Over the last little while, I have been pondering the idea of a digital identity. Not only for me, but also what digital identity could mean for my students. How a positive digital presence can help them, whereas a negative online identity might be problematic for them in the future. This video does well to sum up the importance of a positive digital identity, but also what it could mean to have a negative digital identity.
That being said, I believe it is of utmost importance that students are educated on the permanence of what they put online. That doesn’t mean to be so scared of putting anything online. After all, we live in a digital age. To have no digital presence in the current state of the world would be similar to never leaving your house from the day you are born in the physical world. You become unknown, which can be as much of a detriment, as a positive.
Having a Positive Digital Identity
With that in mind, it is clear that it is important for students to be educated on what a positive digital identity looks like. Teachers need to bring up this topic at an early age, and have students begin building a positive digital identity before a negative one. More importantly, teachers need to model this. No parent wants a person teaching their child if every single picture of that person depicts them holding an alcoholic beverage for example. It is not exactly screaming responsibility. In order to teach their students to become model digital citizens, teachers need to lead by example, much like they would do when teaching any other subject.
It Won’t Go Away With Time
Now, when it comes to what a negative online presence can do, teachers need to educate students so they do not have to learn first hand. In Jon Ronson’s TedTalk, the idea that one Tweet can dismantle everything you have built in your lifetime. This is done by social media shaming. Take note, this video was added to YouTube in 2015. This google search was done today.
As you can see, Justine Sacco is still strongly associated with the idea of online shaming, despite the original Tweet being nearly 5 years ago. This story alone can be used as a powerful teaching tool to show students the necessity of always having a positive online presence — that tweet took less than a minute to make, but its effects have lasted 5 years and counting.
Additionally, now that we are living a meme culture, this is another powerful video I have found that students may respond to better. This video talks about memes through the last 10 years, and it looks like just how the people in the original picture feel about their image becoming a meme. Some were happy with the effects it had on their life. Others, not so much. In most cases, these pictures were all originally directed at very few people. However, all it took is one person to get their hands on it, and post it to more websites for it to become viral.
How Schools Are/Should Handle It
From my observations, the topic of digital identity is handled differently by schools across the board. There has not been one approach that every single school has adopted. In some cases, the digital age is embraced. Students are using the web as a tool, and they are building a positive online presence from day one (which I firmly believe is the way to go). A lot of schools seem to have left it up to the teachers to decide. And from what I have seen, this can mean one year students work constantly at building a positive online presence, only for them not to look at it ever again after they have changed teachers. This is not ideal when it comes to building a positive online presence, because as mentioned above, no digital presence can be as much of a detriment as a negative one. Finally, there are some schools who seem to flee from the idea of technology. This can mean the banning of cellphones, the limited use of online tools, or simply a complete lack of technology in daily lessons, preventing students from ever getting an opportunity to build a positive online identity. The way I see it, if we do not equip students with the tools they need to build a positive digital identity early on, we are not giving the best chance at living in an increasingly digital world.