Digital Identiy is a term I personally don’t hear a lot in every day life, however it covers a vast amount of popular topics that we do hear about. Digital Identity is the way you present yourself online, it is in a way your own personal definition. It was previously believed that your online Digital Identity and your offline “Real” Identity were seperate entities, but this is no longer the case, and really never was. What you do online will affect you offline and vice versa, it has become the continuum which defines you as a person.
So as an educator, what does this mean to us? How can we actually help students learn and develop a healthy digital identity? Do we even know what a digital identity is, or what ours looks like? We have seen countless videos and satires about House Hippos and Tree Octupii and this used to be what we considered digital and technological education. This might seem like an easy effective way out of teaching digital identity, but the reality is these are not effective in any way, and really lead to harm since the students then figure out digital identity uninformed.
The school is the first step in this process. While a teacher can tackle this concept alone, it is really something the school as a whole should be facilitating to ensure continuity across the grades. Whether this be planned professional development to inform the teachers, or an action plan/local curriculum to collaborate on digital literacy education. This also means the school should be encouraging against bad social media and online practices within the school, for example using snapchat while in class, taking pictures without persmission, etc… If the school is on board, the teachers will have a solid foundation to build upon.
The teachers are the next step, as they are one of the most significant role models in a student’s life. Considering the fact that students nearly spend more time in the classroom with their teachers than they do at home with their parents, the teacher has to make sure they are reflecting what they preach. You have to have a good professional online identity, and a positive personal one. You should be the exact model of what you teach and recommend in your lessons. If you tell the students not to post inappropriate photos on social media, they should not be able to check your profile and find exactly that.
Secondly, Teachers need to teach digital literacy with some obvious intent and effort. It should feel like it has the same significance as Math and English. If students sense your lesson or topic is a “tack on” lesson that is unrelated to anything and ungraded, than they will lose interest and not put as much care into the work. You should also include some examples of real digital problems that occured for people related to their identity, whether it be identity theft or repercussions of actions online/offline. An idea for some sort of assignment would be sleuthing assignments, have students “creep” each other online and attempt to find information that was not intended to be there. Social Media checks by the teacher could also be a possibility if planned correctly. This is the part where you have to get creative and come up with ways to teach this important subject in a serious, yet fun, engaging manner.
The last step is to teach and encourage good digital citizenship practices, specifically related to the mob attitude that has affected people through digital identity. We have a very hostile society right now which will chew up and spit out anyone online who goes viral for something even remotely negative. Whether it be an honest mistake or an intended insult, online society will still bombard social media profiles and dig up any and all information against that person. This is not something that is easy to change, and may never fully change, however if we encourage more forgiving practices in our teaching and lives, that is going to get us one step closer. Perfection tends to be impossible, but progress is not, and as teachers perfection might be the overhanging goal, but progress is what we need to aim for.