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Building an Online Presence More Important Than Ever

December 01, 2011 12:00 PM
by Colleen Brondou
Educators have long cautioned students about posting damaging information online, but now it’s also becoming important to build a positive digital footprint. When should students start building their online persona? The earlier, the better.

The Application Process in the 21st Century

Employers routinely use the Internet to find out everything they can about a potential hire. Photos and information posted online—when a person has their guard down—can be more telling than anything a person writes on a resume, says in an interview or gets a reference to say.

Some people have tried to protect their online reputation by changing their names on social networking sites such as Facebook. Although this might prevent a prospective employer from seeing that photo of you at Mardi Gras, it won’t help you build a positive online presence that sets you apart from the crowd.

Job seekers aren’t the only ones who need to maintain a positive Web presence; it may become more important for high school students applying to college. At Tufts University, for example, high school seniors were allowed to submit one-minute videos along with their application packages. 

“Admissions officials insist the videos are no substitute for a good academic record,” The Boston Globe reported. “They are just another way to identify applicants with a special spark.”

Having that “special spark” certainly can’t hurt. Cindy Barr, Elon University assistant dean of admissions, told Lindsay Kimble of The Pendulum, Elon’s newspaper, that she has received applications with links to YouTube videos or student Web sites “created for the business they started or for a service organization they founded.” Although these links “are not assessed as part of the formal admissions decision,” Barr said, “it’s interesting to see what the students have accomplished.”

Blogging Your Way to a Digital Identity

How can students create that special spark and set themselves apart? Start early. By the time students are in ninth grade, they should be actively creating and sharing content online; to learn to do so well and safely by then, they must start earlier.

Will Richardson, an author and presenter, asked on his blog in 2008, “If we know that it’s becoming more and more commonplace to use the Web to assess backgrounds and ‘social capital,’ and we’re doing it in our own hiring processes, when are we going to make that connection in terms of how it relates to our kids’ futures??”

Sure, what a student writes on their fourth-grade blog isn’t going to influence an employer when they’re applying for a job at 22 years old. But what is important is teaching students how to establish a positive Web presence, so they’ll be more likely to do so when it does matter, down the road.

Lee Kolbert, a teacher and blogger at A GeekyMomma’s Blog, agrees. Her fourth-graders have their own blogs on She taught them the basics, and then let them figure out the rest on their own. Some students are hyperlinking, uploading audio files, embedding video and adding their own graphics. Though Kolbert doesn’t edit the posts, she does remove personal information and links to sites that are inappropriate or require personal information to register. She offers 10 topic suggestions for students to start blogging about.

For older students, Silvia Tolisano, a technology and 21st-century learning specialist, offers a comprehensive blog post on helping students take their blog skills to the next level. She focuses on the ability of blogs to help students become better writers, and be part of a network and contribute to a larger community.

“We have entered a new era, where school papers do not get turned in to the teacher, graded, handed back, stuffed into a backpack to then end up in the trash at home,” Tolisano writes. “We are at a point, where (even young) students can reach an authentic audience, that gives feedback and contributes new (not thought of) perspectives and be part of a world wide community.”

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