When I entered the Education program at the University of Regina, I remember being terrified of my online identity. I had heard the horror stories: teachers being fired, students getting kicked out of programs, and drinking photos and videos becoming public. I remember doing a major Facebook sweep of pictures and friends. I remember Googling myself and being horrified at my 14 year old reflection on Nexopia (Nickleback T-Shirts and rock on signs galore).
I am still filtering my past online identity. I get a notification for my Facebook memories every day and delete status updates I don’t want online. I used to think students in this-day-and-age were sharing a lot more than I did, since I was almost eighteen when I joined Facebook (and we all know turning eighteen is when we gain ALL THE WISDOM NEEDED IN LIFE). However, I think people are more aware of the dangers that come from posting pictures and updates online. This is partially due to the fact that platforms are no longer private by default and why many students are leaving social media and moving to semi-private platforms. Juan Enriquez describes how people are plastered with “electronic tattoos” and how our digital identities will outlast our life span:
Students should be careful with what they share online, and I am not sure what age they should take control of their digital footprint. Looking at PEEL’s Social Media Guidelines for Staff makes me feel like running from professional and personal social media accounts as fast I can. These guidelines and lectures emphasize how dangerous it is to engage in sharing online. However, I think a major message is being lost with all of this caution tape: Social media and digital identities can open a lot of opportunities for teachers and students.
Making social media accounts more private hinders learning opportunities. I can’t create a positive digital identity if people cannot access any information about me. In fact, not engaging in molding my own identity allows other people the opportunity to do so:
Meredith Stewart said it best: [It} astounds me when teachers/professors only digital presence is Rate My Teachers/Profs page. If you aren’t controlling your footprint, others are.
I don’t think I have turned up on Rate My Teachers yet, but if I do people will need to scroll down a while on Google to find it. You are likely to find these pages of mine before Rate My Teachers: LinkedIn profile, AboutMe page, Twitter, Facebook, teaching blog, classroom blog, YouTube channel, GooglePlus page, and a random lawyer (Katherine Ferrieira) who finished her articles with Koskie Minsky LLP– congrats, Katherine!
Taking control of your digital footprint can be empowering. You can also meet some pretty cool people when you expand your PLN. Teachers can share resources and ideas by showing the world some of the amazing learning taking place in classrooms. Or, as I explain in a previous blog post, students can gain some amazing learning opportunities from open sharing.
There are many benefits for students creating online spaces and identities. I think it’s important they understand the dangers of posting things online, but I don’t want them to turn away from social media and open education completely. Last semester, two of my students were excited to hear the Public Service Announcement they created was being used for nursing students in Saskatchewan.
Social media gives students the opportunity to become agents of change and reach a provincial, national, and global audience. Students have important things to say. Students have important things to teach. It’s time we start listening and fostering their voices safely in online spaces.