The Creeper Assignment: Part 2

Last week I assigned my students to Google search me for homework. If you missed the original assignment you can find it here. The next day, my students arrived to class and I asked each of them to go to the whiteboard and write down what they discovered about me through their search. Most of what they found came from this blog and almost 100% of it was professional. The only pieces of personal information they discovered about me through their search was that I live in Manchester, New Hampshire and that outside of work, I teach fitness classes and enjoy hiking and the beach.

My mom & dad celebrated 40 years of marriage on January, 19th!

My mom & dad celebrated 40 years of marriage on January, 19th!

We then examined my Instagram account, which is public (but doesn’t appear in the search results when you Google my name), and I asked my students if they could identify pictures that were personal. They pointed out a picture of my mom and dad, a trip I took to the White Mountains, a picture of my daughter’s artwork, and a picture of my daughter and I from Christmas Eve. I asked if the personal pictures were appropriate. They responded, “yes.” I then asked them to explain how I was using my Instagram account. After a long pause, one student said that I was using it “blur my personal and professional lives.” Bingo! (notice I’m doing that with this blog post as well!) I then asked, “how did all of that information about me get on the internet?” Then there was another even longer silence. Finally, a student said, “You put it there.” And that was exactly the point of the assignment. I wanted my students to understand that I am in control of my digital footprint and my online identity.

When we Googled my name in class, the first ten results that appeared were links to: my blog,  Twitter, Google+ Page, LinkedIn, YouTube channel, the BHS Help Desk Blog, my Pinterest page, a post from the BPS Edtech Blog, my ScoopIt page and a post from Patrick Larkin’s Connected Educator Blog.

We then moved onto the image search of my name and I was able to show my students the web page where each image originated from. Again, nothing that appeared in this search surprised me. I then asked about Facebook. One student had written on the board, “you have a Facebook.” I asked who wrote that on the board. The student raised his hand. I asked, “where did you find my Facebook page?” The student admitted that he didn’t find it, that he just assumed I had one (most of us do). He also assumed it was public. I explained to my students that I do in fact have a Facebook account, but that I have set the privacy settings so that it does not appear in a search. Am I trying to hide anything? On the contrary. But for me, Facebook is reserved  for private communication with my family and close friends. My mom and dad most often comment on my posts, which have become only occasional, and they are typically updates about my daughter.

As a result of this assignment, my students were able to see how I represent myself online and what makes me a responsible digital citizen. If I am to prepare them to be positive, safe, and productive members of the digital world, shouldn’t I practice what I preach? My goal is to help my students make healthy choices online and the fact that they are able to see the choices I make online helps me achieve this goal in the most authentic way possible. There are great curriculum resources available online to help teach responsible digital citizneship, but I believe actually showing my students has a much greater impact. In fact, a student from first semester Tweeted me tonight asking me when the next digital citizenship chat was going to be. Mission accomplished! Maybe one student isn’t something to get excited about, but for me it is. I know this student is a leader and will have influence over his peers. And over time, perhaps sooner than later, more and more students will realize that they too can represent themselves in a positive manner online. Students are starting to understand why they need to take control of their digital footprints. 

The next part of the creeper assignment required my students to Google search themselves. This part of the assignment wasn’t surprising and was very telling about the so-called “digital natives” we so often speak of. Most students found the following results when they Google searched their names:

NOTHING

I wasn’t surpsied by the nonexistent digitial footprints that my students had and frankly I am happy about this. What this means is that I can help my students develop their online presence and guide them towards making the right decisions when it comes to communicating and connecting with others across various social networks. Now this does not mean I am going to tell them what to say and how to say it as they start to build their digital brands, however I can encourage them to think critically about what they want to share and challenge them to exercise their creativity when creating their blogs for our 20% time project and any other digital product they create about themselves throughout the course.

After my students were asked to Google themselves, we shared the results and that was a very brief discussion, since most had nothing to share. The next challenge was for my students to list at least five pieces of digital content that they wanted to appear in a Google search about themselves by the end of the semester. My hope is that the goals they set, which had to be specific, measurable, attainable realistic, and timely, will be accomplished by June, but I don’t know if that will be the case. We are going to blog once a week and we are going to spend time creating as many digital products as possible which I hope to share, but nothing is guaranteed. However, I know I have a great opportunity this semester to show my students the benefits of social media and how they can use it to differentiate themselves from their peers. And by the end of the semester, when we do the Creeper Assignment Part 3, they will be excited and proud of the digital footprints they have created as students in my course. Their blogs will be posted soon and I hope you will take some time to look at what they are creating.

So what will students find out about you when they Google search your name? If you’ve tried a similar assignment, I’d love to hear from you! And don’t forget that digital citizenship Twitter chats take place every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month. This is a great way to gather resources and ideas for digital citizenship in the classroom and will also give you the opportunity to connect with other educators dedicated to making digital citizenship education not something we focus on once in a while, but something that becomes integrated into the everyday learning experiences that we create for our students.

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