We all have a digital footprint, regardless of whether we want to have one or not. As an international educator, or any professional for that matter, it is important for us to be aware of what is in our footprint, and for us to create as positive of a footprint as possible. We can help to make sure that happens by establishing a solid professional presence online.
Out of curiosity, I just put my name into Google. The first several links for “Hannah E. Kingsley” were to this blog. Most of the other sites were information about someone by the same name who died in 1850. I guess that woman won’t be posting anything online, so I’m not too worried about someone mistaking information about her as information about me. If I leave out my middle initial, things become a little more interesting. I get links that include my own Facebook page, some links to other Facebook pages under the same name, and some photography websites. One of the other Facebook profiles that shows up is not one that an educator would want turning up in Google search results, but the reality is that we have no control over other people’s digital footprints— even if they happen to share our name! I’d imagine that anyone searching online for information about me would have the common sense to figure out that the same as I’m not the Hannah E. Kingsley who died over 160 years ago, I’m also not some of these other people.
As far as the impact our students’ digital footprints can have on their futures… the thought actually terrifies me. So much of students’ lives are conduced online now, and much of the data associated with it will not go away with time. When I was in middle school, I kept a journal. I’m sure it was nothing to be horrified by, but I’m still glad it isn’t available to be found by a Google search. Sometimes I wrote about how my mom was driving me crazy. Sometimes I wrote about what boy I had a crush on. Sometimes I wrote about a little argument I’d had a friend (and, of course, how I was right in this argument). Then I closed my journal, stuck it on a shelf, and went on with my life. Thankfully there is no permanent digital record of what I thought when I was twelve to come back and haunt me now.
Our students’ have things so differently than I did at that age. Instead of keeping a private journal, many of them post their feelings on social media. Instead of writing a paper for a class, getting a grade, and being done with the assignment, they write reactions to books and ideas on blogs that might still be found years later. We can guide them to only post appropriate things online, to be responsible, to think about long-term implications of what they post. Hopefully, they will do all those things. The reality, however, is that even if what they post is perfectly acceptable, they might not agree with it in five years (or even in five minutes!). I know this is just the reality we live in, but it still freaks me out quite a bit! I can’t imagine if I had gone off to college, met new people, and then gave them all access to my journals from high school or middle school. I can’t imagine people I meet now being able to read what I wrote about politics when I was in high school. I am glad that I have the luxury of not having to explain that I feel completely differently than I may have felt when writing a persuasive paper about politics in high school. Our students don’t live their lives with such a degree of privacy, and teaching them how to navigate these tricky waters is so important. It is also absolutely terrifying.