Welcome to an introduction to My Footprint SD.com, otherwise known simply as My Footprint.

Increasingly we have found that teachers, parents, and community members (including lawmakers) have been demanding that students receive quality instruction about how to behave with digital tools of communication. MyFootprintSD.com is an attempt to meet that demand. It is not the only site of its nature available on the web. One of our favorites is called the CyberSmart Curriculum. CyberSmart's curriculum makes available to classroom teachers dozens of activities and lessons about safe and responsible use of digital tools.

We believe My Footprint compliments nicely tools like the CyberSmart Curriculum. Perhaps the most unique feature of My Footprint is that it attempts to speak directly to students, rather than through teachers. As creators, our main approach with My Foorprint was to move our teacher-personas to the side to allow students to learn from those similar to themselves, or from those more interesting to them than adults. In that way, the website is a prominent aspect of the unit, though the follow-up project can be completed entirely without the use of a computer.

The goals of My Footprint include making students aware of what is safe and what is risky when using the web or other digital tools. Its goals also include making students aware of how far these kinds of tools spread into their lives and how large the effects of their use can be (for better or for worse). Primarily, however, its goal is to make students cognizant of their digital footprint, because the question has shifted from "Will students leave a mark?" to "What kind?"

It must be admitted that the tricky nature of teaching students about their digital footprints is that it is ultimately a lesson in ethics and morals. We are teaching them about leaving a good footprint, and that means we are teaching them about how to be better people. We find that it is necessary to attempt this because if we detach ethical or moral value from our lessons, we are simply teaching students how to better hide their unethical behavior. Take the teenage student who is experimenting with drugs. If we were to stress to this student that it is irresponsible to post references to drug use on MySpace, but issue no judgment regarding the behavior itself, all we have done is pass along a tip about hiding his drug use from others.

Thus, we do not want to teach students how to hide their improper behavior from the world by keeping it off the web. We want them to abandon the risky and improper behavior. Said in that simplified fashion again, we are not trying to teach bullies to hide their bullying and cheaters to cheat better by not using digital communication to do it. Ultimately, we are trying to stop bullies from bullying and cheaters from cheating.

Perhaps that is a task that cannot be achieved, especially through means of one project. To that objection we simply admit it may be correct. Perhaps it is impossible. Even so, we choose to submit the My Footprint project to educators and parents who are trying to teach their students about moral and ethical behavior, with the hope that it can compliment their work and help them transfer the good principles of the golden rule to tools of digital communication.


Geoffrey Sheehy, Tammy Mestad, and TIE