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Teaching Students about Their Digital Footprints

Our students live in an online world. They’re emotionally and physically attached to their devices and many of their relationships exist within technology. As educators, there are many ways that we have had to adapt to this changing landscape of communication within our teaching, and when I look around my institution, I think we’re doing a remarkable job at keeping up with the rapid pace of change.

However, one area that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is educating students on the digital footprints they leave behind. Footprints that can jeopardize their employment potential. A large part of our job as college educators is to ensure that our students have the skills to become contributing members of society working in their chosen fields. We give them content knowledge and skills and we may even impart some of our worldly knowledge, but we rarely think about their online activities and the long-term ramifications they can have on their ability to achieve these goals.

I have presented on this topic on several occasions throughout North America and I am always surprised by how little some post-secondary educators know about the functionality and privacy of certain social media platforms. At the most recent conference, one participant told my colleague and me that it was safe to send a photo over SnapChat because it disappeared after a set amount of time. I was astounded. [See: Snapchat admits deleted photos aren’t really deleted.] We explained to her that this was certainly not the case and absolutely anything transmitted on your phone or the Internet can have a positive or detrimental impact on your future employability.

Scenarios such as this only confirm for me that instructors not only need more information on this topic but should also have a solid lesson plan in place to educate their students about online activity.

Below I describe several steps for creating a lesson plan that will aid in making the Internet a constructive tool for building a positive, online identity for our students.

These steps are not foolproof and no matter how hard we try to preach about the pitfalls of irresponsible social media use, some students will never understand the impact their online identity can have on their future careers. However, following the five steps laid out above ensures that they have a better chance at presenting to the online world, a competent and professional demeanor. In turn, this can help them to land a job in their chosen profession. What better lesson could we impart to our students?

Allen, K. (2015, January 2). Snapchat admits deleted photos aren’t really deleted. Retrieved from http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/Snapchat_admits_deleted_photos_arent_really_delete_16643.aspx

Bromstein, E. (2015, December 7). 14 Canadians who were fired for social media posts – Workopolis. Retrieved from http://careers.workopolis.com/advice/14-canadians-who-were-fired-for-social-media-posts/

Smith, J. (2013, April 6). How social media can help (or hurt) you in your job search. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/04/16/how-social-media-can-help-or-hurt-your-job-search/#7a3e260f24fd

Pilkington, E. (2013, December 22). Justine Sacco, PR executive fired over racist tweet, ‘ashamed’ Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/22/pr-exec-fired-racist-tweet-aids-africa-apology

Yale University. (2015). Professional Online Identity. Retrieved from http://ocs.yale.edu/content/professional-online-identity

Dawn McGuckin is a professor at Durham College (Canada).

This article first appeared on Faculty Focus on September 19, 2016. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.