Saturday, April 10, 2010

Help students manage their digital footprint and effectively participate in social media - 140 Character Conference

badge5I am presenting at The 140 Characters Conference in New York City on April 20th. This event is the largest worldwide gathering of people interested in the effects of the real-time Internet on business, education, and “we” the people. Some of the other speakers include Ann Curry, NBC News (@AnnCurry), Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy, (@chrislehmann), Donny Deustch (@Donny_Deutsch), Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump), and MC Hammer (@MCHammer).

I will be a part of the Twitter and Education panel and joined by @mbteach, and @kjarret, with @parentella moderating. Specifically I'll be discussing:

1) Teaching Kids how to manage their Digital Footprint
2) Why social media curriculum is critical in schools
3) Ideas for parents interested in helping students manage their digital footprint and effectively participate in social media.

In anticipation of the conference I'm writing about each topic. You can read what I wrote about Teaching Kids to Manage their Digital Footprint here and Why social media curriculum is critical in schools here. For this post I am addressing:

Ideas for parents interested in helping students manage their digital footprint and effectively participate in social media.

As children enter their teenage years they begin participating more and more in online environments and parents are often at a loss for guidelines around how to offer their children support and guidance. In many cases parents may ask their teachers for advice on how to help their children engage effectively in online environments. Here are three simple ideas teachers can share with parents interested in helping students manage their digital footprint and effectively participate in social media.

  1. Help teens take control of their digital footprint
  2. Help teens determine what their digital footprint says about them

  3. Connect with others with your passions and interests
1) Have a conversation with teens about taking control of their digital footprint
I was recently at a conference where educators were discussing whether or not teenagers should use their real names online. One of the women in attendance felt strongly that in their teenage years students should begin using their real names. She posed the question, "If we don't take ownership of our digital identity who will?" This is a powerful question and brings to light the concept of active and passive digital footprints.

A 2006 Pew Internet report indicates there are two main classifications for digital footprints: passive and active. A passive digital footprint is created when data is collected about an action without any client activation, whereas active digital footprints are created when personal data is released deliberately by a user for the purpose of sharing information about oneself.

The question becomes, this. Do you want to deliberately be aware of and control what you stand for online or do you want that to be left to others? Parents who agree the teenage years are the right time for students to begin identifying what they stand for and who they are can begin helping their children establish a purposeful digital footprint. Teaching students the lesson of responsibility and accountability early on can result in a future payoff of giving them a name they can proudly stand behind. If we teach a student to automatically think about what their online behavior and words say about what they represent and remind them that their words leave a digital footprint, how might this change how they interact?

It can be very powerful for students to begin developing their identity at this stage of their life and extremely impactful if parents guide and support their children in doing this. But who are your children? What is the message they want their digital footprint to convey? How do they know what it is or should be? How could they find out? The answer to that is in the second idea.

2) Help teens determine what their digital footprint says about them today

Of course the most obvious way to uncover your digital footprint is by Googling yourself. When you do so, what comes up? Once you explore that, decide, is that what I want people to see when they Google me? If it is, terrific. You/your teen is doing a great job. If it's not, think about what it is you want to have appear when someone Googles you. What do you stand for? I asked myself this question two years ago when I started my blog. I decided that I wanted to be the number one topic that came up whenever someone searched for "educating innovatively." To make that happen I began considering and implementing Ideas for Making a Purposeful and Professional Digital Footprint. Now, two years later, I dominate the page for that search term. Work with your child to think about what their defining phrase, statement or idea may be.

Here are some innovative and not-so-obvious ideas for parents exploring the digital footprint of teens who use Twitter or Facebook. Parents and their teens can start exploring their digital footprint with what I call "Recap Apps." Recap apps let you take a look at who you are online in a variety of ways using your words, photos, and updates over a period of time you specify (i.e. the last month, three months, six months, or year). The apps are free and it only takes minute or so to generate each one.

A parent and teen can do this together and discuss what the word clouds, status clouds, or photos say about them. Parents should ask their teen how they feel about this digital footprint. Here are some ideas for questions they may discuss.
  • What do they like?
  • Is there anything they are proud of?
  • Is there anything they are embarrassed about?
  • What might they want to change?
  • What might they do to more effectively represent how they want to be viewed by others?

You can find out more more about how to use recap apps in these posts.

3) Connect with others with whom you share passions and interests

Once you help your teen to discover what their digital footprint says about them and they decide they want to take control of it, they'll need to do some thinking about what it is they really stand for. They'll want to explore their interests. In fact, some, like Sir Ken Robinson, would say that perhaps the most important job of a parent or teacher is to support children in discovering these talents, interests, and passions. The internet provides opportunities to do this and connect with others ways never before available.

Watch your child when s/he uses the internet. As Sir Ken suggests, "Kids give you messages." Our job is to watch, guide and listen. He shares that you may be surprised what it is your child loves. "When Olympian Bart Conner's mother noticed he walked on his hands as well as his feet, she noticed, "Hey, he's a gymnast!" "Some are drawn to drawing, some are making music all the time, some love moving around. You have to see and hear the message your child is sharing and encourage it because when you find your talent your whole life changes." Finding your talent gives students, "purpose, meaning and fulfillment" and what more could a student hope for from their parents and teachers.

While it is certainly important to be aware of how your child's passions, interests, and talents may manifest themselves in the real world, the online world is also important connecting individuals to people and places, never before possible. Remember too that anytime your child engages online they are creating a piece of their digital footprint. Whether it is a tweet they send out on Twitter, a status update they write on Facebook, a comment they leave on a blog, or a conversation they engage in on a discussion board, these all contribute to who your child is online. As a parent you can serve a crucial role in your teen's life, by helping him/her engage responsibly and effectively with others who share your child's passions and interests. Not only will this help him/her on the road to developing an active digital footprint, but you are also helping your son or daughter develop an important life skill.

To illustrate this point I am sharing the story of a student that attends The Island School about which I wrote You Can Get a Dalton Education at a NYC Public School. This is a school that lives and dies by the belief that the most important part of their work is to help students find and develop their passions, interests, and talents. I had the pleasure of visiting the school and speaking with students and teachers. Every student who attends this elementary/middle school is told that this is a place they will be exposed to, find and develop their passions and talents. Some shared that when they started school they were nervous because they didn't think they had any talent or passion. By the end of their first year at the school every student knows they've got talent, interests, and passions.

There were so many wonderful students at this inner city public school on the lower east side of Manhattan, but one that particularly stood out was a young man who just loves buses. Yes, buses. The things that take people around New York City. With the help of his parents and teachers this student began a physical and virtual exploration and development of his passion. First any time he road a bus, he studied it. Is this really the most effective layout of seats? Could the onramp for those with disabilities be designed better? What about the fuel emissions? Could there be a way that buses ran cleaner? He also visited the MTA and museum and spoke to experts there and, of course he spoke with bus drivers, but some of his strongest connections were those he made online.

This student began reading blogs about buses. Yes there are many. He began commenting on these blogs. He started interacting with others on MTA discussion boards. He could read newspaper and magazine articles and comment on those with authors and experts on the topic. He knew how to find the latest news about buses by using search terms on Twitter, and he could follow those with relevant Tweets. And, he could Tweet too! Before you knew it, this student had begun developing not only a strong personal learning network, but he was also laying the groundwork for a purposeful digital footprint. An interesting thing about this is that expertise has no age barriers and this students thoughts, comments, and ideas sat right beside others in the field and he was quickly establishing himself as an expert on the topic, even though he was only in middle school. This student had big ideas, big plans, and a respectable digital footprint. His principal shared that from her school he went on to Automotive High School and she expected he would soon move on to an engineering college to pursue his passion of bus design and engineering.

Parents who can work with their children and teachers to discover, uncover, and develop their students passions and interests using both traditional and digital tools, will provide students with some of life's most valuable and memorable lessons.

I very much look forward to discussing this on the Twitter and Education panel and I hope to see other innovative educators at the conference as well. If you are thinking about attending #140conf NYC you can register to reserve a ticket at a cost of $140 for the two day event or $80 for one day. You can register here to guarantee youself access to the event. The format at the #140conf events is unique. Individual talks are 5 and 10 minutes, keynotes are 15 and 20 minutes and panel discussions are no more than 20 minutes. During the course of the two days more than 140 people will share the stage at the 92nd Street Y in about 70 sessions. To get a feel of the energy you may experience click here to review the videos from the 2009 #140conf NYC. The take aways from this event will provide the attending delegates knowledge, perspectives and insights to the next wave of effects twitter and the real-time internet will have on business and education in 2010 and beyond.


  1. Lisa, love #140conf and enjoy the time.

    The topic "digital footprints" is also of deep interest to me as I am the author of "My Digital Footprint"

    I have been working on a graphic that tries to articulate that digital footprints are much more complex than the data and information you say about yourself. Love to have any feedback on it

    Also, may be worth mentioning the environmental impact of cloud. I have linked to the Greenpeace report from my blog with some thoughts on it.

    Hope this adds some value


  2. "Parents who can work with their children and teachers to discover, uncover, and develop their students passions and interests using both traditional and digital tools, will provide students with some of life's most valuable and memorable lessons."

    I totally agree with this statement. It's always important to encourage your kids to do what they're passionate about and be there to guide and support them. I'm sure these kids will appreciate those people who's with them all the way until they will succeed in following the path that they have chosen to take. Thank you for this very informative blog.