Private Profile Pictures: Teaching Elementary Students AboutTheir Digital Footprint

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My “safe” profile picture

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uniqueThis year I embraced the use of Google Apps for Education in my teaching.  However, I wanted to teach my students about privacy and digital citizenship as well.  While Google Apps for Education creates a sort of “walled garden” for my students, I also wanted to make sure that parents were comfortable with what we were doing in class.
The main problem is that there are a plethora of amazing tools at my fingertips as an educator, but teachers and parents still have a lot of fear around using technology with young children.  As a mother and a teacher, I understand the fear, but the reality is that things have changed since the days when the internet first came along and we had to be super careful.

These days, everyone is putting everything out there.  Literally.  So I see a real shift in how we present technology to our children and our students.  The fact is that these kids will use social media.  Period.  Whether they do it now or down the road is irrelevant.  Our job now becomes teaching these kids how to use social media in a responsible way.  We need to show kids how to present a positive digital footprint.

Teens these days are posting inappropriate photos and comments all over facebook, twitter, and other social media sites.  I think the main reason for this was the explosion of social media and adults’ fears and reservations.  When social media first came about, the majority of educators did not embrace their use in teaching.  As a result, the first generation of social media kids had no training and therefore have no knowledge of applying a filter to what they do online. They are not aware that what they post at 16 will follow them for the rest of their lives and affect their job prospects in a few short years.

That’s why I started the year by explaining to my students in no uncertain terms that from now on, whatever they post online will be online forever.  They can never take back the inappropriate comment they post, or the photo of themselves that they send out to someone online.  We talked about how to stay private, and the students came up with all the answers I was looking for.  Try it with your own students.  You will be surprised how much they know.

As for pictures, we started the year by creating “safe” profile pictures for my students to use online.  I introduced the idea after we discussed internet safety, and gave my students the tools to access various web tools to create photos.  You can find these resources listed below.  I also went to each site ahead of time and created my own profile picture to show the students how creative they could be.  You can see my examples above.

So, you are probably wondering… how did it go?  My students were so engaged with this activity, and used their profile pictures all year long.  Better still, they applied what they learned to our subsequent activities with Bitstrips, Comic Life, and Kid Blog.  Success?  I think so.  And maybe, just maybe, when my students are 16, they will think twice when they post something online, and consider how it will impact their digital footprint.

For more information about Internet Safety, check out this great Common Sense article.  It’s a great resource to share with parents.

Tools for Creating a Safe Profile Picture with your Students:

  • Clay Yourself – Create a clay version of yourself.  From Hotels.com
  • DoppelMe – Create a dynamic avatar.
  • Lego MinMizer – Create a Lego figure of yourself.
  • Marvel Super Hero Creator – Create a super version of yourself
  • Unique – by Rasterboy
  • There was also a great Toy Story 3 Toy Creator, found here, but it doesn’t seem to be working anymore.  Hopefully it will be back some day, because it was FANTASTIC.
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