As teachers in 2018, it is more important than ever to understand and model effective digital citizenship and digital footprints not only for students, but as leaders in our profession, through an authentic online persona. Three questions spring to mind:
1) What does digital citizenship actually mean?
2) Why is a thoughtful digital footprint so important for pedagogy, professional practice and reputation? and
3) How do citizenship and footprints in the digital space link to social media use?
Digital Citizenship for Teachers
Digital citizenship is an umbrella term that covers all facets of life with technology. A more common understanding of digital citizenship is the idea of providing guidelines for responsible and appropriate behaviour when using technology. This can, for example, include: correct netiquette, development of an authentic digital footprint, watching out for cases of cyberbullying, technology access and the digital divide, online safety and privacy, copyright, plagiarism and the law as it applies to the digital space. However, digital citizenship is more than just an online behavioural guide – it also includes the tools, skills, dispositions, attitudes and habits for using technology to live, learn and access digital resources.
Being a digital citizen in 2018 means being digitally fluent and knowing how to successfully navigate and understand the online world to create and maintain a timeless and healthy digital footprint.
Developing Your Understanding of a Digital Footprint
Teachers and digital leaders in schools need to understand the importance of creating a digital footprint and actively work to develop, maintain and model positive digital footprint behaviours all of the time. A digital footprint is a ‘mark or inscription’ that you leave in the online world. These single marks or inscriptions combine to create your personal digital reputation and write your personal digital history. Therefore, anything you do, upload, create or publish online creates your digital footprint. Think about that photo of the family holiday you uploaded on Facebook last year or the article you wrote for the school newsletter. These are all examples of your digital footprint.
It is important to think before sharing anything online. Ask yourself – is that something you want your boss to see? Your students? Or your future grandchildren? Remember, your digital footprint is permanent and can never really be deleted; it is accessible to anyone now and in the future. Adina Sullivan, a K-12 technology integration specialist, likens the digital footprint to a ‘digital tattoo’ and encourages users of technology to choose their tattoo wisely as removal is messy. As a teacher, you need to think carefully about the impact of your digital footprint on professional perception; it can impact:
- your online reputation
- your real-life reputation
- your employment prospects
- your admission to school, university or professional associations
- your personal and professional relationships with people in your network
- the reputation of people in your network
Engaging with Social Media is Important for Teachers
Some recent research conducted by the Career Builder (2017) group, who headhunt talent for prospective employers, indicates that 40–60 percent of recruiters scour LinkedIn and other social media tools when looking for employees. Teachers need to ensure their digital footprint is positive and always professional. Other industries and professions actively populate employee profiles using social media tools – they see this as integral to their core business. It is a key part of professional reputation.
The education sector in schools is to some degree playing catch up in this regard. However, many teachers and digital leaders in schools have still not embraced the idea of creating a careful digital footprint and how to use various social media tools to do this in practice. In 2014, the University of Phoenix College of Education surveyed 1,000 teachers about their social media use and found that only 47 percent of teachers used social media on a regular basis and a staggering 80 percent felt untrained in how to use it for professional purposes. I suggest this figure would not have grown a great deal, even in 2018.
A successful teacher and school leader should be using social media daily and modelling how to use such tools for students and colleagues. In fact, using these tools can be as easy as following what I refer to as the five Ps for creating and monitoring a digital footprint:
- Product: make your social media profile a professional product which is consistent across platforms and across social media tools.
- Positive: make sure your online profile contains positive information about you and your practice.
- Presence: keep on top of your digital footprint through filters and alerts.
- Proactive: make sure you have an active presence on social media and create profiles on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
- Privacy: keep your personal details secure, including passwords and family facts.
The five Ps function as a guide for developing your digital footprint. The trick is understanding the strength and purpose of each social media tool and targeting your approach to that asset and purpose. Digital scholar, Steven Wheeler, from the US, describes the way online personas work, “On LinkedIn for example, I manage a professional version of my online persona which evaporates when I am on Facebook. On Twitter it can be a mixture… each tool has its own particular set of affordances which enable or constrain particular ways of using it. However, although these tools are different they have a common purpose.”
A good way to start to plan this step into social media is by thinking of LinkedIn as solely a professional tool targeting recruiters and other professionals. It is like a dynamic resume. Twitter is more of a professional networking tool for developing knowledge networks, resources and professional learning communities. Facebook is a personal social media tool. There are scores of online resources which detail effective ways of applying these tools to develop your personal digital footprint and how to use this in your classroom, including:
- Dipping Into Social Media in the Classroom, via EdSurge
- Guide to Using Twitter in Your Teaching Practice, via KQED
- Twitter For Teachers, via Scholastic Instructor
- One-Stop-All-You-Need-to-Know Guide to Twitter, via David Truss’ blog
- 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom, via TeachHUB
The Digital Footprint as Teacher Professional Learning
There is a saying known to many teachers, “We learn best by doing and are better teachers by being able to draw on our own personal learning experiences.” Using social media is crucial for the professional development of teachers. It supports the exploration of ideas and learning alongside other innovative and creative people from around the world – and it can be done without ever leaving home or school.
Teachers are digital leaders who continuously build connections beyond their current experiences, but they must manage their digital footprints as part of their regular routine as professional educators. This is done through development of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and participation in communities of practice. A PLN is an informal learning network that consists of people you can interact with, connect with and learn from online. These people are not always in your physical realm.
Steve Wheeler, who uses the handle @timbuckteeth, uses Twitter to “learn something new every day”. Other teachers use social media to share resources or as doorways to their classrooms; they take the idea of an open classroom to the global level. Clearances from parents about photographing students must be adhered to – but often you do not even need to take photos of students in full view to give other teachers a glimpse into what they are doing.
Such open classrooms contribute to and grow the teaching profession. For example, Jackie Spencer (@JackieFSpen), Tara Cooke (@TaraCooke26) and Helen Stower (@HelenStower1) are teachers who openly share their classrooms through tweets or posts – they post about student engagement in hands-on activities, research or lesson ideas in STEM/STEAM or digital citizenship. Similarly, ‘momgineer’ Meredith Anderson wields the power of Facebook to share with teachers various STEM activities. I follow all of these people to create and grow my community of practice through the exchange and free flow of ideas and inspiration.
Teaching Students about their Digital Footprint
Leading and teaching through example will better support students to understand the importance of their digital footprint and such acknowledgement works to develop their skills for building a positive digital footprint. Will Richardson, writer and edublogger, asserts that teachers need to model their own use of connections and networks. His research indicates that by the age of two, 90 percent of students have a digital footprint. Are parents culpable here? The students educated in schools grow savvier about the world as they progress through their schooling. However, they need guidance on a regular basis.
There is a plethora of good social media resources available, including the brilliant Common Sense Media guides. If you have not developed your digital footprint, do not have a Twitter account yet or are afraid to embrace LinkedIn, breathe – then take the first digital leap. Step one is to set up an account using a social media tool you like and start posting. It is a learning experience that develops pedagogy and professional practice. It is guaranteed to open up a whole new world of ideas, professional resources and global connections. And, it is only just a few clicks away.
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