Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What's Your Digital Footprint?

"Digital footprint" is the term used to describe the trail one leaves through cyberspace. Just about everyone has a digital footprint nowadays, and it's important to understand what it means and how much control you have over it. For our kids, this is especially important because they don't always think long-term, and their concept of privacy is very different than that of older generations (see this video for parents and teachers, from Common Sense Media.) Our tendency (well, mine anyway), when we hear scary/embarrassing/shocking stories about online shenanigans, is sometimes to overprotect, saying, "just don't put yourself out there like that." Is that the answer, though? Upon more reading and reflection, I don't think so.

For one thing, many of our kids are already online, and it's too late to say "just don't do it." What's more, that attitude closes the door on meaningful teaching and learning, and open communication. The scary/embarrassing/shocking stories are teaching opportunities and conversation starters. "Don't put yourself out there like that" is a legitimate statement, but very different from "don't put yourself out there" at all.

Secondly, we need to teach kids, in an ongoing fashion, some very important critical thinking skills. Your digital footprint is absolutely something you have some control over and can build in your favor, therefore, thinking before you post information is essential.

From A Parents' Guide to Facebook
Reputation Point: There is nothing wrong with having a
digital footprint – hundreds of millions of people do now – but parents want their children’s digital footprint to be a positive reflection on them. It’s vitally important to be aware that we’re leaving a trail of information and careful about what we say online. It’s also good to be aware of what others are saying about us. The key to having a positive reputation online is being a good digital citizen: behaving civilly and respectfully toward others online and sharing positive information about oneself in blogs, social networking sites and other social media.

While we're on the topic of Facebook, let me interject here...There is a reason that Facebook requires users to be 13 years old. The privacy settings inherent in this social environment are different when you're under 18, and more protections are in place for users at an age when they don't necessarily understand what is in their best interests. If you have a child that has falsified his or her age in order to have a Facebook account, your child may be missing out on some of these built-in protections. Reading A Parents' Guide to Facebook, particularly the "Reputation Points," can help you/your child figure out the best privacy settings to use, and guide you in some discussions about the digital footprint you are/your child is creating.

So how can one take control of their digital footprint? Or figure out what it is in the first place? The first thing to do would be to Google yourself, and see what comes back in the search results. Is it a surprise? Next, I would recommend you read this, Controlling your digital identity is as easy as 1-2-3, from one of my favorite bloggers, The Innovative Educator. It may be more information than you need right now, but if you get anything out of it at all, it's worth the read. After all, your digital footprint is growing every day, even if you aren't aware of it...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Try it! You Just Might Like It!

On the menu: black bean salad and elk lasagna

The diners: Max, age 4 and Evy, age 7

The challenge: Get the young people to eat the food

This was the situation I was presented with while visiting my niece and nephew this summer to celebrate the birth of their new sister, Rose.  I'm sure many of us have faced similar predicaments. We all have tactics that work, and some that don't, but my strategy involved ice cream. No, not for use as a bribe (though the thought might have crossed my mind). Rather, I reminded the kiddos that at one time, perhaps so long ago they can't remember, they had never tasted ice cream. What if they decided not to? What if they were content to munch on blueberries, nibble on crackers and were perfectly happy tasting the same chocolate chip cookies for the rest of their lives? They didn't know they'd love ice cream until they tried it.

What  does ice cream, elk lasagna and black bean salad have to do with digital ethics and technology? A lot!  What if we'd never gotten an email address, purchased something online or even signed up for Facebook? Many of us found things we love to do, that we couldn't imagine would be better than what we had before.  But, at the same time we all find comfort in the familiar. That is as true with what we choose to make for dinner as it is with the technology we use every day.  We're Mac people or PC people. We love our iPhones, and disdain all others. We're addicted to our Blackberries. We text, but don't tweet. We read online newspapers, but think blogs are are just extra fluff and not worth our time.

I admit to finding the pace of technology overwhelming at times. Just when I think I've got a handle on the newest, most cutting-edge item, something even more new and cutting edge shows up on the horizon. It would be easy to throw in the towel, trusting what technology I've already adopted to see me through.  But what would I be missing? Is ice cream just over the horizon, waiting for a first taste? If I don't try, I'll never know and I won't have a voice in the debate. Perhaps there's something new out there that isn't such a great idea. If I remove myself from the new, I also remove my wisdom from the conversation. Having an opinion about something I've never tried isn't as powerful as sharing wisdom and knowledge gained from a new experience.

So, that's going to be my goal for the year. I resolve to taste more new things and lower my anxiety about the pace of technology innovation.  Keeping up with what's going on will help me be a better contributor to the discussion. It will also help me engage youth in the debate. We are constantly telling our students, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." In the context of tasting elk lasagna for the first time, I want students to make it a habit to think critically about the technology they use and why, and I need to model that through my own experiences. Not everything is bad, but it isn't all good either. I can't expect students to listen to my thoughts on ethical uses of technology if I'm not constantly tasting what's new out there; trying it for myself rather than making judgements based on conjecture.

So, what was the outcome of the black bean salad and elk lasagna stand-off? Both of the little darlings tried something they hadn't eaten before.  Evy was particularly reluctant to try the black bean salad. In the end, she did have a little bit.  But, by the next day, she was enthusiastically using it as a dip for her tortilla chips. The elk lasagna was a hit... and later we had ice cream.