Students as Self-Advocates: Gifted Learners Creating Their Own Digital Footprints

“Get good grades, so you can get a good scholarship, so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good degree, so you can get a good job, so you can get a good life, a good spouse and have good kids, whom you will help to get good grades, so they can get good scholarships…”

Wait. Scratch that. That’s a really flat idea of college and career readiness of yesterday. And that type of mantra also goes right along with the flat resume of yesterday. Today, we have something better, should we decide to use it.

No matter how we try to spice it up, paper resumes are just flat, two-dimensional views of what the writer wants us to see. Digital resumes, however, are much deeper and contain much more information than just the polished pieces.

No matter how we try to spice them up, paper resumes are simply flat, two-dimensional views of what the writer wants us to see.
Digital resumes, however, are much deeper and contain much more information than only the polished pieces.

In today’s world of choices, options, alternate paths, self-made entrepreneurs, and connected, committed communities working for the Greater Good, that old mantra that our parents and schools handed us doesn’t apply any more. When we literally have the world at our fingertips with the ability to learn and create from some of the greatest minds out there, the possibilities are endless. And why should we wait until we’re 18 years old to start tapping into that resource?

There seem to be two main reasons why we hesitate: blocking websites for online safety, ie stranger-danger and icanhazcheezeburger. And both of those issues turn out to be something we as thoughtful, caring, and purposeful parents and educators can handle.

The concept of “don’t talk to strangers,” is something we’ve really stressed to our children. Why? Why do we tell them to not talk to strangers? We talk to many strangers a day. In fact, today, I have spoken with 7 complete strangers, face to face, and it’s just now 11am, and I’ve barely left my hotel room. Let’s rethink the entire “don’t ever ever ever talk to strangers” and send a different message that empowers our learners to intelligently and safely manage in the social world.

Additionally, there’s the realization that along with the wondrous amount of high-quality learning opportunities that the Internet offers, there’s just as much (if not more) completely useless, if not downright wrong, information. Websites full of misinformation and bias are easily found, as well as websites that provide at best absolute minimum learning for students. But that can — and must be — dealt with for our kids to gain digital literacy. Blocking sites and keeping kids from going to these sites altogether will not help them learn to manage their time, or their learn how to be thoughtful while gathering of information online.
Incidentally, if your school community blocks most of the Internet, I highly suggest you check out the UnMasking Digital Truth wiki, created by my friend Wes Fryer. It’s extremely helpful for the layperson in breaking down the laws and the myths surrounding the over-blocking of the Internet.

Rubik's cube on Bloom digital taxonomy

Rubik’s cube on Bloom digital taxonomy (Photo credit: ggrosseck)

No, in today’s world, instead of blocking, we should be opening our children up to the possibilities of how to leverage the tools online to learn deeply. To learn globally. To learn at school and at home. To learn anywhere, anytime, really. And they should be creating at the highest levels of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy using readily-accessible digital tools to connect their learning and their work with the world.

Have you ever fielded the age-old question, “Why are we doing this?” When students are truly connecting with the world, they can see the impact of their work. They can understand the importance of learning. And incidentally, they’re creating a deep digital footprint. They are leaving an authentic 3D resume that lives not just in the 2-dimensional world of “what I want you to see for this scholarship/camp/job application,” but instead lives in the 3-dimensional world of, “this is who I am, how I learn, what matters to me, what I’ve done about it, and how I’ve grown and developed as a human being.” And it lasts for years. And it is a much richer survey of work than a simple 1-page resume or even a Curriculum Vitae.

So today I have a few messages I’d like to share with the stakeholders in the education and life preparation of our children: parents, educators, students and their friends, and to the current and future professionals that our learners are and will be.

Message to Everyone: 5 Straightforward Steps to Managing Your Digital Footprint.

Digital Footprints on a Digital World

  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

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Written by GingerLewman

  1. I value your ideas/advice. My concern is for students who already struggle with learning. How do we help them learn to navigate a media that doesn’t necessarily or readily respond to their learning needs?

  2. Thanks, Frances, for your question. While this post is about gifted learners, those who have significant cognitive struggles can still very much benefit from creating online, and more specifically, creating a purposeful digital footprint in a positive manner. Many of the activities that I describe here are for hands-on learners who can be guided at varying levels, according to their needs.

    And the greatest thing about the Internet (and with many technology tools) is precisely the flexibility they offer for varying learning styles and abilities. We can even search Google, based on our reading levels (

    We simply need to look at sites that can guide us as we guide our loved ones. For instance, here’s a great site for using technology with special needs students:

    Thanks for your question and I hope I’ve at least cracked the door for you to learn more about how technology can be used for all students to help them craft their own digital footprints. 🙂

  3. […] And incidentally, they're creating a deep digital footprint. They are leaving an authentic 3D resume that lives not just in the 2-dimensional world of “what I want you to see for this scholarship/camp/job application,” but instead …  […]

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