Each year, technology grows exponentially. In the year 2027, technology will be 512 times more advanced than it is right this moment in 2017. How does a person wrap their head around that? I know I can’t. I mean, I’m all for hover cars and time travel. Well… okay maybe I didn’t think that statement through. I am terrified of heights and having my atoms scrambled. In addition, I am an ultra nostalgic person. If it were up to me, I’d go back to the days of VHS tapes and car phones and playing kick the can in an alley outside on a summer evening instead of laying in bed scrolling through Instagram. That being said, I can acknowledge that some technological feats are both necessary and beneficial to society as a whole. The fact of the matter is whether I am a fan of certain technological advancements or not, I will need to be on board with them as a teacher in order to prepare my students to live in a world that is driven by technology. This is where digital literacy comes in.
Last semester here on The Joyous Life of Jess I wrote a detailed blog post on digital literacy entitled, Taking Off My Rose-Colored Glasses and Embracing Digital Literacy. In case you can’t tell from the title, I was also pretty nostalgic when I wrote that piece (RIP my QWERTY keyboard). However, I believe I still managed to shed some light as to what exactly digital literacy is. As I wrote, digital literacy is the ability to express one’s self, communicate, and analyze the ideas of others via multimedia. Many people’s first thought, mine included, at the sound of this definition is probably social media. That is not wrong. However, digital literacy expands beyond social media to the way people express themselves on any technological platform— be it blogging, writing a comment during a game, coding a website, or anything in between.
After reading the list I just wrote you might be wondering, “Why on Earth do teachers need to teach children digital literacy? Aren’t they already digitally literate?” The answer to that, my good friend, is twofold. One, the idea of digital natives is a myth. In the article What Digital Literacy Looks Like in a Classroom author Brianna Crowley states, “Many adults think that because children have been immersed in technology since a young age, they are naturally “literate” or skilled in using technology. . . Some research suggests this labeling is outright false— students are no more literate with their devices that their so-called digital immigrant parents.” Crowley hits the nail on the head because there is a big difference between knowing how to work technology, and knowing how to use it productively to express one’s thoughts or ideas.
The second reason it is necessary for teachers to teach digital literacy is because of a concept that goes hand in hand with it, digital citizenship. Fortunately for you (and me) I have again already written a blog post on this topic. Essentially, digital citizenship is the way a person conducts themselves on the Internet. It could be positive, or it could be negative. The concept of digital citizenship is one many children today struggle with. I believe that because they have grown up using technology, they tend to not fully understand the consequences their online decision making might have. After all, what was once on the Internet never fully goes away. This is why teachers must help students convey their thoughts in a responsible manner. Otherwise, what they do and say might come back to haunt them (like during a job interview, not a demon in the closet).
I must say, though, that the flip side to getting students to share their thoughts in a responsible manner is encouraging them to share those thoughts in the first place. The Internet is a beautiful place in the sense that it allows anyone and everyone to share their ideas with the world without having to jump through the hoops of publishing or publicity. The Internet is the student’s oyster, so to speak. The way the world is embracing technology, it is feasible to believe that the Internet might soon become the primary source for communication. As a result, students must know how to utilize it to their full advantage. The only way to do that is to educate students on digital literacy. It is up to teachers to help students get outside of their comfort zone and embrace the online written word while also maintaining healthy digital citizenship.
So what does digital literacy look like in practice? Normally, I am against standards (looking at you Common Core). However, when it comes to incorporating technology into the classroom in a productive manner, I believe that all teachers can benefit from some guidelines. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has issued a set of standards for teachers to follow in order to get the most out of teaching digital literacy. These standards can be applied in any classroom, at any level, for any subject. Pretty neat, right? One way I might teach digital literacy in my future secondary English classroom is through project-based learning (oh look, another blog post where I have already written about PBL). 🙂 I would have students take a concept, research a connection it has outside of the classroom in the real world, and then use technology as a mode to present their findings. It’s a win-win-win-win; student’s have learner autonomy, they get down and dirty with technology, they grow their digital literacy skills through a form of the written word, and they get to see how their learning applies outside of their education. Woohoo!
In conclusion, let’s not play hide-and-seek with technology. It is completely and utterly okay to be fond of the past, but it is also completely and utterly necessary to embrace the future. In this day and age it is critical for all teachers to help students be equipped with the skills they need in order to be both digitally literate and good digital citizens. I believe American financier Bernard Baruch said it best, “The ability to express an idea is well nigh as important as the idea itself.”