New Videos Teach Students of All Ages to Understand and Protect Their Digital Footprints

June 01, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Common Sense News, Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy

Today’s kids have digital footprints starting almost at birth—and sometimes even before. This online trail of information can be searched, shared, and seen by a large, invisible audience. But this can be a hard concept for students to understand.

Our new collaborative video series with the Teaching Channel is designed to help you teach these concepts and help your students understand that they can take some control over their digital footprint by choosing what they post online. Our new videos are categorized by grade-level appropriateness.

One of the videos, “Follow the Digital Trail,” shadows Barb Jizba, a library media specialist at Wilson Focus School in Omaha, Nebraska, as she teaches K-2 students about their digital footprints. The segment comes from our “Lessons in Action” series, which provides tips on how to use our curriculum in the classroom from teachers who are actively teaching with it.

“[Students] learn through social media, they learn through creating, they learn through going to the internet and searching for things, so why not teach skills that are going to let them use those tools in the most appropriate manner,” said Jizba.

In this segment, Jizba uses a vocabulary list to break down terms, like “digital footprint,” that carry a more conceptual meaning to young learners, and then asks students to pretend they are detectives who have to use these clues to track the digital footprints of fictional characters.  

“As we move through the activity the kids then are going to really take those clues and start to make some decisions about which individual actually did the best about being safe on the internet, and which one was not so safe,” said Jizba. She explained that the goals of the lesson were to talk about safely using social media, have students communicate with peers in small groups, and use context clues to make conclusions.

The lesson concluded with three “ELA [English Language Arts] Takeaways:”
•    Analyze evidence
•    Compare and contrast information
•    Participate in collaborative discussions with peers and adults

While it’s important to start talking about digital footprints at an early age, it’s equally necessary to discuss the implications come high school and, of course, college. For those teaching students in grades 9-12, we have another new video created through our partnership with the Teaching Channel called “College Bound.” This lesson shows how Linda Bettencourt, a teacher at Consumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove, California, teaches a class of college-ready seniors how to manage their digital footprint.

“The challenges that this generation of students seems to face are that they seem to think that they’re invincible, that things that they put on the internet or on their Facebook page or their social media sites, they think that it’s just contained to that moment in time,” said Bettencourt in the video. “I think that they haven’t quite gotten to the point where they’ve thought through what the long-term consequences or effects are and they haven’t quite looked forward to the future.”

The consequences of social media use is a prevalent theme in Bettencourt’s lesson, which involved asking students what they would want their digital footprint to say about them in five years. She then had students pretend to be a college admissions officer who had to decide between two fictitious candidates on the basis of their online presence.

“I think the most interesting part of the lesson was choosing who’s going to go to college,” said one senior in Bettencourt’s classroom. “We spend a lot of time trying to get those grades right and [on] SAT scores, but we never really think about how one thing on your social media site can not get you into the place you wanted to go.”

The lesson concludes with a few teaching tips for other educators, which suggest roleplaying and using Socratic seminars during group discussions. More lessons on maintaining students’ digital footprint and various other topics, ranging from teaching sensitive subjects to email etiquette are online here.