Digital Footprint, Reputation and Citizenship (DFRAC)

The digital citizenship journey – understanding your digital footprint and managing your digital reputation

Beware of the send button. That click is the start of a student, teacher and school’s digital footprint and reputation.

Once individual students, teachers and schools have developed a greater understanding of their digital foot print, their journey of managing their digital reputation and citizenship begins in earnest.  The strategy to become and effective digital citizen is to work in partnership with the whole school community involving a regular digital foot print audit, the conscious decision to be involved in a digital Community of Practice (CofP) and the application of some useful tips and tricks.

The idea  for this figure was adapted from a number of personal thoughts ideas and sources –  though special mention to Matthew Kearney etal “Viewing Mobile Learning from a Pedagogical Perspective



Understanding your Digital Footprint

A digital footprint is the record of your activities in a digital environment.   In life, which includes our digital world, we would like to be treated well and be fairly represented in what people say about us to others in person and online. Schools and teachers would benefit from actively developing their understanding of issues like digital footprint, digital reputation and digital citizenship in order to help students and parents in their school community.  Current research suggests students and parents require guidance in understanding their digital foot print and strategies for managing their digital reputation. Perhaps we should consider this in the light of adding value and support to our learning outcomes in schools.

As citizens it is obvious that we would like to be treated well, however, there are times we click send and regret or are unaware of the consequences. Have you sent an email, Facebook status update, blog post or a tweet which has revealed information before it was publicly released? The recall of an Outlook email or deleted mobile Facebook or Twitter status can give some peace of mind; however, there still may be traces on your footprint. Probably it is better to think before we send and that requires a greater understanding and management of one’s digital reputation.


The Student

It is formative to understand the typical day of our student’s digital life. As educators we need to enter into their world in order to understand how we can guide their journey.   Dr Jason Olher at Ulearn, Auckland 2012 suggested on an average day students “look for stuff and download stuff” which develops searching skills and appropriateness, having implications for their digital footprint, safety and legal considerations.

In the digital world they “read, view and interact” which involves an understanding of bias and media persuasion. Students “go places” in the real and digital world – are they always safe are there places they should not have been? They “interact” on line and have they done so with appropriate netiquette, while aware of their digital foot print? Students also “publish and contribute” in some way each day by doing a presentation, a citation, a status update, blog post. He suggests there is a lot of solid learning happening in a typical digital day.  Parents sometimes do not understand this value and Dr Olher’s quote  suggests,  it is increasingly becoming the role of the teacher to guide both students and the parents.


“We have a duty to educate whole families in a digital age.  It is not just digital citizenship and social media. Most of our mistakes are analogue …are not rewindable …the kids need us.”


At what age do children have the ability to understand the consequences of their online behaviour? Children natural focus on “me” to a certain age and prior to this stage they will not necessarily know how their behaviour can be hurtful to others reflect badly on themselves.  Some young children we teach are not cognitively developed enough to know what can be misinterpreted online. They can literally rewind and revisit their mistakes on YouTube and read previous comments that have been cached.

Let’s not overlook the more cognitively developed students. Do they get it right all the time? Have you seen the nods of agreement of Year 10-12 students when you talk to them about their digital footprint? They are confident they are managing their Facebook privacy settings well.  Then look at how their expression changes when you ask them to look at the photos they put on My Space four years earlier. All of a sudden they are keen for the presentation to finish and to check what is available to the public about them.

Some parents of these children are also not as engaged in the how, why and therefore of digital footprints. They do not know what to do to help their children.  Meanwhile teachers see and interact with hundreds of children each day. Though they might not know the detail about the how and the why of digital behaviour they do see the consequences and outcomes. Perhaps Dr Olher has a point – could and should teachers help?

“We bring the kids into our playground and we need to be in their playground as well.”


The teacher

Teachers are not immune from being aware of their digital presence.  A greater understanding of their web presence will help them guide students.

Teachers do not have to know the latest brain theories to understand the common sense perspective of being careful and sensible online.  Yet students still suffer the consequences of ill-considered digital behaviour. It is baffling why this still can be the case, though some of the answers are a reflection of brain development, an existence or absence of an ethical compass and perhaps a lack of understanding about how one’s digital presence develops.  Teachers, school counselors and pastoral leaders are becoming more involved with the therefore or implications of student digital practices.

It might be prudent for teachers and schools to have a greater understanding of their digital footprint and reputation.  Do all teachers understand the delete button does not always solve the issue?  Once something is online, redistributed and cached it is very difficult to call back.  The effect of clicking the send button can be permanent.  For example, if people are using RSS feeds such as Google Reader, even with an immediate delete of a blog post the original will still be migrated to a follower’s RSS feed. Likewise a deleted Twitter or Facebook update can still be viewed through an email alert.

It can take years to build a digital reputation and one click can set you back many years.


The School

Schools have checks and balances to manage their digital reputation, especially through the use of mainstream media. However, at times some schools and their peak bodies resist and lack understanding of how to effectively engage the digital world, especially social media.

As an educational institution do you keep technology outside of the doors of the school? Or are you a school that opens the door to technology, doing so with a high level of management, perhaps at the expense of deeper learning? Are you a school that uses technology more widely and keeps parent/student issues outside of the school doors? Or are you a school in partnership with the whole school community working together to enhance learning and developing digital skills for life within and beyond the school gate.

If your school would like to move towards the final scenario one suggested starting point is to encourage teachers and students to learn how to manage their digital reputation and in doing so becoming active digital citizens.

Your digital footprint is not just about what you place online it is also about when you go digital, where you do it and how you go about it.  It is probably no longer acceptable to turn a blind eye. In fact, avoidance can potentially be detrimental to your students, personal and school’s digital reputation.

Digital Reputation Management and becoming an effective digital citizen

Digital reputation is the opinion that is formed when people examine or become aware of your digital footprint.  Everything you do and say online will have an impact on your reputation.  Your digital reputation is open to interpretation in the same way your personal reputation is subject to scrutiny in what you say and do.  Your digital reputation does not need to be shape by others – you can manage it.  It is an active process that involves both content creation and relationship building.

Students, who understand they have a role in their digital foot print, can benefit from proactive digital reputation management. Many students have a digital footprint either related to their school’s online newsletter or what they place on social media sites. At Loreto Normanhurst our Extension History students use Edublogs for their learning.  Recently one of our students informed us of a good news story.  She had considered all our discussion on digital reputation and was proud to state that now when she audited her digital footprint her history blog was the first Google hit for her name.  Her work had received positive feedback and she was developing a reputation as a student historian.

In a recent (2012) Managing your Personal e- Reputation infographic, it was suggested that 78% of recruiters go online to search for possible employees and 63% check social media sites.  It is self-evident for the need for students and teachers to manage their online reputation. Moreover 8% of companies have fired people for inappropriate use of social media.  The common reputation issues online are inappropriate use of photos, photos being used without your permission, unflattering information or comments about your character or professional work and  information that is leaked and should not be in the public domain.

Perhaps students, teachers and schools should consider going a step further than just monitoring your digital reputation. The starting point is an audit of your digital reputation and then membership of an online Community of Practice (CofP) such as the Digital Education Research Network (DERN), informal TeachMeets or personal and professional learning networks through Twitter and LinkedIn. Once you achieve this you can engage in specific strategies to manage your digital reputation and evolving citizenship.

The first step in managing your digital footprint is to undertake a digital audit by monitoring your digital reputation.   The obvious method is a Google search. This can be finessed by searching in the specific categories especially images, news and videos. More sophisticated searches can include the use of Google Alerts or Technorati feeds into your Google Reader.  If you have a common name make sure those with your name are not confused as you.  Their reputation is not yours though it could be accidently or even on purpose misrepresented as you, especially if you have no digital presence.

When you become involved with a digital Community of Practice you can connect and learn with people and organisations with similar interests and passions. In the process of doing so people get to know you better and this will open doors to further develop interests and expertise.  I can hear the resistance.  “People will steal my ideas, people will criticize my view point … I don’t have time.” In the end it is a personal choice though I feel in today’s society the pros by far outweigh the cons of the arguments.

If ensuring you are accurately portrayed and understanding your student’s online life are priorities the choice is self-evident. It’s time to take a proactive approach to getting your name (individual and school) out there the way you want to be perceived.

So the message is clear, we need to move beyond being a digital lurker by collaborating and connecting with other friends and colleagues online. There are several tips and tricks to help you achieve this with safety, develop your own experiences and then be in a position to guide your students. This can be achieved by starting a blog or wiki, opening up part of Facebook, make use of LinkedIn, engage in mainstream digital communication, use Slideshare, Prezi, YouTube or iTunes to share ideas and finally obtain your own domain name to create a one stop shopping stop for your digital reputation

  1. Start a blog or a wiki where you share teaching resources or exploring your personal interests and hobbies. Make sure you have your name present and over time, especially if people read your ideas your blog will come up the ranking in Google searches of your name.
  2. Facebook does not have to be completely locked down and private.  Consider having a couple of public picture albums.  In this you can have pictures of geography fieldwork or plays you have experienced and scanned copies of awards you have received.  In short anything which is a positive reflection of who you are, the things you do and you’re standing in the community.
  3. LinkedIn has been around for as long as Twitter if not longer, though uptake has been less exponential.  Increasingly LinkedIn has gained a lot of traction as the professional meeting place.  LinkedIn is a safe introduction to social media and serves as a digital space where you can present your resume and professions interests and involvement.
  4. Make sure your profiles are up-to-date and factually correct. Use your real name, a recent photo and think carefully about what you write in the personal. Usually a mixture of personal interest and professional involvement is well received by people who come across you online. Ensure it is up-to-date and an accurate reflection of what you are doing now.
  5. Engage in digital communication.  Think about making constructive comments on an online article or a blog post, adding value and providing insight. Maybe even make a blog post on a community site.  Use Twitter, it is a think tank of people and resource in your back pocket.  You would be surprised where you name will pop up and what you will learn when you engage people in this manner.
  6. Shares resources and collaborate with other like-minded educators in projects.  Create a professional Slideshare or Prezi account and distribute useful ideas and resources for other teachers. Link your slides in your blog or twitter feed. Consider a YouTube or iTunes account and create audio or video units of work or motivational messages for your students.  You can choose which of your presentations to make public or have them unlisted.
  7. Purchase a domain name and develop a simple website or blog. This drives all traffic to one place, creates a one stop shopping venue and you have greater control over your digital reputation.   Claim your name in new social media and educational sites.  You never know which new webtool is a passing fad or will be around for a long time. Link you social media presence on you domain name blog, wiki or web page.

Once you have your digital reputation under control you might like to become a more actively involved digital citizen.

Parallel to this step by step digital immersion the student, teacher and school are evolving as a digital citizen. Citizenship also involves personal, participatory and justice oriented digital citizenship. Personal digital citizenship involves individuals acting according to their beliefs, values and ethics. As participatory citizens you can work in building collaborative online communities with Web 2.0 tools. Justice oriented citizenship raises the bar even higher and challenges students and teachers to devise solutions to problems in communities using digital tools to spread a message and improve the quality of life in a community.

In this personal, participatory and justice based digital citizenship journey an individual or a school passes through several stages. Initially your digital life starts out as a consumer of information. As your confidence grows you start to share with others, perhaps even becoming a critic offering constructive suggestions. This is where the majority of people sit in the digital world; however, there is room for you to become an editor of content on the web shaping and curating information and ideas in a way that which may lead you to producing content.

Students, teachers, parents and schools would benefit from a more structured approach to understanding and managing their digital world.   Reflection on the why, how and implications of an individual or school’s digital foot print raises the notion that we all need to work in partnership to prepare our students to function and survive in their digital world.  With some professional learning and personal networking it is a simple difficult task to start managing your digital reputation and gradually evolve into a fully functioning digital citizen.


Martin Pluss

Dean of Learning Technologies Loreto Normanhurst – @loretonh


References provided

History Punk.  8 reasons why online reputation building can give academics a competitive advantage


Ideas and Thoughts.  Reputation Management for Education

KBSD Digital Marketing.  Managing your personal e- reputation Geneva, Switzerland

Kearney, M. etal “Viewing Mobile Learning from a Pedagogical Perspective” Research Learning Technology

Mayfield, A. Three tips for managing your online reputation

Olher, J. Jason Olher Home

Weinberg, T.  Manage your Online Reputation


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