Tom Starkey's world of ed tech

29th May 2015 at 01:00

I may or may not have got up to some "stuff" when I was younger; stuff that may or may not prove apocalyptically embarrassing if any evidence of it ever comes to light. But I'm fairly safe in the knowledge that you'll never know what this stuff was (or wasn't), because I'm 34.

Hooray for being a teenager slightly before the internet age!

Nowadays things are a little different. I often talk to students about their "digital footprint" - the pictures they post, the comments they make, videos, messages, blogs. The things that will remain online for ever. They are chronicling a version of their own lives and, in many cases, they haven't yet realised the permanence of the stories they are transmitting to vast audiences.

Whether we like it or not, many young people are growing up online and are therefore growing up in public. It's because of this that discussions about digital footprints (and how young people can manage their own) are extremely important.

The mere act of having the conversation can help kids to realise what they are doing and let them, albeit temporarily, take a step back from the screen. And stopping and thinking about what you're doing, even if it is just a brief pause before hitting "send", might be the difference between putting something out there that will haunt you for decades and keeping it to yourself.

This debate can encompass other important topics such as self-presentation and e-safety, which should always be explored in an open, honest and non-judgemental fashion. The non-judgemental bit is particularly important, I reckon, because there is often an underlying current of self-censorship that I'm not completely comfortable with.

Sometimes the desire to help young people results in an attempt to sanitise their online presence, in order to avoid controversy and present an image the world will find palatable. I see lots of material out there along the lines of "Don't post anything that could under any circumstances be seen as questionable unless you want prospective employers to make a negative judgement about who you are."

First, I would like to think that the onus is on the employer not to snoop around like a weird ex, but maybe that's just me. Second, the online world is public but it's also a space where many young people find it easy to be themselves, and any attempt to rein that in would make me sad.

Surely it's enough to give young people the tools, knowledge and wherewithal to manage their own digital footprints, instead of trying to do it for them. Because we all make mistakes.

Except me. There was no Facebook back in my day, see?

Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds. Email or find him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212

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