In the recent past I have had the opportunity to talk to many school principals, headmasters, and educators about how to help their students develop and sustain a positive digital footprint. Obviously, this is not something my team and I alone can achieve; they too need to seamlessly integrate the concept of positive digital footprints within their day to day student interaction. The educational institution and every educator within must incorporate the concept and integrate it within their system of digital documentation, mentoring and guidance.
In the current high school education scenario, are educators giving their students the correct input, guidance and mentoring, or are they turning a blind eye to what a student posts on the Internet? In my limited interaction, I have not experienced a very forthcoming approach from educators towards developing this concept, and one wonders whether educators are being proactively helpful to channelize their students’ digital energy positively.
Here are some of the top reasons I think this is not taken as an educator’s responsibility:
What students do after school hours is not our problem
This one I have heard repeatedly. Most educators are willing to take responsibility for student’s activity only during school hours or school days (in the case of residential schools). They are not concerned with what the student does after school hours, since they are doing it on their own time and are no longer under the school’s “responsibility hours”. What a student does after school hours on the Internet is clearly not the educator’s problem or responsibility.
While I understand their perspective entirely, I do believe that an educator’s influence can be carried over to after-school hours as well by way of a structured activity, or protocols laid out towards building a positive digital image.
We don’t understand their technological mindset or the platforms they use
There is so much that students are doing on the technology front these days, that educators in their 40’s and 50’s are mostly baffled with what is going on. As a result they do not really have much of an understanding or opinion on the topic. In some of my conversations with senior educators, it appears as though there is awe for the student who is technologically adept, without really understanding what his activity is exactly. Students spend time on social media for a greater part of their free time, posting content that may not be helping them document their achievements or accomplishments. Educators don’t necessarily understand the workings of platforms like instagram, snapchat and others, and may not be in a position to review their students’ content on these Apps.
Educators may want to understand the working gist of popular apps, but at the same time they also need to see how they can help their students develop a positive digital portfolio.
We tell them what not to do, but don’t know what they should do
Educators are able to specifically point out what students need to avoid doing on the Internet, but when it comes to building a positive image, they don’t have enough ideas to help them counter balance their casual Facebook and Instagram profiles. I have found this missing in a lot of my interactions with educators; they are clear on how they are training their students on what not to do on the Internet, but when it comes to giving guidance on the online image front, they don’t have too many ideas on how a student can build a strong digital profile. As a result, students will continue to do what they do on social media for lack of a structured plan laid out and encouraged by their school mentors.
A good move is to ask students to Google themselves and see what comes up. And then start developing positive profiles, and see how quickly these take over the Google search results and become the prime profile that a student can showcase proudly.
Educators themselves may not fully understand the impact of a Digital Footprint
While I meet and interact with a lot of educators who have a clear idea of what a digital footprint is, this topic is like global warming, which not everyone is taking seriously enough. Unfortunately, mistakes made on the Internet are next to impossible to erase. Even if I were to deactivate my Facebook profile, it will remain there as a part of my digital footprint forever.
Educators may need to delve a little deeper into this topic to understand its impact and see how they can help alleviate the adverse impact of a poor online presence by helping their student develop positive online profiles.
In conclusion, within or outside of school, the educator's influence on a student is immense. The educator plays a significant role in the student’s life and therefore must not turn away from the responsibility to helping the student shape his online image. Turning a blind eye to the student’s digital activity outside school is not the solution, but helping the student channelize his digital energy in the correct direction can make a world of difference to the student's present and future.