Category Archives: digital footprint

Positive, Negative or Neutral? Crucial Conversations on Digital Citizenship

THE NE“Along with planes, running water, electricity, and motorized transportation, the internet is now a fundamental fact of modern life.” ― Danah BoydW YOU

Working with students recently, we were discussing digital footprints.  A few students were fine with me googling their names in front of the group, and there was nothing that they were embarrassed of at all.  Lots of social interactions; nothing bad, but nothing good.

I then asked them the following:

Me: Have you been told not to do bad things online?

Student: Yes.

Me: How about good things?

Student: Never.

These particular students were telling me about things that they were doing in their lives that were absolutely amazing and made an impact on so many others, but their online presence would never tell you that.  To share some of the things that they were passionate about and how they served others, was not on their radar.

When I asked them why that was, the “cool factor” came to light.  They shared that as a teen, sometimes sharing the positives of what you do might be up for criticism, and that they were so influenced by their peers.  Sharing the “positives” was not what social media was for.

Is this perhaps because this is a generation being guided only by their peers, and not getting input from adults?

There is part of me where I struggle with suggesting how others use social media.  One part says “leave it alone” because your space is your space. Kids gravitate towards things like snapchat, and then all of sudden educators are trying to figure out how to use snapchat for education.  It reminds me of this scene from 30 Rock with Steve Buscemi:

fellow kids


The other part of me says in a world where the majority of our students will be googled for jobs, university, or other things, the more we educate the better.  Would it better if people seeing these footprints were going “Wow!” or “eh”?  In an article that is already five years old, Forbes wrote “5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years“; how have we helped with this reality?

Here are few thoughts that I think are crucial when having these conversations with students:

  1. Is your footprint positive, negative, or neutral?  What would others say that don’t know you?
  2. How do you want to be perceived offline? How about online? Is there a difference in your actions in those spaces?
  3. It is important to show who you are as a person, but to also understand that this is a an open room and to be thoughtful of others.  Have fun but not at the expense of someone else.

I tweeted the following while listening to Alec Couros (my brother) and Dean Shareski at ISTE recently:

The whole notion of “digital citizenship” is a messy conversation, but it is definitely one we need to have with our students to ensure that they have all of the opportunities to find and create their own path moving forward.

“But time is a scarce resource…”

I can still remember moments from school when I started in 1980.  My first teacher was Mrs. Stock, and I still keep in touch with her to this day (thanks Facebook!).  There was no one better to invoke a love for school than her.  I remember being so excited that in grade 2 or 3, we would actually start cursive writing.  This was not because I was thinking of all the opportunities that it would provide for my future, but because it seemed like a rite of passage.  The “big kids” wrote cursive, and so you would wanted to be like them.

Yet as a student in 1980, and an educator in 2016, so much has changed in our world, but one thing hasn’t changed at all (and never will); the amount of time we have in our day.

The reason I was thinking about this, is based on a tweet that I shared the other day regarding “cursive writing” in schools.

I have written about this topic before, starting back in 2011 with a post called “Thinking About Cursive” (seriously…if anything, read the comments thread. It is pretty fascinating). Here we are five years later, and the debate continues. In fact, Louisiana just made it state law to teach cursive handwriting. In this one response, the author wonders out loud the relevancy of teaching this from 4th to 12th grade (I didn’t even have to do cursive past the 8th grade):

Is this handwriting requirement based on anything other than the argument that we learned it and turned out fine?

It would be nice if my daughter learned cursive, but not at the expense of her falling behind her counterparts around the world whose fingers will be flying over keys.

And when she’s a high school senior, I hope she’s wholly focused on the future and not being held hostage to state officials’ glorification of the past

Here is the other argument for teaching cursive in schools that many have heard. This article titled, “The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing” from 2013 (Thanks for sharing Adam Woelders!), the author shares the “brain development” that happens when writing cursive.

Putting pen to paper stimulates the brain like nothing else, even in this age of e-mails, texts and tweets. In fact, learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.

Yet if you read past the article, and into the comments, this one REALLY stuck out to me:

I’m dubious about there being hard evidence showing that cursive provides some significant benefits in brain development, and would want to see some real studies and numbers on that, not just claims that could be mere correlation. Moreover, if the relevant activity is putting pen to paper, why should cursive be any better than simple neat printing.

Beyond all that, however, I don’t think it’s simply a question of whether cursive has some tangible educational value — the really important question is whether it has MORE value than something else that could be taught in the same time. There are many subjects to cover in class — what will be omitted to make room for cursive , and what is the argument for that omitted subject being less valuable than cursive?

This is anecdoctal, but I look back on the time I spent learning cursive in grade school and find it was completely wasted — I never write in cursive and instances where I am called on to read it are vanishingly few. I would have got significantly more benefit had that time been used on foreign languages or math, for example.

If time was no object, and schools could instruct on all subjects equally, then sure, why not teach cursive? But time is a scarce resource, and if you’re teaching cursive at the exclusion of some other subject, there better be a good reason to favor it beyond appeal to nostalgia or aesthetics, or the vague invocation of educational benefits over printing. I’m not seeing that good reason.

When I look at this ongoing debate, this is about more than cursive.  This is the constant fight in education between asking if we should let go of some things from the past in anticipation of the future.  I have used cursive more in the last year than I have in the previous 30 because of people wanting me to sign the book I wrote.  I cringe a little each time because my writing is so poor, but hopefully it is legible.  Yet not one note from that book was ever written on a piece of paper.  It was either notes on my iPhone, or written on my computer.  The “signature” argument is also changing.  People that have bought my book in person through credit card on my phone, don’t sign with their pen, but their finger.  And really…if we are teaching kids about writing their signature, I hope it doesn’t take us to focus on this practice from grade 4 all the way to grade 12!

Some think that we should replace cursive with “typing”, and I struggle with this.  Do you know of any school that teaches kids how to type on an iPhone?   Yet many kids are not only fine with this practice, but excel it.  Quick hypothesis…when you care about what you are doing, you will do whatever you can to figure out a way to become good at it on your own.  Many kids learn to type when they actually care about the project they are doing, not simply focusing on how to type.  I personally can type so much better than I ever could when I was taking classes in school because I get to write about things I am interested in. This matters.

The world has changed a lot, but are we taking a good hard look at what our kids need right now, let alone ten years from now?  Many students are learning cursive in schools to this day, while we ignore their digital footprints in school, and many are less than positive to say the least.  What do you think an employer is more likely to do in 2016; ask for a sample of their cursive, or google the candidate?  What are schools doing about this in schools other than telling kids not to “be bad” online?

With the constraint of time always being a factor in our schools, we need to take a serious look not only at what we teach, but what kids need to learn to be successful not only in the future, but even in the world today.  Let’s spend more time not only talking about “what” we teach, but asking “why” we teach it.  Many schools get tested on writing a “newspaper article” while the industry is dying all over the world.  Would you invest your lifesavings in a newspaper?  Yet we still invest our time, and the learning of our students doing this practice.  We definitely want kids to be able to write for different audiences, but are they learning to embed media, hyperlink sources, and effectively communicate to an audience where anyone in the world can have access to the ideas they share?  There is only so much time we have with our kids, so we need to make the best of it.

The debate continues…I wonder if I will be writing about this five years from now.


Opportunity Knocking on Your Door

Think about this scenario that I faced less than seven years ago.

I received a call on a Friday afternoon and was told that I would have an interview for a principalship on Monday and all I would need to do was bring my portfolio to the interview.

My response? “No problem!”

So after about a 90 second freak out about not having a portfolio, I decided to get to work and put together my first portfolio. After about 20 hours of work to put it together digitally (not on the web), I finally got to the interview (exhausted) and we had a great conversation, as the person who was hiring looked at my portfolio for perhaps five minutes off and on during the interview. Needless to say, I ended up getting the position but wow, what a process.

If you really think about it, and I said to you, “Your dream job is available and the deadline for your application is tomorrow so please bring a resume and portfolio,” you could probably put that together the night before. It might not be great, but it is definitely doable.

Now, what about this scenario?

“Your dream job is available and I am going to need a resume but I will also be Googling all candidates to see what they share online.”

How would you fair?

Would people be able to see your learning and the things that you have done in your position? Even if you had a common name, could you send them a link to find more information?

This difference from scenario one to scenario two is that one can be done in an evening, but “googling” someone often shows a considerable amount of time and effort, as well as vision.

It is not about creating an “online persona,” but I always suggest that if people share their learning online, their footprint will take care of itself.

Maybe you have your dream job as an educator. Maybe you are insanely happy with your position currently in education. That’s awesome. But what about our students? In a world that googles people for everything from work, to university, to even dating, are we helping to set up our students for success?

One educator told me a story of how one of his students did not get into the school of her choice based on her grades alone, so she contacted the university and asked them to look at her work online. Seeing what she had done online was the determining factor to get into the school. People are more than their “grades.”

And to note, the “college degree” required idea is changing for many organizations. In an article I shared this morning, Penguin Random House says, “job applicants will no longer be required to have a university degree.”  The article went on about why they were changing their policies:

Neil Morrison, human resources director, says they want talented staff “regardless of background.”

“This is the starting point for our concerted action to make publishing far, far more inclusive than it has been to date,” says Mr Morrison.

“We believe this is critical to our future – to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere, we need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today’s society.”

It means that having a degree will no longer be a minimum threshold or “filter” for any job the firm offers.

“While graduates remain welcome to apply for jobs, not having been through higher education will no longer preclude anyone from joining,” says a statement from the publisher.

Penguin is the latest company to change its recruitment strategy so that there is less emphasis on academic qualifications.

It follows concerns that requiring a degree and recruiting from particular universities was producing too narrow a range of staff.

The world is changing…are we changing with it?

But is it just about getting a job, or being in a space where opportunities find you? A resume is something you often share when you are asked, yet an online presence is a space where opportunity knocks on YOUR door. It’s really interesting to see many people I know have opportunities come their way because of what they share online. This is not about leaving your job, but about creating options for ourselves and our students.

Don’t we want our students to have as many doors opened as possible? Or do we close them ourselves by ignoring this shift in our world?

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