Educators Must Keep in Step with their Digital Footprint

Fri, Dec 19, 2014

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

By Dr. Susan Foster Ebbs
Associate Professor at American Public University

Educators must be keenly aware of issues and considerations related to how their online presence is perceived. Hengstler (2011) shared that an educator’s reputation is often held and scrutinized to a much higher standard than other professionals. So it is very important that educators understand and manage their digital footprint.

Defining the Digital Footprint

As our society becomes more and more dependent on technology, the likelihood is great that each person’s digital footprint (everything left behind as a result of access and action in the digital world) becomes more prevalent. A footprint can include passive or active dimensions such as affiliations, communications, education, employment, entertainment and lifestyle, finances, insurance, internet usage, legal documents, medical documents, personal data, residential information, space-time trajectory, and travel data (Weaver & Gahegan, 2007).

Further, several factors such as participation level, digital intelligence, age, and socio-economic status, all affect a person’s online presence (Kligiene, 2012). Another, less obvious, but equally important dimension of each individual’s footprint is created by others. For example, everything that is written about a person by others online becomes a part of the online persona.

To put this all in perspective, consider the following. A 20 year old college student can have a digital footprint that spans nearly a decade–long before his or her ability to make legal decisions!

Implications of an Educator’s Online Presence

An educator’s professional credibility can depend on how he or she is personally seen by the general public. Park (2009) punctuates this point by saying that the clear lines between who we are in the virtual and real worlds no longer exists, muddled by the playing out of real world problems on social media.

When educators fail to monitor their digital presence (both first and second hand dimensions) can be damaging for educators. Even when unwarranted, information in the digital world can call into question the educator’s ability to be effective. Recovering trust and credibility can be a daunting, if not impossible, task.

Steps to Manage the Footprint

While there is no hard and fast rules and laws that protect an educator’s digital privacy, there are several steps that can be taken to ensure a footprint remains manageable. Here are some tips:

F– Find namesakes and look for ways to differentiate from them. This could include ensuring professionally appropriate photographs are associated with public accounts.

O– Obey ethical codes and laws that govern the acceptable use of technology for the profession. As technology becomes more prominent, professional organizations are developing ethical codes and position statements regarding online activity.

O– Own knowledge about safety. Routinely do a “Who, What, When, Why, Where, and How” search for the latest developments in risk management for the digital world.

T– Think about the impact of everything shared online. Make sure information is professional suitable for the present as well as the future.

P– Protect privacy by reviewing online account settings. Avoid permissions that share private information.

R– Refrain from following students, their siblings, or their parents on social media. Several states have already prohibited this level of contact.

I– Inspect online profiles often. Use Google or access sites like PeekYou to see what might be present in an individual footprint. Conduct deep searches using sites such as Trackur, ReputationDefender, and Lookuppage. These engines look for information that goes beyond surface information found on sites like Google (Hengstler, 2011).

N-Never share private information.

T-Take action if there is false information. Check individual states for laws that govern the dissemination of false information and possible recourse.

S– Separate professional identity from personal identity. When in doubt, keep it private.



Hengstler, J. (2011). Managing digital footprints: Ostriches v. eagles. In S. Hirtz & K. Kelly (Eds.), Education for a digitalworld 2.0 (2nd ed.) (Vol.1, Part One: Emerging technologies and practices). Open School/Crown Publications: Queen’s Printer for British Columbia, Canada. from http://www.viu.ca/education/faculty_publications/hengstler/EducationforDigitalWorld2.0_1_jh89pdf

Kligiene, S. (2012). Digital footprints in the context of professional ethics. Informatics in Education, 11(1), 65-79.

Park, S. (2009). I don’t want to be your BFF, either. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(39), B22. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.mala.bc.ca:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie&db=aph&AN=42531463&site=ehost-live.

Weaver, S.D. & Gahegan, M. (2007). Constructing, visualizing, and analyzing a digital footprint. Geographical Review, 97,  324–350. doi: 10.1111/j.1931-0846.2007.tb00509.x.


About the Author:

Dr. Susan Foster Ebbs holds a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, M.Ed. in Counseling with concentration in School Counseling, and B.A. in Psychology and Biology. She is a certified K-12 School counselor, National Board Certified Counselor, associate professor at American Public University, and licensed professional counselor in Louisiana. She specializes in counseling and therapy with children, adolescents, and families.

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