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Haunted by our digital past

We're all going to find that the winding digital trail we leave will come back to visit us

"Dear Mr Bartolo, would you please be kind enough to remove my profile and class related activity from your 2009 Wikispaces group…it is a negative representation of my profile as a productive student, and will reflect poorly in future academic selections"

This was an email I received from an ex-student late last week. It isn't the first, and I'm sure it won't be the last. For the student in question, my first reaction was: "From 2009? I don't even know if I remember the password, let alone what the student's work looked like".

So I typed his name into Google, and there it was - in fact his only appearance in Google was the work in question, in glorious high-resolution colour, and it looked bad. Now I'm sure his work has improved since then (at least I hope it has!), but I could see his point. Anyone wanting to consider him for employment would quite possibly type his name into Google, and in the absence of any other entries for him, would have to rely on this none too glamorous portrait.

We‘re all going to find that the winding digital trail we leave will come back to visit us, sometimes in a positive form, but certainly in ways that are both unexpected and unpredictable.

Only this month The Daily Telegraph ran the headline "Social Media Hangover", warning Schoolies that any "bad behavior" that finds its way onto Facebook may also find its way into their future job prospects, with 50% of employers using social media to check a candidate's character ( Facebook Photos can ruin a Career - Daily Telegraph, 17 Nov, 2012).

Unfortunately, it may not be the students themselves who post the photo. So do we now need to be constantly on the lookout in case one of our "friends" posts a possibly misleading photo of us on Facebook?

Any student producing work will find that it will improve in quality over time, but what if their earlier work becomes the public record of their skills?

I finally managed to delete my ex-student's work, as I did previously when another student had asked me to remove his unfinished entry from a 2008 animation festival website.

Both students and teachers need to be aware that these digital artefacts may become more of an issue as the sheer volume of work that gets uploaded increases.

One solution may be the use of registers of uploaded works, that include the date and time of the upload, and the log on details to the host. These would need to be maintained by the uploader of the work, most likely the time-poor teacher.  At any rate, teachers may find themselves increasingly having to be digital archeologists, forensically tracking down work that keeps popping up in the most unexpected of places…