The first debate of the night this week was very interesting! I find that (similar to other weeks) the topic is a bit vague and there are many ways that it might be interpreted. For example, the debaters focused on the digital footprint itself, but the open discussion time kept heading towards the general idea of teaching digital citizenship. Initially, I was also reading the topic in relation more to digital citizenship than the sole idea of creating that digital footprint/online identity and had said I agreed with the topic. Later on, after I realized we were focusing a lot more on the specific idea of digital footprints alone, I ended up more so on the disagree side.
The agree team, Rae and Funmilola, presented some solid points as to why it is our responsibility as educators to help our student develop their digital footprints.
Students need an understanding of their digital footprint
First off, the agree team mentions that students need to develop basic online safety skills and that one way we can do this is to better help to understand how their digital footprint is created as well as helping students to create or manage this footprint in a safe way. As Rae mentioned, one of the first steps in creating a digital footprint is actually done at school through the creation of a school based email account or other application accounts for children to use at school on laptops/Ipads. In creating these accounts for students, we are adding to or creating their digital footprint. As students get a bit older, it is also important that they have an understanding of all the things that can go into creating your digital identity (such as social media, photos posted, emails sent etc.). Dan Spada does a great overview of this in his video. Finally, Buchanan et. al, (2017) also mentions that the skills of curation is important as well as “children and teenagers should be taught to curate a positive digital footprint, rather than solely being apprehensive of the ramifications a negative one can have.”
Educators are best positioned for this work
Another point that the agree team makes is that educators are best positioned to complete this work as parents may not always be able/are willing to do so. Again, Buchanan et. al, (2017) support this point by saying that “children in higher socio-economic status (SES) homes are more likely to receive assistance in developing their understanding and usage of the internet, as they have more frequent access to it, as well as adults who can assist them.” Thus, we can conclude that schools, a neutral space where most children will frequent in their lives, can be a good, consistent, place to provide instruction and learning surrounding these topics regardless of students socio-economic status. However, we must still ask our selves how the digital divide, as well as teacher unpreparedness and already heavy workloads may factor into expectations such as these.
Some other points mentioned by the agree team were that: schools can host digital citizenship workshops to help connect and inform families, and that digital spaces are still real spaces.
The disagree team, Gertrude and Kim, also did an excellent job explaining their points as to why it is not the teachers’ responsibility to develop students digital footprints.
Students’ digital footprints are already developed before starting school
One point that the disagree side presented is that it is not the job of teachers to develop or help students create their digital footprints as they are already made before they are even old enough to start school. Often times, they aren’t even made by students themselves, but their families. Carolyn Wimbly Martin and Nick Feldstern present that “A study conducted in 2010 found that 92% of two-year-olds in the United States had an online presence” and that “one-third are posted on social media on the date of birth”. When I first read this statistic, I thought that’s crazy! However, many people do post online to announce the birth of their child and share the news with friends & family. Although most of these posts are made on a private platform, we all know that anything posted online is essentially public.
Another example that comes to mind when talking about how parents are creating a child’s digital footprint is Wren Eleanor. Wren is the 3 year old child of a TikTok mom who posts videos and pictures of her frequently and has recently come under controversy (there is a bit of backstory here, and a huge sub reddit with people giving their thoughts and opinions as well). In short, Wren’s mom has been informed that screenshots of her child from her TikTok videos have been found on inappropriate sex trafficking/pedophilia related sites and that there have also been MANY inappropriate comments directed towards her child on the videos themselves. Essentially, people are saying that the mother is well aware of this and is exploring her child for fame. This is just another example of how a child may already have a huge digital footprint (that they had no say in making) before they are even old enough to go to school.
Schools aren’t protecting children’s data
A second statement by the disagree team is that schools are also contributing to this problem. They are not only adding to or creating children’s digital footprints like parents are by posting photos of students online, but they are also encouraging, or even requiring students use platforms and programs that are collecting their data (unbeknownst to parents). The Human Rights Watch article shared by the disagree group found that of the over 150 EdTech products supported by at least 49 governments for use during the pandemic, “89%… monitored or could monitor children, in most cases secretly and without the consent of children or their parents.” Another staggering find was that 140+ of these products “directly sent or granted access to children’s personal data to 196 AdTech companies.” So, not only is the data being collected, unknowingly in many cases, it is also being shared.
Another modern day fear is not only the use of applications and platforms at school which will collect data, but cyberattacks in order to steal data. Regina Public Schools recently suffered a cyber attack that has left us without many platforms for weeks. Even still, we have limited internet access and cannot print or use our main work laptops to connect to a network. There have still not been any confirmations of what type of student or employee information has/has not been exposed.
Some other points brought up by the disagree team include: teachers feel unprepared or not supported by divisions to teach topics such as digital citizenship, and Canadian laws don’t distinguish policies on data collection between adults and children in ways that many other countries do.
This topic definitely has some good points on both sides. Personally, I don’t think that it is our job to help students necessarily develop or create a digital footprint. However, it is our jobs to help them understand what is a digital footprint, how it is made, and how the things they do online (or that their parents do) can affect it. The basics of digital citizenship are essential to all levels of education and should be a part of our formal curriculum with the appropriate training and resources provided my the Ministry of Education and each school board individually as well.