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Your digital footprint is the "trail of data you create while using the Internet. It includes the websites you visit, emails you send, and information you submit to online services" (Christensson, 2014). While this may seem worrying, and online safety, security and privacy are also important topics to address with students, Richardson (2008) explains that:

"Instead of teaching students to be afraid of what others can learn about them online, let's teach them how digital footprints can quickly connect them to the individuals, ideas, and opportunities that they care most about" (p. 93).

Common Sense Education's learning objectives for teaching digital footprints include helping students to: 

  • "become aware of the “digital footprint” they leave online and reflect on the kind of personal information to share about themselves, depending on the content, context, and audience.

  • celebrate a “culture of sharing” through digital media while considering some possible harmful effects of over-sharing and Internet privacy.

  • learn to respect the privacy of others online when tagging, posting, or copying other’ personal information" (n.d., para. 3).

They add that "[b]y guiding your students to self-reflect before they self-reveal, you can help them learn to consciously manage their own privacy online, as well as respect the privacy of others. If students aren’t careful about what, how, and to whom they disclose information online, it may be used or interpreted in ways they never intended. Help them understand the public and permanent nature of the Internet so they can begin to build a positive digital presence" (Common Sense Education, n.d., para. 4).

Digital Footprint

What is a digital footprint?

And why does it matter to students and teachers?

This page explains what a digital footprint is, how it affects students and teachers, and how it can be used to one's advantage. Teacher-librarians are ideally positioned to both raise awareness and provide information or training on how to manage one's digital footprint.

What is a digital footprint, and why should it be taught? 

Digital Footprint

Digital Footprint Podcast (Audio Recording)

(Created on by Shannon Thiessen Burton, 2019)

Click the button to be able to listen and follow along with an automated transcript (which is fairly accurate).

Digital Footprint Podcast Transcript:


In this podcast I will be discussing digital footprints - what are they, including the difference between active and passive footprints, why your footprint matters to you, and how you can be intentionally proactive about shaping your digital footprint.


First of all: What is a digital footprint? 

According to Tech Terms (Christensson, 2014), “A digital footprint is a trail of data you create while using the Internet. It includes the websites you visit, emails you send, and information you submit to online services."


Your Passive Footprint: 

  • Data which is collected about you - your browsing, your purchases, your searches, your clicks - often without you even being aware of it. Sometimes it is just your IP address, other times it is more specific and personal data.  

  • This information can be used to learn about consumer profiles, interests, what appeals or works, and what doesn’t - and is thus very valuable to advertisers.

  • It might be used by the site itself, or sold to other parties.

  • One of the most significant changes in law in the last several decades is the passing of the EU’s GDPR (or General Data Protection Regulation). This has, for example, required websites that collect data with cookies to now provide an opt out option for your data to be used for advertising. While it is not perfect, it is a huge step forward in regaining user privacy ground by forcing companies to view users as customers not inventory.  

  • You need to be aware that by default, most platforms are open, for example, Twitter and Facebook. You need to play with your privacy settings A LOT to control who has access to your information, how, and how much. Facebook is particularly reliant on collecting user data, and there are lots of news stories you can look into about this if you want, such as the clashes between Facebook and Apple.

  • It is important to have up-to-date software, have strong passwords that you will remember (consider even using a reputable password keeper), and to have up-to-date anti-virus software. However, this is all to help protect you from being hacked - personal information theft - or getting a virus. While these problems are more common than you might think, and these measures can significantly reduce your chances of being an easy target, these are issues of online security, not your digital footprint, and thus a topic for another day.


Your Active Footprint:

So while your passive footprint is unintentional, your active footprint is what you have deliberately - actively - posted

  • Comments on sites, your posts or tweets, any images or videos - all these things are “out there.” 

  • Think of posting online as “writing in ink” not using a pencil, as was said in the movie, The Social Network.

  • Especially consider carefully when you use your real name online - aside from a heap of online safety concerns, this makes those aspects of your digital footprint obvious! However, anonymous posts or fake names are not foolproof security, either, so don’t be naive. A simple way to think of it is TMI - are you giving Too Much Information? - don’t “overshare”!

  • Also, what may seem fine to share or post now, may not still be fine when you are applying for a scholarship, submitting a university application, or applying for a job. Ask yourself: Is this the message I will want to be sending about myself to someone I want to hire me?

  • Rick Smolan (THINKR, 2013) gives the example that when you apply for a loan from a bank, they will check your credit history, but they will also ask you questions to try to find out how safe or risky of a loan this might be for them. Are you a responsible person who will pay them back? One bank started doing quick online searches, and lowered credit scores if they found that the applicant listens to rap music! 

  • Your digital footprint provides all kinds of extra information for people to form judgements about you, fair or unfair. What messages are you sending, and what information are you making available?


However, you can also use this to your advantage. You can be deliberate and intentional about crafting your digital footprint. You can create an interesting and thoughtful blog, you can post intelligently, you can share things that are creative or inspiring, you can create a positive digital footprint. Beware, though - be restrained - always keep the future you in mind, and the future you might surprise you!


Remember that no one’s profile is the full embodiment of who they are. It is a profile, not a person! And you can choose how you want to present yourself to the world.


Maybe right now you just want to keep your digital footprint from being muddy, but at least that will keep things clean for when you are wanting to build a professional profile; there will simply be less out there to embarrass you later!


Thanks for listening. Have a great day and a great digital footprint!

Podcast Transcript

Where did this come from? References and Resources

Allen, K. (2015, January 2). Snapchat admits deleted photos aren’t really deleted. Retrieved from


Bromstein, E. (2015, December 7). 14 Canadians who were fired for social media posts – Workopolis. Retrieved from


Christensson, P. (2014, May 26). Digital footprint definition. Retrieved from

Common Sense Education. (n.d.). Digital footprint & reputation. Retrieved from

Hewson, K. (2013). What size is your digital footprint? Phi Delta Kappan, 94(7), 14. DOI: 10.1177/003172171309400704

Higgin, T. (2017, March 28). Protecting student privacy on social media: Do's and don'ts for teachers [Webpage]. Retrieved from 

Richardson, W. (2008). Footprints in the digital age. Educational Leadership, 66(3), 16-19. Retrieved from 

Smith, J. (2013, April 6). How social media can help (or hurt) you in your job search. Retrieved from

Surmelioglu, Y., & Seferoglu, S. S. (2019). An examination of digital footprint awareness and digital experiences of higher education students. World Journal on Educational Technology: Current Issues. 11. 48-64. DOI: 10.18844/wjet.v11i1.4009. 

Symantec Staff. (n.d.). How to clean up your online digital footprint. Retrieved from 

Boyle, J. (2020, January 22). 12 Tips For Students To Manage Their Digital Footprint - TeachThought. 


THINKR. (2013, April 16). The Dangers of Big Data [Video]. Retrieved from

Big Resources for Digital Footprints and Beyond: Online Security, Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy

BBC Teach: Digital Literacy - A "series of short films for secondary schools us[ing] animation and real life cast studies to explore key issues around digital literacy and online safety [including] fake news, live streaming, pornography, mental wellbeing, copyright and ownership, sensitive pictures, online gaming, cyber-bullying, digital footprints, and online security." Retrieved from

For example:

BBC Teach. (n.d.). PSHE / Computing GCSE: Digital footprint.


Common Sense Education - Common Sense is an EXCELLENT and HUGE resource for students, parents, and teachers. They have LOTS of lesson plans, activities and videos on the topics of digital footprints, online safety, and media literacy, across the grade levels. Retrieved from

For example:

Common Sense Education. (n.d.). Digital citizenship curriculum: Digital footprint & Identity. Retrieved from

For example:

Common Sense Education. (n.d.). Grade 2: Digital trails: What information is okay to have in your digital footprint? Retrieved from

(This lesson also available through (courtesy of Common Sense Education) with some teaching tips, at

For example:

Common Sense Education. (n.d.). Teen Voices: Oversharing and Your Digital Footprint. Retrieved from:

Forsyth County Schools - An excellent example of a K-12 school district website with parent support resources and school teaching standards for Digital Citizenship, including digital footprints with a lot of great infographics from around the web. Retrieved from

For Example:

Forsyth County Schools. (n.d.). Digital footprint & responsibility tools for parents. Retrieved from

Media Smarts - "Canada's centre for digital and media literacy" - Good for teaching about digital footprints and online safety. This is a large site and a great teaching resource. It also connects to each province's curriculum. Retrieved from

For example:

Media Smarts. (n.d.). Digital literacy framework - grades 7 - 8. Retrieved from: 

University of British Columbia, Digital Tattoo project - "Digital Tattoo: Your digital identity matters. Let's discuss." Targeted primarily at first year university students, but useful for high school teachers, especially the tutorial resources, such as "Who Owns Your Data?". Retrieved from 

For example:

University of British Columbia. (n.d.). Privacy and Surveillance: Ask the right questions and learn more about how to take control of your privacy and data. Retrieved from

Big Resources
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