personal relationships, and financial security.

On the flip side, what are the benefits of having a good digital footprint?

SC: A digital footprint that communicates a positive image assists in building strong and lasting relationships in the workplace as well as in a person’s educational and personal lives. Additionally, having trend data that illustrates a positive image affects the images and advertisements shared with the person. For example, a member of Facebook who has a digital presence that indicates an interest in certain hobbies can result in viewing advertisements related to that hobby. Images that are less than healthy or positive, or comments that illustrate a negative digital image can indicate to the software on the social media site that the member would benefit from similar advertisements. That is how negative images and advertisements can start to appear on his or her news feed or page, which compounds the magnitude of the image being presented.

Digital citizenship has become a widely talked about topic in the past few years. What is the difference between digital citizenship and digital footprint, and how are they related? 

SC: Digital citizenship is the intentional and informed behavior and actions online. Digital footprint refers to the impression that is illustrated through that pattern of behavior. 

Similar to citizenship in any community, there are specific expectations or norms that people need to follow when they are engaged in digital conversations or commerce. Additionally, there are certain precautions that need to be made to make sure that we stay safe when we are online.

Our digital footprint is the result of our behaviors. If we make decisions that are positive and proactive, we end up with a digital footprint that is more holistic than if we make decisions that are more harmful. Similar to how our communication in the real world affects our reputation, our digital discussions impact our digital reputation.

What is one piece of advice you would give to younger students about their digital footprint and how to be a thoughtful digital citizen?

SC: The one piece of advice I would give is to be aware of the permanence and public nature of all digital content regardless of what is readily apparent. So, don’t share anything online that should not be broadcasted to everyone for the next ten years.

It’s not just students who have to worry about their digital footprint. How do you view maintaining a healthy digital footprint through the lens of the teachers and administrators?

SC: Students and their families have been active consumers of digital media for the last 25 years.  With the advent of such sites as rateyourteachers.com and real estate sites that promote transparent public ratings of schools in the late nineties, society has become even more aware of the online presence of schools and educators. It is vital that all personal data and social media profiles be restricted to private settings and also that nothing be done online that one would not mind being broadcasted to the public and available for the next ten years.

Could you share some resources and activities that educators could use to help young students understand their digital footprint? 

SC: Common Sense Media has set the industry standard as far as communicating trends regarding digital citizenship and the promotion of a wholesome digital footprint. I highly recommend their resources for education, review of digital resources, and educational opportunities.

One activity I have used in the classroom walks students through the different aspects of Digital Footprint and has them test their knowledge of digital citizenship. This activity can be seen at http://bit.ly/DigitalFootprintToday.

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