Self-Advocates: Designing Their Own Digital Footprints

I’ve had the occasion to revisit one of my favorite messages to share with students, parents, and colleagues, so I thought I’d share it again here. A quality digital footprint is about more than just not bullying people online. It’s more than just not visiting sites or posting unsavory pics or posts.

The message for kids is pretty straightforward: If you’re living in today, a well-designed digital footprint can take you places that people your age might only have dreamed of in the past. And if you’re smart, you can design a footprint that doesn’t just leave a harmless trail, but that can actually jettison you into your dreams.

Toward that end, I’ve pulled together a few pieces of advice that can be used to help parents, educators, students and their friends, and kids’ future selves think smarter about their own power.
Oh, and if you like this post, I’ve added link to FREEBIE materials from this blog post so you can create a bulletin board. Be sure to grab those at the bottom of the post. 

Message for Anyone: 5 Straightforward Steps to Managing Your Digital Footprint.
  1. Find out what is already there. Google yourself often. Know what is being said and posted about you and by you.
  2. Try to remove the negative that might be there. If someone has posted something that doesn’t put you in your best light, ask them to remove it. And don’t post anything negative about others. Ever.
  3. Begin to monitor your digital footprint. Know what is going up when and where under your name. Use Google Alerts to monitor who is saying what about you under your real name, your usernames (all of them) and about your workplace. Know this information because knowledge is power. Take control of your own footprint.
  4. Brand yourself. If you have a common name, find a way to make yourself unique with a tweak of your name or user name. My friend Jerry Butler will never be the top hit on Google as Jerry Butler the musician from the 60′s has that spot sealed. So he’s re-branded his work as “Jerry the Tech Guy.” Incidentally, he’s a really nice guy who does really great work. Find a way to make your OWN footprint, no matter your name.
  5. Pile up the positives, and make sure they are found. You can do that with a consistent brand (even if it’s your own name, like me) and by sharing your work on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, to name a few of the biggies.
Message to Parents: Help your children to develop positive online habits from a very early age.
  1. Ask questions at school such as, “How are you helping my child learn to manage digital literacy skills? Information management? Time management and organizational skills in an online world?” Kids learn by doing so they need to be using these tools — and experiencing some mistakes so they can learn from them — in school (and at home) right now.
  2. Be where your kids are online. You would never let your kid go play in a park unattended for hours at a time every single day. Yet parents let their kids be online alone for many reasons.
  3. Keep communication open, but don’t helicopter. This is important when they’re young so that you can be there when they need you as they move into less-communicative (read as “developing more independence”) years. There are great articles out there about how to do this for everyday conversations. Practice the tips early and practice them often. And be patient.
  4. Use Google Alerts. No matter how good you are about being where your kids are online, and keeping communication open, there will be places and usernames you don’t know about. Use Google Alerts to follow your kids’ activities online, but don’t use it as a “gotcha!” moment. Use it to know where they are and compliment them when you see something great happening. It will remind them you care.
  5. Be a good digital role model. Don’t post the pics or say the things you’re asking your kid to avoid. Do learn. Do publish. Do grow. Be a role model online as well as in real life.
Message to educators: Help your students to hone their digital footprints by learning and using a variety of online tools for academic, personal, and social development.
  1. Create access to professional learning tools. Students need to learn time and task management and organizational skills. There are a lot of tools out there that will help your most disorganized and time-challenged students to function more successfully as it helps them to focus on their strengths and not simply their deficits. Here’s a LiveBinder of awesome iPad and Android apps for kids to practice organizational skills as well as try out tools that professionals (in their areas of interest) might use every day.
  2. Teach digital citizenship & legacy through practice. Kids of all ages learn by doing. Remember when you learned to drive a car with a manual transmission? You were taught how to do it, and then you found yourself behind the wheel. And soon, you realized you, in fact, did not know how to drive this car. That’s how kids are with digital citizenship. Sure they’ll make mistakes. But so did you in that car. But you practiced. And you learned. And so will they, if we let them practice.
  3. Connect fun, tools, learning. Tools without learning are drill/kill and not fun. Learning without the creativity and complexity of creative technology is not as engaging. But like peanut butter and chocolate, when you put them both together, you have a powerful combination of technology, learning, and FUN! Because when students are working at the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, they are creating new products out of multiple resources and learning. When those products are created, they deserve to be shared, whether they are beautiful art, amazing academic learning, or astounding philosophical thoughts. Publish that work and help your students get authentic feedback from professionals in the field. They’ll never ask “Why are we learning this?” again.
  4. Mentor & role model for parents. Many parents only get 1-3 shots at teaching and guiding kids at your age group. You have much more broad experience and so parents need you to guide them, as they guide their children at home.
Message to students and their friends: Use the Internet not just for fun (and it is fun and should be fun) but also use it regularly to Connect, Collaborate, Grow, & Learn. Because life is about more than just LOLcats and The Oatmeal all the time.
  1. Craft the image you want to portray now and later in life. Because what goes online today stays online always. I NEVER thought I’d be doing what I’m doing today for a living, so don’t assume you know your path now. Just keep it clear of the muck. It’s ok if you have a footprint that includes school activities and/or MMORPG’s. That’s who you are now. Just be sure that what you’re sharing is done in a positive light and that you also are publishing things that show your academic and creative learning too.
  2. Practice being a good friend in real life and online. That’s just good stuff. Show people you’re not a jerk because you probably aren’t.
  3. Do Good together. And notice that I have Good with a capital G. That means to do good deeds and, in general, make the world a better place in big and in small ways. And help your friends do that too. And share those things online as well.
  4. Your life is now…don’t wait for it to start. Don’t wait until you’re 13. Or 18. Or 21. Or out of Middle School. or until you have a car. or until you… You’ll never do anything. Life is Right. Now. And it’s fleeting with every single second that’s ticking away. So jump aboard.
Message to professionals now and professionals of the future: Craft a footprint you want employers, colleagues, & customers to see.
  1. Digital portfolios are 3D resumes. When people get to see your work progress as you get more experience, then good things can happen. You would never be able to show this sort of depth of information or dedication on a one-page paper resume. Leverage these online portfolios to truly show off more sides to yourself and your talents.
  2. Your online profile mirrors real life. You are a professional or are soon to be one. Be proud of the work you do because if it’s within a passion area of your life, show it off. Let people know that this is who you are! However, if you feel you have to put a mask on when you go to work; that who you are at home and at work are two different people, then you’re probably not going to be happy or be in that job for long. And then you should truly be polishing up that digital footprint before you go out job-hunting.
  3. Leverage social media for Good. Notice that Good is with a capital G, because it means to do Good in the real world and in the online world. Because it’s important. Do great big things. Do random small things. Just do Good where ever and whenever you can. It’s good for the world. It’s good for your community. It’s good for your resume. It’s good for your family. It’s good for your life.
  4. Mentor young learners. (see above)

If you’d like more information about any of the topics or tools listed (or not listed) above, and how to jump aboard at the practitioner & visionary levels, I would be happy to come work with your group! Contact me


Freebie bulletin board materials <– download them and use them in good digital health!

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Written by GingerLewman

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