Positive, Negative or Neutral? Crucial Conversations on Digital Citizenship

THE NE“Along with planes, running water, electricity, and motorized transportation, the internet is now a fundamental fact of modern life.” ― Danah BoydW YOU

Working with students recently, we were discussing digital footprints.  A few students were fine with me googling their names in front of the group, and there was nothing that they were embarrassed of at all.  Lots of social interactions; nothing bad, but nothing good.

I then asked them the following:

Me: Have you been told not to do bad things online?

Student: Yes.

Me: How about good things?

Student: Never.

These particular students were telling me about things that they were doing in their lives that were absolutely amazing and made an impact on so many others, but their online presence would never tell you that.  To share some of the things that they were passionate about and how they served others, was not on their radar.

When I asked them why that was, the “cool factor” came to light.  They shared that as a teen, sometimes sharing the positives of what you do might be up for criticism, and that they were so influenced by their peers.  Sharing the “positives” was not what social media was for.

Is this perhaps because this is a generation being guided only by their peers, and not getting input from adults?

There is part of me where I struggle with suggesting how others use social media.  One part says “leave it alone” because your space is your space. Kids gravitate towards things like snapchat, and then all of sudden educators are trying to figure out how to use snapchat for education.  It reminds me of this scene from 30 Rock with Steve Buscemi:

fellow kids


The other part of me says in a world where the majority of our students will be googled for jobs, university, or other things, the more we educate the better.  Would it better if people seeing these footprints were going “Wow!” or “eh”?  In an article that is already five years old, Forbes wrote “5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years“; how have we helped with this reality?

Here are few thoughts that I think are crucial when having these conversations with students:

  1. Is your footprint positive, negative, or neutral?  What would others say that don’t know you?
  2. How do you want to be perceived offline? How about online? Is there a difference in your actions in those spaces?
  3. It is important to show who you are as a person, but to also understand that this is a an open room and to be thoughtful of others.  Have fun but not at the expense of someone else.

I tweeted the following while listening to Alec Couros (my brother) and Dean Shareski at ISTE recently:

The whole notion of “digital citizenship” is a messy conversation, but it is definitely one we need to have with our students to ensure that they have all of the opportunities to find and create their own path moving forward.


  1. Geoff said:

    Great post, and you are right. It is time we started asking students to do good things online. We have to teach them that the same connectivity they use for social learning can be used for academic learning. I use google to screen candidates before we interview. People have learned that they have to clean up their social media or make it private, but we haven’t made the next step in creating an online digital story that shines a light on talents, accomplishments, and who we are as professionals.

    July 19, 2016
  2. Yusuf said:

    We do not think about internet .

    July 20, 2016
  3. Francis said:

    An interesting and thought provoking post for educators who constantly deal with the digital world and the internet within their classroom. As educators we need to impact students’ digital footprint from what not to do online to what can we do positively online.

    July 26, 2016
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