One of the main challenges of the modern day is the conflict between establishing a middle ground between protecting student’s personal data, and creating means for that student to market themselves and leverage the social media environment for their own ends.
On one hand, there is the fact that schools and universities are the formative times of almost everyone’s early lives. Places like Appalachian State collect vast reams of information relating to student health, engagement, grades, and interests. Much of this is privileged information under FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), and there have been numerous attempts to further restrict what can be shared. Here, I see a very real concern about the use and utility of student information. While certainly not as immediately valuable as a credit card number, or banking information, it is an extremely broad and deep set of information, which, if obtained, can be exploited for profit. However, some of the proposed laws are likely too restrictive, and may well hinder actually good research, such as work that has exposed problems with traditional education, including that “poor, nonwhite and non-English-speaking children have been educated inadequately by their schools.” (Susan Dynarski) This is a place where both privacy activists, and educational groups with an interest in using school data to improve outcomes have valid, and viable points.
On the other hand, managing a digital footprint is a vital life skill. A website offers a platform for ideas, a place to put an array of personal details, and a demonstration of personal skills. This is one of the places where the classroom can reach out beyond the four walls and the power point, and give students a piece of work that will stay useful long past passing the class or graduating the school. Looking at the program developed by University of Mary Washington, the key piece is that it is a student’s space, built around a framework offered by the university, but shaped by each student’s unique needs, desires, and goals. The school is, in effect, providing added value, and validation to the student, on top of the education needed to build, maintain, and add to the site.
Beyond the advantages of schools offering benefits beyond the classroom, the crafting of one’s own personal digital space is a fundamental piece of digital citizenship. Most of the internet exists to make the people serve it, through advertising, through data collection, and through social manipulation. The creation of personal, and personalized digital spaces creates the freedom to express feelings, ideas, and work without the limitations of commercial and commercialized space. Digital citizenship is often tinged with fears of doing or saying the wrong thing, and then being haunted by it forever, because on the internet, nothing really goes away. While this is a useful thing to know, it is far from being the be all end all, or even the most important piece of citizenship in a digital world. More critical is trying to use that digital world to make a space where we can all live.
Finally, social media is an important part of networking and publicizing historical work. While the limits of twitter make it a terrible platform for expressing historical ideas or engaging in debate, it is perfect for advertising events. Looking more deeply at twitter, it serves as a tracking tool for people wanting to live as historians. As Jason Jones put it “how often people go to panels, when they visit the book exhibit, when they need downtime, whether they’re still working on papers, and more.” Much of the historian’s social craft is obscured, and Twitter is one piece of raising the curtain. Similarly, other social media such as Facebook works to build a historical community, despite its privacy issues.