In most cases, the answer is no. With technology altering the way we teach and students learn, we must look at what a digital footprint is and how students can limit it.
I've discovered even the term, digital footprint, means very little to some students. So I like to start by explaining how people track animals. This gives the term “footprint” meaning and illustrates students are, in fact, the animal being tracked. The word “digital” is easier for students to understand since they use technology daily. So, they understand digital footprints are the traces they leave on the internet.
Students and others have the most trouble understanding the delete button does not remove an image once placed online. It remains there forever, including in their computer. And just as where you visit is traceable, so are images and comments you leave on everything from Facebook to Twitter to emails and beyond. I've come up with a list of rules you can use to teach your students:
- Don't put your name on anything. Use pseudonyms.
- Have students list all their accounts and personal contacts. They should check their security settings for privacy when talking with these individuals. Have students use LifeHacker to show them sites they no longer use; these should be deleted.
- Get students to check their passwords for each account and make sure they are not using the same one. This avoids having all their accounts compromised. As well, students must promise to email materials only to those who need to know. Don't send out mass mailings; create a different username for each account. And when sending pictures, don't name people in photos or where taken. If recipients don't know who in is the picture, they can ask.
- Students should also use a different email address for each account. Addresses are free, in most cases, and although it’s more of a burden to handle multiple passwords and user names, different email addresses help to control what is going out and to simplify handling incoming messages. Limit email accounts to five or six, so it is easier to check messages.
Cookies - not always a treat! It’s critical you understand cookies and how companies use them.
- If you use one of the major tracking search engines, cookies can impact your searches as rival engines seek to provide the information you want first. It is almost impossible to limit this. Escape your search engine Filter Bubble explains that concept.
- To avoid cookies, you can check out How to Block All Cookies Except for Sites You Use.
You may also want to download Ghostery and other such sites to avoid tracking. Ultimately, it comes down to self control and making sure students know the internet can be used for good and evil. Even your computer’s IP address can be tracked, but you can learn How to Block Your IP Address. So make it clear to students the simple act of placing a message or photo on the Web may be used by potential employers to develop an unflattering profile. Others with ulterior motives may also lurk.
For teachers and students, the bottom line is to exercise maximum caution visiting sites and sending messages. If you are using the Internet for searches, I recommend sites such as WatchKnowLearn. The following sites offer some great resources, too.
Videos that explain the digital footprint:
Don't be surprised! Here are places where you can check some of your leavings:
Managing Your Digital Footprint
A very complete lesson on digital footprints
Pew Digital Footprints
Statistics on digital footprints; very important to show how few people actually check.
Digital Footprints Digital Presence
A large link site
Alan Haskvitz teaches at Suzanne Middle School in Walnut, Calif., and makes staff development presentations nationwide. He serves as an educational consultant, curriculum developer and author.