ISTE Update: Helping Students Build Their Digital Image

Posted by Matt Berringer on June 24, 2013

DigitalTatooAs we increasingly communicate and share work online, we are creating digital images and digital tattoos for ourselves. At ISTE 2013, Adina Sullivan (shown right addressing the audience), a K-12 educational technology specialist at San Marcos Unified School District, offered advice for communicating with students about this important 21st-century issue.

Although 90 percent of students in the United States have a digital image by age 2, most are unaware of the potential risks associated with posting online content. “Our students aren’t understanding that what they post online is like a tattoo,” says Sullivan. “It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now there’s that regret.”

Because so much of our lives is lived online, we are shaping a digital identity whether we intend to or not. Although this online image is often referred to as a “digital footprint,” Sullivan says the phrase is a misnomer. “What you do online is not a footprint,” she says. “You can try to remove elements you no longer like, but it’s never completely gone. There’s often an outline or a shadow of it still there that will not go away.”

In educating students about their digital tattoo, Sullivan advises educators “to get beyond the scare tactics” and guide students in shaping their online image.

“There is so much about us that’s out there that we don’t even think about. We need to be coaching our students to understand [our digital tattoo]. And once they know [what’s out there], how can they make it truer to who they are?” says Sullivan. “By putting positive things out there, we can create opportunities for ourselves and for our students. Are we promoting students? Are we sending things out there? Are we helping them to get some positive attention for the things that they are doing?”

Sullivan suggests the following investigative tools for finding out what our digital tattoo is:

  • Google
  • (which involves a fee)

Sullivan advises individuals to first logout because it will affect the search results and to search for a variety of relevant names, i.e. “first last,” usernames, nicknames, etc.

She recommends that the following can result in positive content for students:

  • Social media posts and pictures
  • Blog posts and responses
  • Academic portfolios
  • Interest portfolios
  • News articles
  • Flickr images
  • Personal blogs
  • Digital stories
  • Personal Domains
  • Wikis
  • Videos

And, Sullivan advises the following topics of discussions:

  • Digital literacy and citizenship
  • How to create strong, secure passwords
  • District policies on using real names versus pseudonyms for students

She also offers the following list of educational resources:

Follow Sullivan at @adinasullivan.