With 1:1 technology initiatives and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs increasingly being implemented in schools across the globe, the need for digital literacy education has become more important than ever. Although technology enables students to access more information in much less time, it does not always foster learning. Teaching digital literacy helps to manage all of the benefits of technology while helping students understand how to safely weed through the vast amounts of information online.
Technology in the classroom offers the following advantages:
- Provides students with the opportunity to manipulate information and media in order to construct their own meanings
- Enables students to quickly and easily share their ideas
- Engages students of all cognitive levels and abilities
- Prepares students to be college and career focused and ready
These benefits, among others, are why technology has become a major part of the global curriculum. However, teaching digital literacy has its challenges. The aspects of e-safety, critical thinking, collaboration, the possibility to lose sight of creativity, and finding and evaluating information must all be addressed.
Educators need to embrace the creative and collaborative aspects of digital literacy. So much great learning happens through the creative and collaborative processes. Bridget Burns, Michael Crow, and Mark Becker noted the benefits of collaboration in their article “Innovating Together: Collaboration as a Driving Force to Improve Student Success” (March 2, 2015). They state that collaboration spurs innovation because bringing together groups of people who have different ideas, approaches, experiences, and areas of expertise creates a fertile environment for generating new concepts and methods. Sharing insights allows ideas to be refined and improved. Charging a group with developing a promising idea incentivizes the group—not just a single individual—to commit to its success and paves the way for trusted collaboration.
Giving students the opportunity to broaden their ideas and experiences opens up pathways of learning that can be extremely beneficial.
Brianna Crowley, an educator in Hershey, PA, successfully teaches her students digital literacy while infusing creativity throughout. She says it took a series of small steps to begin the process. One thing she particularly focuses on is refraining from introducing any new tools to her students unless she knows the tools are going to enhance learning and inspire curiosity. She utilizes tools to engage her students, such as A Google a Day, which is teaching her students to search for information in a safe yet creative way.
Another challenge teachers face while teaching digital literacy is the differing views on social media in education. Many schools have strict policies in place to avoid educational use of social media, while others feel that these restrictions are stifling the creativity and collaboration capabilities of today’s students. Dan Haesler, a teacher and educational consultant, embraces proactive social media education and believes there are many benefits of allowing students to make use of all that it has to offer. When asked by Common Sense Media about social media bans in schools, Haesler replied, “What if we approached driver’s education in the same way?” He concluded: Driving lessons would be taught by adults with little or no driving experience, they would only focus on what not to do, and they would never take place in an actual car. Both driving a vehicle and navigating the Internet require experience and knowledge of safety precautions so as to avoid any major incidents.
The work being done at Maker’s Place in Homewood, Philadelphia, PA, is a prime example of digital literacy at its finest. Instructor Jomari Peterson works with children from the inner city to enhance their digital literacy knowledge and skills to creatively collaborate on various types of projects. Instructor Peterson teaches the students to “take control of your destiny and change the world.” Her students work together to utilize different apps and programs that help them build a business idea and then use collaborative tools to bring that idea to life.
Although there is no “secret sauce” to effectively help educators teach their students digital literacy, there are some key points to focus on:
- Embrace technology. Allow students to maintain blogs or webpages that enable them to track their own learning. Google Drive easily allows students to create blogs and sites that they can share and collaborate on with their peers.
- Personalize and share. Have students create digital stories that they can share and publish. Edu.buncee.com is a site where students can utilize hundreds of custom stickers, animations, multimedia, and even record their voice into their project so they can make it “their” own, both figuratively and literally. For example, in “My Day at the Beach,” a student tells her story with stickers and animation and her voice recording. “Come to Istanbul” describes the city and all it has to offer. Give students the ability to email and video chat with students in other countries. Skype Translate allows students to have a real-time conversation with immediate translation.
- Encourage creativity. Don’t get caught up in the need for strictly finding information and evaluating it. Always allow for creative ways to learn and produce.
With the help of great education technology tools and dedicated educators, students can gain digital literacy and become fluent in safely finding and evaluating information, creating, and collaborating.