Professionalism and Digital Footprints

The world’s population is becoming increasingly connected digitally, with more and more users sharing content with others in their social networks (Wikipedia, 2014). But what happens when content that seemed funny or appropriate at the time reappears later in life and affects someone in a negative way? Digital footprints, the aggregation of all your digital activities in all the digital environments you navigate (Hengstler, 2012), are permanent. There are no ‘do-overs’ or ‘take-backs’ in a digital world. Unlike a game of telephone, where the message is passed on but stays within the confines of the group that is playing, messages that are sent into a digital environment can be rapidly copied and passed on to many others outside of the original network. A digital footprint is created through a combination of voluntary posting of content (e.g., blogs, photos), passive collection of data (e.g., cookies or browser history) and second-hand data, where your data has been deliberately shared to others beyond what you intended (Hengstler, 2011).

As an educator, I am held to a high standard of behaviour, both on and off duty (Teacher Regulation Branch, British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2013). While I do maintain a FaceBook profile, I am extremely aware that what I post is no longer under my control once it enters the digital world. This knowledge has prevented me on many occasions to refrain from contributing to a conversation with my social groups. As pointed out by Hengstler (2010), those of us entering the digital environment in our 30’s and 40’s had entered mature adulthood and were capable of making mature, rational decisions regarding posting content. As an educator I am expected to lead by example. It is my responsibility to help my students, regardless of age, understand how to manage their digital footprint.


Hengstler, J. (2010). “Fleas in a bottle? Will social networking stymie personal development of youth?” Blog post on

Hengstler, J. (2011). Managing your digital footprint: Ostriches v. Eagles. In S. Hirtz & K. Kelly (Eds.), Education for a Digital World 2.0 (2nd ed.) (Vol. 1, Part One: Emerging technologies and practices). Open School/Crown Publications: Queen’s Printer for British Columbia, Canada.

Hengstler, J. (April 2012). “Digital professionalism and digital footprints”. Document prepared for training session with Vancouver Island University’s Administrative Assistants, April 2012. Social Media Digital Footprints 2013_v3.pdf

Teacher Regulation Branch, British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2013). Standards for education, competence, and professional conduct of educators in BC.

Wikipedia. (2014). Social networking service. Retrieved from

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