Thursday, December 26, 2013

On Digital Citizenship: A Digital Footprint Lesson

I teach a class called, "Intro to Computers" which has both high school and dual enrollment (college + high school) sections. This term I was teaching the high school only section and I wanted to find a way to talk about digital footprints without be preachy. I wanted for kids to be aware of the mark they are leaving on the world.

I sought volunteers via my own Facebook and was overwhelmed by how awesome my online friends are. I had many more than I could use in the time allotted. I chose three college students (two the kids might know and one they didn't), two authors and a few educators.

The students were asked to look at the Tweets WITHOUT reading the profile (which I realize is hard to do). I asked them to describe the person with five characteristics based solely on their tweets. The results were amazing. 

The students then decided if they would hire the person (again, based on their tweets) for a variety of jobs and to give rationale (quoting actual tweets). The potential jobs were teacher, principal, and grocery store clerk. I also asked if they would buy the person's book if they were an author of children's books. Again, the results were amazing.

Finally, I took screen shots of tweets (and retweets) from the Twitter timelines of students in the class, obscuring the names, and we pretended that this was a fictional person named, "Brenda Bunch." (The associate in the room at the time is named Brenda). This proved to be the greatest lesson of them all. Here are some words the students used to describe "Brenda Bunch": "self centered, un caring, uncreative,un prepaired, not smart, likes to share her opinion, doesn't really care what people think, mean, demanding, likes the weekend, depressed, She is very innaproprate and uses vulgar language."

I asked students to email me their thoughts, I received this from one student, "Before I started this project I seriously thought it was pointless and I would get nothing out of it. After working on the project for a class period, and viewing peoples profiles it made me realize tweeting one bad word can make you look like a very bad person. If someone tweets something about someone, subtweets them, says a bad word, or is a very negative person it can make them look bad. After finishing this project it made me realize to never be negative on twitter or say anything bad because this could effect you in your future while getting a job, and people reviewing your profile before hiring you for a job."

To take the lesson one step further, I asked a friend in college admissions at a local University to look at the "Brenda Bunch" tweets and to see what possible repercussions a student could face, she noted that several tweets would disqualify "Brenda" for scholarships. About one retweet, she wrote, "sounds like there are some mental health issues...might be flagged as a student to watch when they enter college"

We then talked about this project in class and it was an eye-opening discussion. I've long been concerned about the idea that kids don't see what they retweet as a reflection on them. One of the college students is one of the smartest people I know, and he was described as not being very smart. I shared with the students what I knew to be true about the people we profiled.

I also shared that an awesome author, Samantha Berger, wrote this on Facebook:
which came at the perfect time. I'm always nudging my students on Twitter about the types of things they are saying. Reading this post reminded me that I was once a teenager and I would have torn up social media. All of my nudging, and the point of this lesson, is not judgment, but just a wakeup call.

I myself have used Twitter to snark. Most of the time, I have removed the Tweets (which I know doesn't remove them from the world). It's important that we all take a look at our footprint and readjust our sails. 

Do I think that this lesson will change the way these kids tweet?? No, not all of them. But if it gives them pause before they hit send, then I think it had the desired effect.

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