This week as we’ve been learning about utilizing Twitter and blogging to its fullest, I find myself contemplating a debate I’ve been tackling lately within myself. What we’ve focused on in this course is the idea of cultivating a digital identity. What do we want to show up when someone Googles our name?
When I began teaching, I searched my own name on Google to see what my students might find if they chose to look into me. I unearthed a poem I wrote in third grade, a private Facebook page, and an embarrassing Photobucket account from my brief time as an “emo kid”. I took down the Photobucket, made sure my other social media accounts were secure, and figured that I didn’t have to worry.
My generation has an obsession with keeping the negative off of the internet. We were the generation that learned that you could get fired for putting pictures of alcohol on your MySpace page as a teenager. We were the ones that first had to navigate our adolescent lives while documenting ourselves online. We are now fixated on getting rid of what we don’t want found.
This course is the first time I’ve thought about creating something with the hopes of it being unearthed. The aim for a strong digital identity, a digital presence of thoughtfulness and intelligent discourse, was a new concept for me. Yet it makes a great deal of sense. As an educator I would hope that when my students search my name, they find it associated with content that showcases what I’ve learned and how I teach. Isn’t that preferable to having them find nothing at all?
With this in mind, I’ve been considering how it relates to my students. In class we looked at Twitter accounts set up for classroom use. The accounts included pictures of students learning or celebrating achievements. The first alarms went off in my head. “Privacy! Safety! Delete those photos!” But I stifled that initial reaction and thought more critically. Obviously, these teachers received permission to post these pictures. Who’s to say that it is a bad thing that our students’ faces and names are online in such a positive way?
At what age is it appropriate to begin building your digital identity? My generation had to learn quickly as young adults to turn around and delete everything we’d put online as teenagers without knowing what repercussions may come. Haven’t we learned from that? Shouldn’t I begin teaching my students now so they don’t have to face the same mistakes in their futures?
I’d like to believe that when my 5th graders apply for jobs in high school and their prospective employers Google their names, the results will show responsible, safe digital citizens with enough self-awareness to forge a meaningful digital identity.
I want to end this post with a graphic from class that really stuck with me. I plan to show this to my students and use it as the springboard into a discussion on digital citizenship.
Now to face the real question, where to go from there? How do you balance building a digital identity with protecting the safety and privacy of children? Along these same lines, do they even have that privacy to begin with if their parents have been documenting their lives online since birth?
My students need to take control of their digital selves, but they need the tools first. Is it my responsibility to teach them those tools?