Minding your Digital Footprint (Because You Never Get a 2nd Chance to Make a 1st Impression)


The 2nd part of the title to this post is attributed to Will Rogers, though many of us will be old enough to remember the Head and Shoulders Shampoo commercial slogan. Our digital footprints are a permanent record of our digital lives, and it is of paramount importance to recognize the power that they have in communicating who we are, both professionally, and personally.

Should I have a Digital Footprint as an International Educator?

Well, apart, from the fact that I have a digital footprint whether I like it or not, my answer would be “yes”.  I’ll unpack this a bit below, but basically I believe that  it is far better to take active management of your digital presence than to leave it to chance, or the control of others.  

I believe that a positive digital presence in a professional context is becoming more and more a necessity, if one wishes to remain relevant and competitive in one’s field. (I use the word “competitive” in the job-hunting, promotional context)  This is especially true for international educators, especially those who are on the recruiting circuit.  Many times teachers have to resign from their current schools before they have job offers secured elsewhere, leading to an uncomfortable “limbo” period in between.  Teachers in these positions are trying to convince schools in other countries to hire them, and without a strong digital presence, school’s have little to evaluate applicants on other than a CV, reference letters, and perhaps a cover letter.  Skype and other technologies have been a huge step forward in the process, allowing people to “meet” over a live connection, but a prospective teacher may only have 30 – 60 minutes to make a great impression.  However, a strong, professionally curated digital presence (footprint) can speak volumes for you, and communicate who you are as an educator/professional better than any Skype interview can.    

In a more general sense however, having a professional digital presence online is important because it distinguishes you as an active and contributing member of our professional community.  Unless you are taking an active role in being part of the global community (as opposed to a “lurker”), you risk being left behind, and missing out on the opportunity to add your own thoughts and contributions to the conversation.  And, anyone not actively taking part, risks being left behind.  

As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, this recognition was a major driving motivation to join the COETAIL program.  I knew that I “should” have a professional digital presence, but I failed to make this a priority on my own.  I am in a professional transition in trying to move away from being a digital introvert, to becoming an active and productive member of the professional communities, global networks, and related PLNs that technology now allows me access to.  One of the benefits I’m now seeing is that my professional network on Twitter and LinkedIn is growing beyond my own colleagues and COETAIL cohort. This is very inspiring!  

(Easy to track….) (Image licensed under Creative Commons. Photo credit: Linnaea Mallette. http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=106050&picture=footprints-in-the-sand)

What about students?  

When the idea of digital footprints is introduced in many of the secondary classrooms that I’ve witnessed, the response from students can sound something like this: “We know, we know…… Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want your mother to see…..” (perhaps with an eye roll thrown in for good measure.)  The quote in the previous sentence comes from Rachel Murphy, a high school student who was cleaning up her digital footprint as she prepared to apply to universities.  This video below highlights how higher educational institutions are taking their applicants’ digital footprints quite seriously.

When discussing digital footprints with students, sometimes the lesson can be interpreted as a “preachy” form of scare-mongering, as we parade around worst-case-scenarios of how their digital footprints could be used against them.  Many times the examples tend to be overly simplified to make the point, but this can lead students to question the relevancy of the lesson, as they think “Yes, but how could anyone be that clueless to post their address/phone-number/age/birthday/SS#/etc. on many publicly searchable sites?”  This approach can sometimes backfire by framing the topic directly, instead of it being the educational experience we mean it to be.  Perhaps one of the best things we can do as educators is to present students with tools and apps that are interesting to highlight our point.  One such app is Ghostery, which will show you who is following you around the web as you surf.  (I happen to have Ghostery installed in my browser, and a recent visit to CNN’s website revealed over 20 (!) “ghosts” tracking me.)  

I was speaking with the digital coach at my school about some of the strategies that she uses to introduce this topic to students.  Among several great ideas was having some of the older students talk about their experiences with some of the younger ones. High schoolers talking with primary school students will perhaps have more influence than a teacher’s digital footprint lesson. This also offers opportunities for cross-pollination and exposure among grades and/or divisions in a school.

The issue of digital footprints, and how we are (all) being tracked and “ghosted” online by various interests brings up another angle that students don’t necessarily hear about, but is no less manipulative – marketing.  This video below, from Frontline, reveals how  teens and young adults are being tracked, marketed to, and then manipulated to join in on the marketing itself – without necessarily being aware of what is really going on.  

Teenagers and young adults are drawn to things (music, art, ideas, people, etc) they think are “authentic”, not “trendy”, or under the control of adults in the boardroom of a large corporation.  I have found that students react just as strongly, if not more so, to videos like the one above, than to the “worst-case-scenario” videos that are traditionally shown in digital citizenship courses/lessons.  This is in part due to the sense of (small) outrage at being manipulated.  (This is why Hollywood studios are loathe to speak publicly about this!)  But if we are trying to teach students that they are being watched and tracked online, and to be aware of this, sometimes this is more effective to get the point across.  

If you have found other resources/videos and/or lesson ideas to be particularly effective in teaching students these skills, please share in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!


One thought on “Minding your Digital Footprint (Because You Never Get a 2nd Chance to Make a 1st Impression)

  1. Great read, Brian! I completely agree with your idea of having a digital footprint as an international educator. Although this is my first gig abroad, it certainly won’t be the last. For now, I am in a good school, receiving professional development opportunities and gaining more teaching experience. Each year I am building my CV, and hopefully through CoETaIL, I will end up at my “dream school”…even though I don’t know what that is…yet.

    After reading this post, I was reminded of an article I came across a while back regarding a “Social Media Camp.” https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/mar/28/social-media-star-creator-camp-los-angeles

    I thought it was a joke at first, but it’s legit! Curious, I read a bit more and watched a news clip about it. I’m sad to say that there was only a few seconds of air time devoted to online safety and cyber bullying. I admit that the students do learn skills such as photo and video editing, but I still felt that the main focus of the camp was how to self-promote and earn money while doing so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGUF_aTIv5g

    As their target audience will soon become the adults, decision makers, or potential leaders, wouldn’t it be nice if the camp also offered sessions on promoting positive change and/or advocacy in a global scale?

    Thoughts? Hope you have a great weekend!


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