ISTE for Coaches describes the curation of the digital profile as the “ability to represent oneself online based on activities and connections or tagging through social media posts, photos, public online comments or reviews.” Selecting, and organizing what we want to say and reveal about ourselves will directly impact the kind of relationships we develop, and it can even have an effect on those who surround us, our career and well-being. Many students already feel comfortable with their command of technical skills such as connecting, tagging, posting and uploading photos, to name a few. This sense of overconfidence can lead to thoughtless, careless, and dangerous digital practices. As digital leaders, we need to help students realize the importance of digital wisdom and foster opportunities for reflection as they curate the digital profile they intend to reflect. So, how can we help students realize that acting with integrity is not only important to their digital footprint but also relevant to their personal lives?
Students unaware of the potential repercussions of thoughtless posts, pictures and comments online can not only get themselves suspended from school, but can also negatively affect their families, friendships and future. When bad comments are overheard by a teacher in a school, the situation may not escalate as negatively as it does when revealed digitally. Teachers need to intervene, educate, help, guide, and coach students about proper respectful behavior and comments. That is what school leaders, and educators do whether in person or digitally. When students lack digital citizenship education, the posts, pictures, or comments done in social media can go viral in seconds, unraveling a number of negative consequential events for themselves, their friends, and for their family. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one that can be prevented through proper digital citizenship education.
Cyberbullying, lack of empathy, abuse and misuse of technology are some of the main problems presented by Ribble in his article Educational Leadership in an online world: connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically (2013). He presents a Digital Citizenship model that is based on three general areas: Respect – Educate – Protect, and addresses the importance of relationship-building, taking responsibility, developing empathy and understanding for others. Ribble also explains the need for the collaboration from school leaders, educators, parents, and community in order to promote digital citizenship, in an effort to not only teach students the necessary skills to participate online safely, but also guide them to become positive, responsible, and ethical contributors of the digital society (p. 137-144). Our brains are wired for social interactions, and the digital world is the new place to socialize and interact. Rheingold, in his book Net Smart (2014) explains that “Humans in particular appear to have evolved brains that are optimized for social activity” (p.21). But social activity is not the same in person as it is digitally. Rheingold warns that technology acts as a powerful amplifier of our actions. He gives the example of negative social attributes such as gossip, conflict, slander, etc. can take on a new scale in the digital world (p.20). Therefore, we can conclude that it is important for educators, families, and students to be empowered with the strategies needed to curate their digital footprint, and to do so with integrity. As students engage in social interactions digitally, they need to take into consideration how their friends, family, community, future employers, and the world perceive them.
In his book Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students (2015) Hammond explains that “the brain seeks to minimize social threats and maximize opportunities to connect with others in community” (p. 46). Students are highly motivated to fit in the digital environment and their actions are guided by their need to engage socially and to stay connected. To fit in the digital community takes more effort and more thinking than engaging in personal interactions because we cannot use cues from body language and tone from speech. Communicating digitally is also often asynchronous, permanent, and public, so miscommunication carries harsher consequences. Hammond argues that “At the core of positive relationships is trust” (p. 73). Trust takes time to be attained and it is fragile. One little white lie or a joke can hinder trust, and therefore relationships. One thoughtless comment can seem offensive and make one appear untrustworthy. Careful consideration is needed as students engage digitally, in social media, and establish their digital footprint. When students see the connection between trust and positive relationships, they will be motivated to exercise with integrity, even if it takes some extra steps.
Teaching Digital Citizens in Today’s World: Research and Insights Behind the Common Sense K–12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum (2019) includes an approach intended to support skills and dispositions to think and act as good digital citizens (p. 40). As students reflect on the information they wish to include as they curate their digital profiles, it is vital to consider their decisions with integrity, as how they represent themselves in the digital world is permanent and will have lasting implications inside and outside their digital world. For example, what kind of attire should be considered for a profile picture. While students may know how to upload a profile picture, which is a skill, they may not be aware of the implications of the chosen attire. Who could see the profile picture if it is shared and goes viral? close friends, relatives, potential employers? This disposition to critical thinking is what Common Sense differentiates from technical skills. The five core dispositions are:
- slow down and self-reflect
- explore perspectives
- seek facts and evidence
- envision options and possible impact
- take action
Integrity needs to be an underlying ethical value as students engage in these thinking routines. The cornerstones of the Common Sense curriculum also include three rings of responsibility which gives perspective into how our digital footprint and habits affect not only ourselves, but also the community, and the world. Thinking before acting allows students to see the possible gains or possible pitfalls of their actions, not only momentarily, but also long term.
Lisa Miller explains in Digital integrity as a 21st century skill that “Academic dishonesty and academic integrity are two halves of the same whole and both are evolving constantly” (2019). Because dishonesty is more complex, and perhaps not so obvious in digital environments, it is imperative that integrity is emphasized, and taught explicitly. If students can see the positive impact that integrity can have in their lives, they will be more inclined to act with integrity even in the face of peer or other kinds of pressure. The benefits of promoting integrity will help students make better decisions not only as they curate their digital profile, but also will help them attain digital wisdom and become role models themselves. For example, in the article Use your core values to make moral decisions Dr. J. Connor suggests to think, consult and compare, talk to others, turn within for guidance before we act. Dr. Connor includes a study by Price-Mitchell that shows how college students choose role models that display clear core values. While it may sound cliché to say that one should lead by example, and that is why it is important for teachers to act honorably, we also need to inspire students to lead by example themselves, show them how, and help them become good role models.
Students want to gain and improve relationships. Acting consciously about the digital image we want to portray requires reflection, time and integrity, and the gains are needed and worthwhile. It is not too late, nor too early to get started in our quest to empower others with the steps necessary to leave a positive digital footprint, and do so by selecting and sharing honestly and without the urge to exaggerate or deceive, those aspects that reveal who we are and that make us unique.
What does your digital profile reflect about who you are?
Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. (Kindle ed.). Corwin.
Image. Retrieved October 11, 2020 from: https://mycoverpoint.com/wp-content/uploads/real-version-of-you-facebook-timeline-cover.jpg
Image. Retrieved October 11, 2020 from: https://safesitter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Digital-Footprint.jpg
ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved October 10, 2020, from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
James, C., Weinstein, E., & Mendoza, K. (2019). Teaching digital citizens in today’s world: Research and insights behind the Common Sense K–12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. [pdf] Common Sense Media. https://d1e2bohyu2u2w9.cloudfront.net/education/sites/default/files/tlr_component/common_sense_education_digital_citizenship_research_backgrounder.pdf
Power, R. & Miller, L. (2019). Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019. [eBook]. Surrey, BC, Canada: Available from: https://techandcurr2019.pressbooks.com/
Rheingold, H., & Weeks, A. (2014). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (The MIT Press) (Illustrated ed.). The MIT Press.
Ribble, M. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 137-145. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1011379
Use your core values to make moral decisions. (2018). Dr. Julie Connor – Teen Mental Health School Assembly & TED Speaker. Retrieved October 11, 2020, from: https://drjulieconnor.com/moral-decisions-core-values/