How can schools promote digital literacy skills throughout their classrooms?
Digital literacy in the Classroom
With the advancement in technology over the years, and the extensive use of online learning during COVID-19, the education community has been enriched by computers and gadgets. This digital world offers enormous benefits and advantages to both teachers and students, however, without proper use and understanding, the application of digital tools can become overwhelming, or even dangerous, especially when it comes to younger age groups. Children currently live in an evolving digital world that requires increasing abilities and skills to use and adapt digital tools (Knobel & Lankshear, 2010). While there is agreement that a new set of skills involving technologies is vital for the educational development of students, there is little consensus about precisely what knowledge and abilities are necessary for children to be considered digitally literate. Past definitions of digital literacy describe skills with specific tools — the ability to use a word processor or a search engine, or to configure an input/output device (Adams, 1984; Gilster, 1997; Inskeep, 1982). While such definitions have the virtue of specificity and measurability, they also lack the reality of the current context. Continuous studies have attempted to unfold the meaning and need for digital literacy. Leu et al. (2007) have argued that most literacies, including digital literacy, consist of four assumptions:
- New literacies entail new skills, strategies, and social practices needed when technologies are integrated,
- Digital literacies are central to full and meaningful participation,
- Digital literacies regularly change as technology changes, and
- Digital literacies are multifaceted and benefits from multiple points of view.
As this implies, digital literacy may start with the efficient use of digital tools and communication technologies but it does not stop there. It is a complex set of skills which include knowledge, understanding, application and reflection (Giannikas, 2020). Twenty-first century education bears emphasis on the importance of digital literacy (a synthesis of information literacy, internet literacy, and computer literacy), and on how it can be formally and informally acquired to facilitate students’ effective integration (Lau & Yuen, 2014), which can lead to numerous benefits. The present article will look at students’ digital literacy and how it is best viewed as a set of habits children use in their interaction with digital tools for learning. Additionally, the article will discuss the benefits and principles of digital literacy, and show examples of how these can be put into practice and in the classroom.
What is Digital Literacy?
Bélisle (2006) explains the evolution of literacy concepts in terms of three models:
- The functional model, which views literacy as the mastery of simple cognitive and practical skills i.e. the mechanical skills of reading and writing to a more developed approach.
- The socio-cultural practice model, where the concept of literacy is only meaningful in terms of its social context, and that to be literate is to have access to cultural, economic and political structures of society.
- The intellectual empowerment model, where literacy is not only seen as a means and skills to deal with written texts and numbers, but it brings a profound enrichment and transformation of human thinking capacities.
In viewing literacy within the context of a digital educational community, keeping the functional, socio-cultural and intellectual models in mind, we can see it as a powerful tool for students to comprehend their own relationship to the digital. While the word "literacy" alone refers to reading and writing skills, when accompanied by the word "digital", the term encompasses much more. Given the new and ever-changing ways we use digital tools to receive and communicate information, and given its extensive use post COVID-19, undoubtedly digital literacy encompasses a broader range of skills. It is not merely about knowing how a tool or software functions.
As Martin (2005) has argued, digital literacy is the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesise digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect on this process. Buckingham (2010) explains that digital literacy in the classroom is more than just integrating technology into instruction. It is about students learning via digital tools being mentored, applying and creating rich learning systems and developing students’ understanding of cultural forms in which they interact in and outside of school. Moreover, digital literacy requires critical thinking skills, awareness of appropriate behaviour expected in online environments, and an understanding of the social issues created by digital technologies and environments. Therefore, one would argue that to develop digital literacy, students need to become accustomed to the following components:
- Collaboration. Students acquire the ability to work with others, and develop strong interpersonal and collaborative skills.
- Creativity. Students develop an understanding of using opportunities in an entrepreneurial manner and generate new ideas.
- Critical thinking. Students develop the skill to evaluate information, identify patterns and connections, and construct meaningful knowledge.
- Digital Citizenship. Students develop the ability to consider issues and solve complex problems in their digital world.
- Communication. Students develop the ability to communicate effectively to different audiences through a variety of methods and tools.
Benefits and the Key Principles of Students' Digital Literacy
Students are fortunate to be in the presence of digital literacy development, and can begin this journey from an early age. They have the chance to learn more and more about technology, how to interact with it and become lifelong learners and achievers. Their digital literacy skills will prepare them for their future in any competitive work market.
After the abrupt move to Emergency Remote Teaching due to COVID-19, schools are now prompting their students to not only work on basic digital skills, but they are becoming more informed of how the digital world works, and how it should be handled to work in their favour. Most importantly, technology is used with a clear understanding and purpose. Therefore, now more than ever, a digital literacy curriculum has become imperative. Students can now work on online group projects, submit their assignments online, work and collaborate on online word processors, conduct online research and use search engines, contact their teachers or peers online, and use the internet safely. More specifically, through digital literacy development, students can:
- Access Information
The digital world is rich in texts, images, multimedia with videos, tutorials, discussion forums and more. It provides excellent resources for students.
- Discern Credibility
Through digital literacy, students learn how to be judicious and analytical about what they read and the source it comes from. They understand the importance of questioning and confirming information via multiple sources, a skill that is essential in this day and age.
- Create Digital Content
Digitally literate students can create their own content and share their digital creations via a number of platforms. This gives them the opportunity to create something new, sharing it with an audience and give them the pride of ownership.
- Become Responsible
Digital tools hold many perks, but need to be used with caution. Students learn to become responsible and critical of how to use a tool, the language they use to communicate with others online, and follow a certain (n)etiquette.
- Stay Safe
Students learn about their digital identity and the information they hold. Students need to be made aware of cybercrime, and how to keep their personal information private. Also, they need to be cautious about who they speak to online, as this can spark danger and cyberbullying.
Apart from the benefits, it is important to keep in mind that there are four main principles of digital literacy. These are:
- Comprehension, which refers to the ability for readers of digital media to be able to understand its content.
- Interdependence, where in this interconnected world we reflect on how one media form connects with another. The rapid increase of digital devices has made it easier to consume content from different digital sources.
- Social Factors, which can affect how messages are received and perceived in the digital world.
- Curation, which refers to finding, organizing and saving digital media in in order to make access easier in the future.
Promoting Digital Literacy in the Classroom
Many students nowadays have access to a personal or school-provided device, i.e. a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Therefore, students are exposed to learning activities for promoting digital literacy which can be categorized into: producing media, gaming, coding, and creating. In producing media, students can produce their own digital artefacts, i.e. blogging, microblogging, video blogging (vlogging), podcasting, and digital storytelling. Gaming is known as playing a game for educational purposes (in this context) as an activity to promote digital literacy. Coding deals with coding web languages, such as HTML and Java, where students can learn how to build simple programs and/or games. Finally, creating allows students to make things or projects via robotics, interactive images and/or music, and more.
Nonetheless, students may need some time and coaching for them to reach the point of digital literacy. Before teachers integrate new technology into their lessons/curriculum or encourage digital advancements/literacy, they need to assess what digital tools their students are familiar with and how these tools can be used in the classroom.
One way for this to take place is to assign groups/pairs of students to work together on various assignments by applying digital tools. Students will learn from one another, their motivation to learn more about the tool will increase, and using digital tools will give students opportunities to properly use the internet and determine which websites and credible.
By promoting digital literacy in the classroom, teachers can help students develop the ability to discern quality sources, understand copyright and authorship rules, and evaluate the credibility of online content. Therefore, teachers can include lessons on responsible use of digital resources and communication online, such as how to:
- Identify relevant videos and images for educational purposes
- Participate in online communities safely and effectively
- Fact-check research for the needs of their assignments
- Evaluate online sources and information
- Cite sources and copyright material properly and consistently
- Recognize and distinguish real from “fake news”
Finally, teachers can include the promotion of the 6 Ps of digital citizenship in their digital coaching. It is vital that students understand the 6 Ps and the importance of applying them in their work. By implementing the 6Ps, students learn about being responsible online, to make smart choices, and to stay safe. The 6Ps are:
- Private Information,
Finally, promoting digital literacy in the classroom prompts students to reflect on learning and development and examine their attitude towards technology. More specifically, through this educational process students develop techniques where they can objectively reflect on their learning, progress and efforts. This might involve participating in technology courses or incorporating more learning technology in general subject delivery. Teachers can help their students build reflective practice by encouraging them to record their thoughts about what they have learned and how they have handled the use of the digital tools/tasks in the process. Most households have access to common technologies such as laptops and tablets but increasingly families are exploring learning technology specifically designed for enhancing traditional media literacy skills. These digital platforms are becoming part of everyday life and help foster engaged citizens in specific online communities. The strategies the students acquire, while reflecting on their digital literacy, can help them remember lessons learned and give a sense of accomplishment. When students are able to reflect on the challenges and digital experiences deeply, they can effectively set goals, identify gratifying experiences and, if necessary, aspire to work differently in the future.
How can school leaders promote digital literacy skills?
Your school might want to adopt a digital literacy curriculum framework. These type of tools enable education communities to raise the profile digital literacy skills alongside traditional literacy skills such as reading and writing. Your class could experiment with a standalone digital literacy project such as filmmaking, for those educators wanting to embed the general use of digital technologies across their school you might want to use handheld devices for formative assessment purposes. Either way, an important message about networked technology is that, when used appropriately, it can help students develop a deeper understanding of curriculum content in parallel with promoting a critical understanding of how the learning technology functions.
Final Thoughts on Learning Technology
The dynamic nature of digital development and various educational transformations continuously influence the realities, expectations, and potential of the role and responsibilities of a student. In the midst of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we can see the need for education aligned with the digital times and schools’ flexibility to unforeseen circumstances. In this article, we have explored the movement towards preparation and inclusive process of digital literacy that can empower students to work confidently and effectively in a digital context. In order to achieve the best results, teachers and students need to seize the opportunity for change by taking the lessons learned during the pandemic as a reference point. Finally, it is important to reflect on how goal-oriented teaching/coaching will help students understand the characteristics, the processes, the outcomes and the implications of an increasingly wired world that go beyond emergency online practices and undergo a true paradigm shift, ultimately combining technology and educational strategies.
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