Topic #7: Educators and schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint. 

Educators in schools have a responsibility to help their students develop a digital footprint. Indeed we are in the 21st century where technology is booming, and mostly every student (in Saskatchewan) has access to technology in some form. I struggle with the wording of the debate topics (but hey that’s what makes it a debate), and in this particular topic I struggle with the word responsibility. Before I get too ahead of myself I want to acknowledge that I am all for helping students develop a digital footprint, and helping them understand what a digital footprint is. Where I get stuck is whose responsibility is it to help youth develop their digital footprint. Additionally, within the chat of the debate someone addressed the fact that some parents do not understand technology or digital footprints, conversely some teachers may not either. So I ask again, whose responsibility is helping develop a digital footprint for youth?

Youth are on social media more than ever and it is essential for educators to help guide students as to what is safe and not safe to share. The impacts of not helping guide students to help form their digital footprint, and furthermore their digital identity could negatively impact students. In the early years of students education we should be talking about terms such as digital identity, digital footprint and digital citizenship to provide awareness of the negative implications on various platforms like social media. Furthermore, I think it is essential for others to know how they could impact someone else’s digital footprint from posting a video of one of their friends on social media. Not everyone wants to air their “dirty laundry” on social media (besides the embarrassment factor).

Does developing students digital footprint solely rest on teachers? Some households do not have any technology within, therefore it would be difficult for parents to teach this essential skill with not all the tools or the know how. With the lack of knowledge parents would be ill equipped to educate their children about their digital footprint. Besides this, digital identity, digital citizenship and digital footprint are all relatively new terms that I am sure a large percentage would not know the meanings of. That being said, do teachers have the skill set to teach these newly coined words? Professional development needs to be pushed to understand how to merge these essential topics into the curriculum to help develop students’ digital footprint. Teachers also may need to be given more information to best inform their students. Teachers are not well-prepared to have these conversations with their students nor will they feel comfortable to do so unless there are some guidelines surrounding digital footprints and their effects. Teaching students to develop their own digital footprint is a collective responsibility between parents, teachers, the ministry and school divisions alike, certainly this responsibility should not just rest on the shoulders of teachers.

There are resources out there that helps embed digital citizenship into various curriculums as well as lesson plans on how to do so as Dawn McGuckin describes these steps in her article. With teachers already overloaded and with catching up from other years there is not a lot of time in the day to always learn these concepts, and furthermore take matters into your own hands. In the article, Post no photos, leave no trace: Children’s digital footprint management strategies students attested to their parents, in most cases, did not teach or talk to them about social media. Two of those students did say their parents ask them if there is something troubling them about social media and the other student said their account is linked with their parents so they can see their activity online. This proves that parents also need assistance in teaching about the harms of social media, and how their digital footprint can follow them around, with negative ramifications.

Final Thoughts

Teaching students how to develop their digital footprint does not solely rest on the shoulders of the teacher, besides teachers don’t have the resources they need to effectively teach these skills. Parents, teachers, school divisions, and the ministry are all responsible for providing resources and PD opportunities to help aid teachers in these undertakings – it takes a village. Digital citizenship, digital identity, and digital footprints are all important learnings in 21st century education, which students should receive the education they need to reduce negative implications in their future!