Classroom Practice

Crafting Your Digital Identity: The Basics


As any teacher that has bravely opened up their classroom to technology knows, students have this seemingly intuitive ability to operate technology. Indeed, students often serve as our own in-class tech support. While this uncanny ability is enormously helpful and impressive, students nonetheless struggle with online ethical and strategic behavior. As we constantly hear from our peers and from the news, incidents of online inappropriate behavior on the part of youth are rampant. From cyberbullying, to piracy, to being duped by spam or advertising, to posting really personal information publicly, the list goes on. This is where digital citizenship programs come in, to protect against ethical (and legal) misconduct but also, to promote professionally strategic and pro-civic online behavior.

This post will discuss one of the foundational elements of digital citizenship namely, crafting one’s digital identity. A digital identity is the sum of what can be found out about someone online, including what they reveal about themselves, through their interactions with others and what others reveal about them. Protecting and building one’s digital identity requires applying a great deal of attention and care to one’s online activity, and will ultimately be difficult for young people. Students will very likely transgress these guidelines at some point, but we must persist in reinforcing their importance until they become habits.

1. You Have A Digital Footprint. Your Mission Is To Protect And Control It

In 5 years, the paper C.V. will be relatively obsolete. Instead, employers will simply google candidates they are considering to learn about them, their accomplishments, their connections, their skills and experience. For this reason it’s important for students to begin protecting their digital footprint today. We can do that by instilling the fact that there are no “take-backs” or “undos” when it comes to the internet. You can never be sure that anything you’ve posted online is truly deleted. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Ensuring that kids understand that the words and pictures they post on Facebook today can come to haunt them when they’re applying for that college-internship tomorrow is crucial. Ask your students to always think before you publish, post and press send!

2. Portfolios Aren’t Just For Artsy Types Anymore

A digital portfolio is one way to craft a digital identity. It’s where a student can organize, archive and showcase their schoolwork online over the course of their education. From short assignments, to essays and artwork anything can be archived digitally. Creating digital portfolios allows students to keep track of their work, take note of their progress, share the work they’re proud of with their community and get feedback from them. Making schoolwork feel more like artwork–something to display, share and take pride in is also an incredibly strong motivating factor for students. Upon entering the job market, this portfolio becomes helpful as it can be used to demonstrate one’s candidacy for jobs, schools, internships etc. Ultimately, a digital portfolio promotes lifelong learning. Students will want to continue to build their portfolios beyond graduation and into their careers. Elsewhere, I discuss that teachers need digital portfolios, too!

3. You Don’t Join All The Clubs IRL, So Don’t Do It Online Either

Social networks can transform the way a student learns, extend their reach and give them a powerful sense of community, if they chose wisely. There are tons of social networks out there with amazing people from all over the world waiting to connect with them based on mutual interests and passions. But we need to let students know that they should carefully select the networks they join and the people they connect with online. I agree that censoring and blocking social media sites is not the best way to prevent harmful behavior or incidents. Instead we need to educate students to be prudent in who they reach out to, how they interact in different online venues and in deciding which networks they join. Start your students off with closed social networks of just the students in your class or your school if need be and encourage students to reach out to classmates they normally wouldn’t.

4. Build Your Personal Learning Network

A good way to know whether or not you need to add someone as a “friend” or “follow” them is by asking: Does this person enrich my personal learning network (PLN)? Besides a digital portfolio, the PLN is the most important thing you build online. This is the community of people who’s minds, resources, and reach you will share in virtue of your connection with them online, usually in social media spaces. If I’m a student starting an essay for English class on the common traits of principal teenage characters in three novels, one way to start might be to ask my PLN: “What books and characters should I compare?” In moments, students can find themselves with lots of new ideas to help them get started. In this way, a PLN is a researching tool. It provides answers, collects data and shares knowledge and resources with you and for you. A good PLN not only helps you find what your looking for it anticipates what you might want to learn about.

5. Create, Share, Discuss, Reflect and Repeat

As important as it is to protect your digital identity, it’s also crucial to build one. Think of your digital identity like you do credit: sometimes, no credit is worse than bad credit. For this reason, students need to start putting positive things about themselves online. The first search result that appears when a student google’s themselves is ideally their digital portfolio or if you’re an adult, maybe it’s your LinkedIn profile. If students are going to control their digital identities then they need to create. So, the importance of creating interesting, clear, and compelling content cannot be understated.

Students need to know their medium, their audience and their message and start creating. They can write, take pictures, make videos, write songs, or all of the above and more. Once they’ve created their content, they’ve got to share it with their PLN. Knowing how to frame it in the context of a Tweet or a Facebook post etc. and taking the time to strategically craft a message to accompany a piece, is a 21st century skill. Once it’s out there, they wait for the feedback to come. If they’ve put together a solid PLN there should be a lot constructive feedback coming their way. Let them take it in, respond and create a dialogue. Then get back to the drawing board. Making this process habitual does amazing things for productivity. At the end of the day, nothing is more satisfying and validating as a student or as a professional, than to go through this process, make it your own and get good at it–to be seen and to feel like, as Angela Maiers says, YouMatter.

Posted by Roxanne Desforges, Educational Technology Consultant

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Roxanne Desforges

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