(Note: This originally started out as a comment on my previous post, but it turns out Blogger has a 4096 character limit on comments - who knew?! This post works best if you read the previous post and the great comments to that post first.)
Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. Instead of trying to respond to each one individually, I’ll try to sum up my thoughts in a reply specifically to Dan Maas’s comment. (FYI - Dan is my district’s CIO, and a good one.)
@Dan Maas – I understand the argument but, in the end, I don’t agree with it. I think back to what Tim Tyson said at the TIE Keynote when he asked, “How old do you have to be to make a meaningful contribution?” As Tim and others have argued, our current concept of childhood is really rather new. It was just a couple of generations ago when teenagers – and even younger – were expected to contribute to the family effort, whether it was farming or working in the factory or working in the family-owned business.
Now, I’m very happy that our children typically don’t have to work to help support the family, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we ask our kids to do hard labor. But I think our current period of “extended adolescence” is not good for our students – or our society. I disagree when you say that we ask kids to face adult issues earlier and earlier. I agree that we certainly have been exposing our kids to some adult issues earlier and earlier, and the concomitant pressure that goes with that, but I think we are actually shielding our kids from a responsibility for the life they are living right now. I think our students can make a meaningful contribution now, and that they can handle more responsibility for their actions – and their words.
I’m sensitive to the argument that our students shouldn’t be held to the exact same standards as adults, and that they should be allowed to make mistakes without it haunting them forever. But I think folks are incorrect when they single out technology and students’ digital footprints as somehow different in this respect. After all, students currently earn grades in high school that go on their transcript, and those are certainly looked at by colleges when determining admission. Would you suggest that our students should be anonymous and not have transcripts?
Our student-athletes currently compete under their real names, and statistics and highlight videos are shared with college coaches. Should they compete anonymously? (Or better yet, Dan, given your competitive nature, perhaps we just shouldn’t keep score? :-)
Our student journalists on the school newspaper and the yearbook currently “sign” their name to their stories and take credit – and blame – for their work, and that work is published and freely available (and, as you know, often picked up by local and sometimes national media). Should our newspapers and yearbooks be written anonymously?
And, of course, there’s the press releases that the school and district put out with full names, accomplishments and often pictures of our students; and the district website – take a look at the second story down that's currently on the LPS home page.
Yes, students will sometimes make poor choices and include items in their digital footprints that they should not (either due to inappropriateness or simply low quality). And, yes, our thinking does mature over time and sometimes our earlier thinking might be slightly embarrassing. And, if students are creating that footprint with their real names, it will indeed be part of their “permanent record.” But that’s even more reason to talk about this with them, and to have them create that footprint with their real names. As I said in the post, it will encourage them to be more responsible and help us to help them to be thoughtful in everything they do.
Aren’t we always espousing the idea that asking questions is good (“there are no bad questions”), that sharing our thinking is good (as well as reflecting on that thinking as well as others’ thinking), that responsible risk-taking is good and that we can and should learn from our mistakes (and that mistakes are part of learning – and life), that education is the process of “becoming” and that we want our students to learn and grow over time (lifelong learning) and we won’t hold them completely accountable for their former selves (formative versus summative)? If we truly believe those things, then aren’t we being hypocritical if we then say, “Whoa! You better not let anyone see that process.” Over time, their footprints should get better and better and future colleges/employers/spouses will be able to see the improvement and growth in their work.
It’s a Digital Footprint Growth Model if you will, and I think the vast majority of folks will take that into account and will appreciate the entirety of their footprint and not give undue weight to something posted as a ninth grader (or earlier). I think that those students who have a body of work to examine will have an advantage over those that do not (both in terms of their learning and in terms of their future prospects), and I think that any future colleges/employers/spouses that are unable to look at the growth appropriately (they “hold it against” the student in your verbiage) will end up being less successful because they will miss out on the best talent available. (While I’m not an unfettered capitalist, isn’t this essentially a free markets approach, that adults who can’t look at the entirety of the record will lose out in the marketplace to those that can and eventually will become “endangered”, if not “extinct”?)
In the end, I think we cannot make decisions for our students based on the fears and future ignorance of some adults. (“Fear always springs from ignorance.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.) We can do better. Let’s educate our students – and the adults in our communities – about how best to learn, work and live in a digital society. (“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” Benjamin Franklin.) If not us, then who? If not now, then when?