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Digital Footprints in the Snow: Debate #7

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Years ago in my home town it was a snowy day two teenagers were breaking into cars and stealing items from inside. A man noticed them sneaking around in the dark while sitting in his car. He slouched down and thought, “There is no way they’d be stupid enough to not see me and open the door.” They were. They were seen. They ran. The police followed their footprints right to their front door.

As both sides discussed many children start their digital footprint before they are even aware of the world around them.  I am just as guilty, happily posting a picture of my son on social media shortly after he was born. It is also difficult not to have at least a few tidbits of information about individuals online (at least in the western world).  That is why I initially voted yes for educators having a responsibility to help students develop a digital footprint.

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Agree described teachers as being in an ideal position to help students develop and control (at least partially) their presences online. Buchanan et al., (2017) found that while children were avid uses of the internet they thought of their digital footprint as a source of fear, rather than a tool. They concluded that teaching children how to “curate” their footprint to build towards their future goals.  In the same way we teach the basics of math to prepare them for higher grades, we could teach them how to use the virtual space to help them achieve their goals. Schools have policies that are meant to protect them and we can build a safe and controlled situation to help build their fundamental digital skills. Agree further mentioned that we can help guide impulsive kids as they take their early steps into the virtual space. We also must acknowledge that parents are often not teaching their kids how to approach their presence online.

Buchanan et. al., (2017) found that there was no consistency with how involved parents were with their children’s use of devices, leaving them without the skills to properly interact online.  One only has to read a few stories of “cancelled” people to see why carefully choosing your posts and tweets is so important.  The internet never forgets.

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Disagree later chipped away at some of these points.  Those school policies and release forms we have parents sign, how much do they really understand?  What about the student’s choice to regulate their own online presence?  Personally I am asked to take pictures of students and submit them for uploads to our school website.  While I always make sure those students have had a release form signed, I do not always ask students permission before taking pictures.  Although I carefully cultivate what I email or upload to Edsby, it is a fair comment that I should include the students more in that decision. Anson-Smith (2021) found that a number of schools used student images as marketing.  Not to mention the amount of information that companies and individuals can collect. If schools and teachers are making these mistakes, can we honestly say we are currently prepared to educate our students on the same topic?

As I bounced between sides my own thoughts asked if we hand over technology that could be used to create a digital foot print, should I be responsible to teach them how to manage its use? Furthermore, do I indirectly do this through health and media literacy lessons?  There are numerous times throughout the year when we have discussed why it is important to be careful what you put online and what you share with others.

Where disagree won me over was reminding me of that word “responsibility,” indicating we had to do this.  As they mentioned, we are not trained to support students in this situation. McGuckin (2018) presents to educators and she continually sees how little we know about the abilities and ramifications of social media. Yet we are expected to teach our students, who often know far more than us.  We are not backed by government or divisions directly, although some may assume or encourage us to take on this responsibility anyway.  This also pushes the responsibility onto students who may not be ready to nurture their online presence.  It may present a false confidence in parents that teachers have this and remove themselves from the responsibility of checking in on their children.

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That is not to say I do not think it is a good idea to help students understand what they are/can do with their use of digital technology.  I want my students to understand that a tweet or a discord chat room may seem like a small step, but it can have huge implications. However placing that responsibility entirely on educator’s shoulders is unfair and dangerous.  It sets a precedent for assuming we will pick up the pieces that government, corporations, and parents should be carrying. Until teachers have been properly trained, education policies and programs are designed, and parents are made more aware of what is happening, it is not fair to place this responsibility on teachers.  As Disagree said, making the responsibility of developing their student’s digital footprint is a reactive approach.  It creates and unstable platform on which an important part of our students futures rest

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