Last week, we learned that we have to completely rethink how we teach critical thinking on the web.

Today, as I dig into the idea of digital footprint, I realize we have to completely rethink our approach to this as well.  Health and Protection, just 3 years ago, was seen as this (by Ontario teachers).  It was, at the time, a very comprehensive look at how we teach our kids to be safe online.

OSAPAC Digital Citizenship Resource, Creative Commons Licensed

But with Artificial Intelligence and the use of algorithms to track our data, Digital Footprint management is now so much more.

From the World Economic Forum:

Digital footprints: The ability to understand the nature of digital footprints and their real-life consequences and to manage them responsibly

How we “manage them responsibly” now that we are aware of much more invasive “real-life consequences” is something every teacher needs to think about.

It’s important for us (and our students) to understand how companies are able to use BIG data to learn a LOT about us – even predict our behaviour before we know that we will do things.

In her TED Talk, Jennifer Goldbeck talks about how algorithms pull out detailed information about you just from your online behaviour, primarily to sell you things.  For example, Target sent a 15-year-old girl a flyer for bottles and baby gear 2 weeks before she planned to tell her parents she was pregnant.  How could Target know she was pregnant before her parents did?

It’s no longer just about what you write on your Facebook page, it’s about the things you buy online, what you like on Instagram, the sites you visit and the emails you open.

Take, for example, this innocuous site that helps students find images they can legally use in their projects.  It even adds the Creative Commons citation to the bottom of the image.

My own image, when accessed through Photos For Class, now looks like this:


While some teachers might be delighted to see the attribution and citation embedded in the image, there is some concern when this is done for students automatically.  Are they actually learning the process if a website does it for them?

But as the owner of the image, with a very specific non-commercial license, I was not pleased to see a company name on my shared picture.

But let’s dig deeper to see how we are paying for this service with our students’ privacy.


This is just a tiny piece of the privacy agreement.

Does this service, with the clever little name “photos for class” belong in your class?

What kind of digital image of you is this company selling to third parties based on what you view in the privacy of your own home before and after using the service?

In 2017, we need to teach our children a whole new level of awareness of what data they are giving away with every click.






Featured image by Kristina Alexanderson CC-BY-SA-2.0


One thought on “Rethinking “Digital Footprint”

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