MET:Digital Footprint

From UBC Wiki

Authored by: Jennifer Barker February 2013

Edited by: Courtney O'Connor March 2014

A digital footprint is all of the recorded actions someone commits in a digital environment. These can include but are not limited to: login and logouts, emails, texts, Tweets, blogposts, visits to websites, use of a mobile device, online purchases, etc.


Digital Footprints are "the online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know". [1] Sometimes referred to as an internet footprint, digital shadow, or cyber shadow individual footprints measure the size of a person's online presence. In his book My Digital Footprint, Tony Fish writes "digital footprints are the digital ‘cookie crumbs’ that we all leave when we use some form of digital service, application, appliance, object or device, or in some cases as we pass through or by, this happens regardless of whether we are actually cognisant of this" [2]

There are two ways digital footprints are built [3]

1) Active ways: blogs, articles, photos, videos, and anything else you may post.

2) Passive ways: What others post on the Internet about you.

Furthermore, each time you make a movement online it is recorded. The complex nature of how digital footprints are created is demonstrated in the diagram below.[4]

Understanding the Impact of Digital Footprints

Regardless of whether or not you engage formally online or not, you are likely to have a digital footprint. [5] Kuehn recommends you do a Google search of your name. As you reflect upon what you see, ask yourself, what does this say about me? Building and maintaing a positive online profile will help to assure that others see a positive digital footprint. Kuehn [6] cautions people to think about who they link to online. People you follow on Twitter, for example, may make comments that do not necessarily reflect your thoughts or values, but could tarnish your reputation should they write something inappropriate. Although you may be unaware of the comments, you network is always visible to others. These days we are encouraged to add lots of information about ourselves on the internet such as photos, art, poetry, videos, blogs, personal profiles. While online, personal information is routinely collected and kept for years by companies wanting to market to you, and viewed by individuals looking for information about you. Additionally many universities and employers now use the internet to explore who you are.

The diagram below visually demonstrates how our digital footprint can influence both our own and others' perception of our identity. [7]

Teaching Students to Build Positive Digital Footprints

Knowledgeable about the impact of digital footprints, educators have the ability to teach their students all of the important information they should know with regard to digital footprints. Children of all ages are networking with others online and many are creating content. Currently much of the content they are creating and publishing is occurring without the guidance of parents or educators. The result of this is children are becoming Googleable as they build their digital footprints. [8] It is time to break the prevalence in schools for students to unplug and "turn off the lights". [9] Certainly teachers must educate about safety and privacy concerns of engaging online, but they also have a responsibility to assist their students in understanding that digital footprints can be "potential tools for learning, finding like-minded peers, and building thoughtful contributors to meaningful digital conversations. [10]

According to Oxley [11] three of the biggest problems facing youth today are:

  • their perceived anonymity
  • their accumulated digital portfolio or digital footprint
  • the legal implications of thoughtless or malicious actions

Students seem to forget or do not appear to care that their comments and images can be viewed by others. For example, the US Library of Congress acquired an archive of all Tweets from Twitter since 2006. [12] The government wanted to capture an image of current society for the future reference. Thus, a permanent record of all Twitter Tweets since 2006 was created. Similarly, other social network platforms such as Facebook also have archives of everything posted on their sites. Students could benefit from understanding the permanency of the information they are providing online.

The dialectical nature of digital footprints requires educators have an in-depth understanding of the benefits and challenges of digital dossiers. Similar to the fears of online safety for students, others such as Richardson equally fear children who do engage and harness the power or their online footprints. He comments

One of my worst fears as [my children] grow older is that they won't be Googled well... that when a certain someone (read: admissions officer, employer, potential mate) enters "Tess Richardson" into the search line of a browser, what comes up will be less than impressive. That a quick surf through the top five hits will fail to astound with examples of her creativity, collaborative skills, and change-the-world work. Or, even worse, that no links about her will come up at all". [13]

Activities for Students

One of the most important things an educator can do to teach students about privacy and their digital footprint is to build and create an awareness about their online footprint. Below are activities for students to reflect upon their use on major social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Students can gauge the size of their digital footprint and visually see the impact they are making on the internet.


  • Reflect upon what you are saying with a cloud at and enter your username.
  • Note: If you don’t have a Twitter account sign up. Make a cloud searching other people or current events on Twitter.


It is important to remind students that they have a series of choices when they are posting online. After looking through the items consider:

  • What are you proud of?
  • What are you surprised to see?
  • Is there anything you are embarrassed about?
  • What might you want to change or do in the future to ensure your footprint accurately represents the picture you want to convey?

Please see more examples below that can assist educators in assisting students in understanding digital footprints.


On many websites it is difficult to determine whether or not your identity or digital footprint is protected. Whether someone are aware of it or not, privacy is compromised every time an individual posts something online. In the moment it can be difficult to assess whether or not something will have risk or consequences in the future. Since everything that is posted online is permanent - anything can be searched, copied and analyzed. Below is a chart outlining what information about an individual can be tracked, how that information is collected and then used.

Specific privacy policies for individual social media sites should be accessed regularly so that students can stay up to date and be made aware what information of theirs can be public knowledge and how they can attempt to protect some of their information.

How to Manage Your Digital Footprint

Students can be taught to manage their digital footprint with the following steps:

  • Keep personal details private. Use a nickname instead of a real name.
  • Do not share a username or password with anyone.
  • Avoid giving personal information such as: a name, address, or phone number.
  • Think before posting. Once posted, it can be difficult to remove.
  • Do not post things that you would not want others to know about you.
  • Be respectful of other people's content that you post or share. Have their permission before you post.[14]

Checklist to Manage your Digital Footprint


Connections to Educational Design Literature


One of the growing concerns for educators and parents is that while students are becoming more technologically advanced, they do not understand the affordances or consequences that can come from actions generated online. A digital footprint is important to understand and teach especially if educators are asking students to produce and create something online. Students need to be aware that what they produce on the internet is permanent. Appropriate online behaviour is required in all aspects of their digital world, whether it is educational, personal or professional. As Donald Norman states, the most important design tool is that of coherence and understandability. Affordances are of little use if they are not visible to the user. [16] As long as students are properly instructed on how to understand and manage their digital footprint, they can work to protect their identity and future prospects. If a student can see how their interactions online can have a consequence on their future they can better understand how to behave in the digital world.

Knowledge Communities

In many online communities, students are encouraged to share and collaborate with one another. In these communities students are building online reputations. In a constructivist learning environment students will have the capacity to interact with one another through student-centered critiques. It is important that an educator highlights the importance of constructive feedback and posts. A mean online comment will stay in these communities forever and can be searched by individuals outside of the online community. In order to have an effective community of practice, work needs to be collaborative and social.[17] There is an importance in having a learning community where are ideas can be discussed in a safe environment that does not cause harm to individual students and their identity.

Web 2.0

While using social media and websites people tend to tag socially. They learn specific tags from other users and respond to one another use the same tag. Users from all over can visually see and use these tags.[18] Students need to be aware that what they tag can be traced back to them. Alternatively they need to also be aware that their friends and family can post and tag posts, pictures and videos of them that can be public to the world. While tagging can help share items on the web, it is important to think if the post is appropriate before sharing. As Alexander states, the introduction of major search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing open up rich search possibilities to further enhance and explore current events.[19] Finding something online is a simple Google search away. As noted, privacy settings should be adjusted in educational design communities as well as personal accounts.

Stop Motion Artifact on Digital Footprint

The following Wiki Stop Motion Artifact represents the Digital Footprint concept in an animated visual format.

Digital Footprint – VideoScribe/Stop Motion Added by Tania Longinotti February 3, 2015

What is A Digital Footprint? Added by Heather Woodland June 2015

Will be added by Joel May January 2016

Digital Footprint Added by Michael Bui January 2017

Resources for Educators and Parents

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is a a national charitable organization dedicated to the personal safety of all children. They provide prevention and education programs for children on personal and internet safety. The Centre is supported by the Federal Government and key partners to distribute personal and internet safety materials to schools free-of-charge every February to mark Safer Internet Day which was February 12, 2013. This date changes yearly but is always in February. The Internet safety materials include brochures, activity booklets and comic books for children in grade 3 to grade 8. Detailed descriptions and links to electronic versions are outlined below. They can be ordered through the internet at [1].

Zoe & Molly Online is an interactive website that provides fun comics, activities and resources for parents and educators to help increase awareness about potential risks on the internet for children between the ages of Grade. 3 and Grade 4. The activities and lessons are designed to help guide children through the risks and provides them with safety strategies to help keep them safe.

Students can create images of their own digital footprint of what they would like to see about themselves in ten years. This activity can be accessed at the following link:

Cable in the Classroom provides numerous lesson plans to help educators engage students in hands-on lessons covering several key digital citizenship topics. These lessons encourage students to be smart, safe and responsible participants in the digital world.

Privacy Risks The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada produced a graphic novel telling the story of a brother and sister who learn the hard way about privacy risks related to social networking, texting and playing online games. While many students are technologically advanced, they often don't understand the risks involved with their participation. This graphic novel relays important information in a fun and visually appealing way. There is also a lesson plan that has been created for teachers to use in their classrooms to help generate discussions and simulations about real-life scenarios students may face when it comes to privacy online. Finally there is a privacy quiz that students, educators and parents can take to test how well they know their privacy rights.

Privacy Policies This website has gathered the privacy policies of many popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and Snapchat. Individuals can read about what information can be shared publicly by the operating system, information they may rightfully use, and what information they may provide to third party analytic companies.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has also developed a series of classroom resources in the form of a Personal Safety Program entitled Kids in the Know. This program covers a number of topics but included in the material, from Grade 4 and up, is a section on Internet Safety.

Other Resources

Be Smart, Strong & Safe: Recognizing the challenges in discussing the issue of child sexual abuse, this brochure helps teachers educate students in Grades 6 and 7 about this subject in an empowering way. Through a myriad of fun activities, children learn how to identify inappropriate behaviour, and how to talk to a safe adult when something makes them feel uncomfortable. Click the link below for our online brochure.

Created by the Media Awareness Network Passport to the Internet helps grade 4 to 8 students to develop the critical thinking skills they need to apply to their online experiences by enabling them to use popular online tools and Web sites in a secure and ethical manner, and to their full potential. Using simulations of the most popular Internet environments, this interactive resource teaches students key skills relating to online safety, authenticating online information, recognizing online marketing ploys, protecting their privacy, managing online relationships, and dealing with cyberbullying.

See Also


Digital Citizenship

Digital Identity

My Digital Footprint by Tony Fish

Web 2.0 and Privacy in British Columbia

Grown Up Digital

Common Sense Media


Educators could use these excellent video to teach their students about digital footprints:

What can YOU do to protect your online rep? Uploaded by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on January 23, 2012.

Digital Dossier - Uploaded by Digital Natives on August 13th 2008.

InCtrl: Your Digital Footprint: Leavinga Mark - Teacher Video. Uploaded by Cable in the Classroom Online on October 1, 2013.

Privacy Student Intro Video - The Digital Footprint. Uploaded by Common Sense Media on November 2, 2010.


A Platform for Good (2014). Clean Up Your Digital Footprint. Retrieved from

Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? Educause Review, 41(2), 32-44.

Australian Government: Cybersmart (2014). "Digital Footprint". Retrieved from

Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ferriter, W. M. (2011). Positive Digital Footprints. Educational Leadership, 68(7), 92–93. Retrieved from

Fish, T. (2009). My Digital Footprint A two-sided digital business model where your privacy will be someone else’s business! futuretext.

Kuehn, L. (2012, Winter). Manage Your Digital Footprint. Our Schools, Our Selves, 21(2), 67–69.

Moore, S. C. (2012). Digital footprints on the internet. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 27(3), 86+.

Norman, D. (1999). Affordances, Conventions and Design. Interactions, 6 (3), 38-41.

Oxley, C. (2010). Digital citizenship: Developing an ethical and responsible online culture. International Association of School Librarianship. Selected Papers from the ... Annual Conference, 1–11. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2008). Turning On the Lights. Educational Leadership, 65(6), 40. Retrieved from

Richardson, W. (2008). Footprints in the digital age. Educational Leadership, 66(3). Retrieved from


  1. Richardson, 2008
  2. Fish, 2009, The Big Picture, para. 3.
  3. Hengstler in Kuen, 2012
  4. Fish, 2009
  5. Kuehn, 2012
  6. Kuehn, 2012
  7. Fish, 2009
  8. Richardson, 2008
  9. Prensky, 2008
  10. Ferriter, 2011, p. 92
  11. Oxley, 2010
  12. Oxley, 2010
  13. Richardson, 2008, p. 16
  14. Australian Government: Cybersmart, 2014
  15. A Platform For Good, 2014
  16. Norman, 1999
  17. Barab & Duffy, 2000
  18. Alexander, 2006
  19. Alexander, 2006