Digital Learning

Digital Footprints & Net Neutrality

It is becoming an expectation that all students use technology in some respect to complete assignments at school. Between digital citizenship, net neutrality, and the discussion of digital footprints, educators and parents have a lot to think about.

At a national and global level, I think an emerging issue regarding digital learning is the lack of internet access. In urban or rural schools, especially those that are considered impoverished, many students do not have access to internet at home. So even if we provide the device, such as iPads or Chrome Books, how do students participate at home for assignments requiring internet? I understand that many things can be downloaded onto the devices such as documents or videos (depending on the storage), but there still exists the “what if” question. How do we ensure equal access for all of our kids? (Read my Education Manifesto for more about equal access for our students.)

Even if we provide the internet, there is still need to be concerned about access and sharing content. I must admit that during the great public debate about net neutrality, I really didn’t understand it and had difficulty get reliable information. It is my understanding that net neutrality is designed to protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation’s broadband network.

Cindy Long explains the need to preserve net neutrality is to preserve free speech. In her article What Net Neutrality Means for Students and Educators (2015). If net neutrality is not upheld, internet providers can show preference towards any number of items found on the internet for monetary reasons. This means search engines could direct us away from sources that may give us all sides of a situation or even internet-based curriculum resources could be slow to load if not within the preferred range of products. Overall, our students need access to the world for educational purposes. They need to be able to conduct unbiased research as well as access the educational materials based on the internet. There is also the issue of the government being in control rather than private companies. If the governments (of any nation), gain too much control, what we are able to see or post on the internet could be limited. As Josh Steimle says in his article for Forbes, legislation like Net Neutrality would likely put all of our private free speech under the scrutiny of the government (2014). It would be difficult to teach our students about the first amendment if it begins to be “blocked” by the government. Of course, this is just me speculating. For now, we as consumers are still in control of the digital footprint we leave behind.

But what is a digital footprint? We’ve heard about carbon footprints and how to clean that up, but now we have another type of “footprint” to worry about. According to a video by Common Sense Education, a digital footprint is things you’ve searched for, copied, shared, and broadcast, and it is permanent (2013). This is incredibly important for us as adults to remember and to teach our students and children. Digital footprints can be created intentionally or unintentionally. As we use various website and search engines over and over again, the things we are shown, advertised, and suggested is being tailored to our interests or things we typically look online. Our intentional digital footprint creates the data that websites then use to create our unintentional footprints as we are lead and directed to specific posts that conform to our likes or interests. As Eli Pariser says is in his Ted Talk, “The internet directs us to what it thinks we want to see instead of what we need to see” (2011). We need to teach students to be deliberate in creating their digital footprint as to avoid things they wouldn’t want to be permanent while researching and reading about a variety of topics (and clear data from websites and browsers to eliminate so much partitioning of the world by websites).

It is my hope that as we teach students, they will continue to have equal access to all the resources the internet has to offer while keeping their digital footprint intact. Also, as we send them out into the real world, that they will have an ePortfolio that demonstrates their digital citizenship and ability to do research, present both sides of an argument, create digital works of art, and communicate effectively.

References

Common Sense Education. (2013 Aug 12). What digital footprint are you leaving online? [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P_gj3oRn8s

Pariser, E. (2011 May 2). Beware online “filter bubbles” [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ofWFx525s

Steimle, J. (2014, May 14). Am I the only techie against net neutrality? Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshsteimle/2014/05/14/am-i-the-only-techie-against-net-neutrality/

Long, C. (2015). What net neutrality means for students and Educators. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2015/03/11/net-neutrality-means-students-educators/

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