In my first year as a TOSA I have worked with a lot of teachers one-on-one. I have taught small group sessions and even presented to 30+ teachers at a time. What I haven’t done a lot of is work directly with students. Until last week. Last week I had the opportunity to teach three periods at one of the high schools. The students in these computer classes were about to start a unit on Online Safety and Digital Citizenship. Their teachers asked me if I would like to come to give a presentation/lesson. I agreed, although at the time, I had no idea WHAT exactly I would teach. Teaching students is like riding a bike, right? I’ll remember how to do it as soon as I hop back on. That’s what I was hoping anyway.
When I was still in the classroom, some of my best lessons popped into my head the morning I was planning to teach them. Luckily, this lesson didn’t wait that long to develop, but it did wake me up at 5:30 am on a Saturday morning nearly fully formed. I lay there in bed planning out the details; flexing and stretching teaching muscles that I hadn’t used in a year.
I felt confident in the plan I came up with, but man was I nervous the morning of the lesson. I had been a high school teacher for 14 years. By the end, it took a lot to make me feel nervous. But that morning, I had jitters as if I was a new teacher all over again. I could only laugh at myself. I knew once I got started I would be fine, but the waiting was terrible!
My lesson centered around the idea of digital footprints. I first asked the classes if they knew what the term meant. I was surprised at how few had even heard the term before. But that was good, that was what I was there for. I had the students develop a working definition of what they thought the word might mean. Some of them focused on the literal, and imagined it was a record or program that tracked the websites you went to on the computer. Others got very close to the meaning when they surmised that it was like a record of all the things you post and do on the Internet.
I didn’t want to just tell the students the definition. I wanted them to discover what it meant by showing them some examples of people who I believe have strong digital footprints. I split the class into three groups and set them off to see what they could discover about Justine Sacco, Walter Palmer and Paul Marshallsea. (Go ahead, take a minute to Google them. They all have interesting stories). We used Padlet to collect their findings. (A quick shout out to TOSAChat: Through some of these amazing educators I found out I could make my own background in Padlet. I created a graphic organizer to use as the background for the work the students would be creating.)
After time spent researching, the classes shared their findings, and together we began to forge an understanding about digital footprints. The students started discussing how their digital footprint could impact their own lives. One student stated, “I heard colleges look at this stuff.” This was a perfect segue into the next part of the lesson. See, I don’t think it is enough to just warn kids about what NOT to post on the Internet. It is entirely possible, like in the case of Paul Marshallsea, for your digital footprint to have a negative impact on your life without ever posting anything yourself. What I want to encourage students is to be the composer of their own story. By creating an active, positive space on the Internet, they will have the opportunity to put their best foot forward. This idea is something I have learned through the MSU MAET program. All of my work for my online classes had to be posted on a blog. The professors encourage us to create a digital space for ourselves where we can tell our own story.
I tried to pass this message on to the students last week. Yes, it is important to think before you post. And several students made comments about the language they use on their Twitter account. They agreed that they should be more conscious of what types of things they say and do on the Internet. However, they also came up with ideas for how they could work to create a more positive digital footprint for themselves. At the very least, they are now thinking about their digital footprint and how it may impact their futures. To me, that is a step in the right direction.