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When Did Your Digital Footprint Begin?

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March 05, 2013 09:44 pm


The following guest blog post comes from Theresa Shafer . Theresa is Online Community Manager for the New Tech Network.

During the past year I have had the pleasure of working with students across the country on the idea of crafting their digital footprints. I always begin the workshop asking students:

“When did your digital footprint begin?”

Nine times out of ten they answer with something like “When I got MySpace or when I got my Facebook.” I always look at them quizzically and say “It started WAY before that…think harder.”

Then they typically come up with the online accounts they had with NeoPets, Webkins, or playing games on Nickelodeon.

I challenge them again and say it really could be even earlier…someone always shouts out “How about in the hospital, when I was born and they scanned my hospital bracelet into the computer.”

Now we are talking!

The students of today have a digital footprint long before they can walk, talk, or log in. I’ve had a hand in crafting my granddaughter’s digital footprint by tweeting about the day she was born and attaching photos of her.

This takes us to the part of the workshop that never fails to astonish, we talk about HOW Facebook knows what ads to put up on the side of your page and how the grocery store knows what coupons to spit out for their parents. We discuss how many times they have already been on camera by the time they arrive at school that day, how, with just their name, I could likely find their house with Google maps, even getting a street view of it.

For me, my permanent record was a manila folder, for them it is a never to be deleted digital footprint. Because our students seem so tech savvy, practically born with their hands in a texting position, we can wrongly assume they understand the impact of their digital lives. My colleague Paul Curtis  wrote a great blog post exploring this very thing “Digital Native Does Not Mean Digitally Literate.” I highly recommend you take time to read it.

Learning how much data is being collected about them sometimes makes the students feel helpless and they often say it is creepy. (It IS a little creepy, right?) But this is the world we live in, so how can we make it work for us and for our students?

How to we begin to take control of our own footprint?

Some ideas:


  • Know how to set privacy settings on all of the social media channels that they use.
  • Even with tight privacy settings, we should operate under the assumption that the internet is public.
  • Know what the internet says about you, Google yourself.
  • Take charge of your identity, post good things about yourself, help others, choose to inspire, share your joys and successes.
  • Follow colleges, universities, experts in fields where you have an interest.
  • Be careful who and what you like or follow. As my dad always told us “Surround yourself with good people.”


I love the internet and I love sharing with my PLN via twitter chats like #PBLChat and #INeLearn. I encourage students to blog. I connect with my New Tech Network colleagues, schools, facilitators and learners no matter where they live through social media. I’m not afraid of it, I embrace it and learn about it.

As I said in my most widely read blog post:

“We teach students about sex-ed, stranger danger, drugs and alcohol, and texting and driving; why would we not teach them about social media, both the good and the bad?”

Help your students craft a responsible digital footprint, and while you are at it, check all of YOUR privacy settings and Google yourself, too!

Theresa Shafer is Online Community Manager for the New Tech Network. As the Online Community Manager, Theresa’s primary focus is to build community within and outside of the New Tech Network of schools utilizing Social Media and other online communication tools. Prior to joining NTN, Theresa worked for Rochester Community School Corporation as Director of Technology, focusing on the effective integration of technology into instruction. She created and led weekly professional development on technology proficiencies for staff, social networking, digital citizenship, the effective use of interactive whiteboards, interactive response systems and web 2.0 tools. Theresa was named Technology Director of the year in 2010 for the state of Indiana. 


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