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When asked what words come to mind when they think about students posting to the Internet, many educators list words like danger and safety.
But with the likes of Robert Nay—who created one of the most downloaded iPad apps of 2011 when he was just 14—and even Justin Bieber—who began his international superstardom as a YouTube sensation—as inspiration, students and teachers alike should know the positives that posting to the Internet can offer.
This was the message Steve Johnson, a technology skills teacher, parent, and author of two education books, shared during his Saturday session, "Digital Footprints: Your Students' New First Impression."
"The main idea we get from surveying teachers [about students posting online] is there [are] a lot of negative connotations," Johnson said, as he aimed to reverse these negative perceptions and encourage educators to promote student-produced online content in their classrooms.
Although employers and prospective colleges may reject candidates based on their digital footprints—what he described as "the traces of where you've been, where you're going, and what you've been doing on the Internet"—Johnson said that many students benefit from attracting potential employers through profiles and blogs. Producing online content can be an opportunity for students to express themselves and be creative.
Schools are missing an opportunity when they avoid encouraging or teaching students how to post online, Johnson said. Citing Bieber and Nay as successful examples, Johnson said, "The thing that is a common theme, if you look at these kids, is that they are almost always doing this outside of school.... And I think that's kind of a tragedy."
To guide positive online posting, teachers need to build an environment of flexible problem solving where students are immersed in tasks, can make mistakes, and find multiple solutions, Johnson said.
"They are going to make mistakes," he said. "It's better to learn from that in a safe, caring environment."
To avoid any negative repercussions, Johnson stressed the importance of guiding students through posting online content in the safety of the classroom.
He recommended asking students if they have ever seen something they or a friend posted online spiral out of control. He advised educators to remind students to keep passwords private and to remember that, while Facebook privacy settings may be restrictive, content seen by Facebook "friends" can easily be shared with others.
Johnson also encouraged teachers to model responsible Internet use by posting their own blogs, portfolios, and content through tools such as Weebly, where teachers can create student websites; ePals, a social network optimized for K–12 learning; and KidBlog.org, a tool for elementary and middle school teachers looking to create and moderate student blogs.
"I really think we are at an awesome point with our kids," Johnson said. "We are really at a beginning point…. They're really starting their digital lives in our classrooms."
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