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Sidneyeve Matrix

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Teachers and Digital Dirt

posted: January 10, 2011 by

image by OnTask“If you are a great teacher in the classroom, then you have a drink at a local bar, yes, that’s your own time and it’s your private life. But if someone sees pictures of it or reads about it online…”~ Dale Slagle, superintendent of schools at Frontenac, Kansas.

Cheers to the social web and being an educator without an “off switch.” No broadcasting blackout dates for teachers it seems, instead we are the quintessential “always-on” types, posting our “digital dirt” (for example, having a drink?!) 24/7 online for friends, family, parents, administrators and students.

“Teachers are role models…public image is important,” rightly observes Slagle. But should educators be allowed some privacy on Facebook?

Privacy and Lifecasting

Wait, there’s no privacy on Facebook! There are profile privacy settings which are notoriously complicated (as one teacher who lost her job found out the hard way). So much so that today the safest route is probably to assume that data posted on social networks (or emailed, or transmitted online in any way) is never secure, never deleteable, and certainly not private.

And as we all know, tagged photos and videos also grow legs. Always be vigilant, Googling, deleting, and untagging self-representations of anything that would not be appropriate in an interview setting, advises David Hogard, assistant director of career services at Pittsburg Kansas State University. His comments are directed to students and faculty.

Google Thyself is certainly great advice, even though it’s not always possible to get information removed from the web. But wouldn’t it be safer to avoid participating in Facebook, Twitter, and the like, altogether? Seems logical when any hint teachers might have a life outside the classroom (such as visiting a local bar) can potentially derail a career trajectory. But in fact not making a digital impression can also negatively impact your professional development. No one trusts a blank slate, as they say.

Digital Whitewashing vs. Digital Literacy

Instead of mass deletions in an ill-fated attempt to erase yourself from the web, educators could model for students (and peers) how to craft a well-rounded, work-life balanced e-persona online. Having some evidence of your hobbies and habits (booklists, video and music playlists, Facebook page “likes”), and social proof indicating your cultural, community, and professional connectivity (blogrolls, Twitter listings, Facebook group memberships, sports info and event photos), can be an advantage in light of “HR 2.0″ and all kinds of social recruiting. Consider that “you’re always sort of job searching, in a way,” said Hogard. Fair enough. Even for the tenured it’s worth considering how having a rich and relevant online persona enables network building, collaboration, and communication too.

While no one would argue against removing truly compromising/generally unflattering photos and other online data, totally whitewashing your e-presence as an educator can send the message that you don’t “get” the social web, and are lacking in digital fluency. I’d point to the ever-growing heap of research about socialnomics, social proof, the rise of the trust economy, and the importance of personal brand audits to back up that statement.

However the article I quoted above citing Hogard and Slagle indicates that it may be the administrators who are most likely to adopt an über-conservative approach (delete everything! post nothing!) to the social web. Instead, they should be demonstrating thought leadership on this issue and encouraging responsible, creative, and professional lifecasting. Is it time to organize/lobby for a workshop on your campus about professionalizing your digital footprint? If you’ve already had one and if any of the materials are online please consider sharing them in the comments. Thank you.

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2 Responses to “Teachers and Digital Dirt”

  1. Terry Flynn, McMaster University Says:

    A great post with an excellent call to action. I’m forwarding this to a few colleagues and our Centre for Leadership and Learning to organize a workshop on “professionalizing your digital footprint”. Thanks for your insights — might be a good topic for an article in the Journal of Professional Communications!

  2. Sidneyeve Matrix Says:

    Many thanks for the positive feedback Terry. Agreed re: JPC!
    Sidneyeve

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