Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning About Digital Footprints

When asked about the UCLA student who recently posted a disparaging video on YouTube (see last blog) that ultimately led to her withdrawal from school, Robert Hernandez, a professor of Internet journalism at USC, said her story serves as a reminder of the need to be aware of your “digital footprint” in the Internet age.

Understanding the impact of one’s digital footprint is challenging, even for those of us who have been online for a long time. We see examples of adults being digitally disastrous every day, maybe not to the extent of the UCLA student, but certainly we can all think of someone who has shared too much information or posted a photo that makes us cringe. So imagine the difficulty of trying to introduce the concept of a “digital footprint” to a roomful of sixth graders who are just making their first voyages into cyberspace.

To teach this concept we used curricular materials from Common Sense Media and adapted them to make the lesson particularly relevant to these students. As part of a recent Business Math block, this class started what turned out to be a very successful pie-making/selling business called “Sweetie Pies” (they made and sold hundreds of pies over the holidays). So we told the students that “Sweetie Pies” needed to hire a national spokesperson, and as owners of the company it was their job to consider two applicants, Jason and Linda, and look at their “digital footprints”.

After conducting this digital background check, the students were asked which candidate they should hire based upon the following criteria: who was more honest and who worked well with others? They broke into small groups to ponder this decision.

Most of the students came to the conclusion that neither of the candidates should be hired (only a couple considered the possibility that the digital information may not have been 100% accurate). So we presented the class with some additional digital food-for-thought.

I think I could actually hear the wheels turning inside their heads (it's a beautiful sound, btw) as these 12-year old's pondered the fine line that exists between the digital information about ourselves that we can control and that which we can’t. These children are entering a world that requires much greater critical thinking than ever before, because the consequences of one or two false moves in cyberspace is tremendous. Just ask that UCLA student.


Common Sense Media (n.d.). Common sense media education programs. Retrieved from

Lovett, I. (2011, March 15). U.C.L.A. Student’s Video Rant Against Asians Fuels Firestorm. New York Times. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. Even in small group, doing a background check will give anyone the power to do sound decisions. -