This increasingly ubiquitous embeddedness of social media in students’ personal, working and learning lives brings certain pressures to bear: students need to know how to ‘work’ social media for their own professional and competitive advantage, and also how to manage a ‘digital footprint’ that has the potential to deeply damage their employment opportunities and future personal wellbeing. A recent report commissioned by Microsoft, for example, suggested that as many as 41% of UK recruiters have turned down candidates for employment because of personal data found online. While there is a growing critique of the ‘like’ and ‘attention’ economies in education, and their often-problematic blurring of the private and the public, there is still important work to be done by universities in terms of helping students to navigate this complex domain.
The University of Edinburgh recently produced a Social Media Policy and also has social media guidelines for staff and researchers. However, it remains unclear how students are engaging with social digital media and how they are curating their online profiles: a fuller understanding of this is crucial if universities are to support students in establishing and maintaining positive and non-damaging social media profiles. This project aligned with the University of Edinburgh ‘Digital Footprint’ campaign in order to conduct a systematic programme of research aimed at building our institutional and sectoral understanding of how students are managing their digital footprints, where such management is lacking, and what this might mean for future institutional planning to build student competence in this area.
For more on the student-facing Digital Footprint campaign, see the Institute for Academic Development web site.