How can we teach students not to be digitally illiterate?
The majority of students in school today are born digital or, to use an overused term, “digital natives”, who have been born into a new culture – they study, work, write, and interact with each other in different ways to those of us who went to school a decade or more ago. They read blogs rather than newspapers and meet their friends online; they have grown up digitally literate.
So what does it really mean to be digitally literate? Digital literacy does not simply equate to knowing how to use a hashtag or using the latest chat acronym, but also requires knowledge, skill and, most importantly, how to use it in the most effective way possible.
Technology disruption leads to empowerment and self-selection, which builds access to adaptable learning pathways that empower students, regardless of circumstances, to fulfil their potential, preparing them for life beyond the classroom.
Schools and teachers need to critically embrace a progressive educational theory that’s about learning, adopting and adapting technological practices that meet learners where they are – by placing them at the centre of the process, and developing their capacity as independent, creative, critical and collaborative learners.
To effectively teach digital literacy, teachers need to be trained in how to interact positively with digital media so that they aren’t daunted by the experience, empowering them to facilitate learning that uses the technology to foster student-directed inquiry, focussing their instruction on prioritising higher order skills and learning, and providing support and timely intervention when required. In addition to teachers demonstrating to students how they can network, communicate, and learn within digital platforms, they also need to help students acquire confidence and skills so that they can engage with multiple perspectives, and apply analytical and critical thinking to situations, collaboration and knowledge acquisition.
Students can use technology to speed up processes, and importantly, they can create their own specific learning moments and education pathway thanks to the flexibility in accessing content, in time and location, that technology provides. This allows teachers to take on more of a facilitator role and enables students to develop their own learning around a subject.
As teachers take on this role of facilitator, it is vital that they are mindful of the need to impart critical thinking skills to their students. Students that gain hands-on experience of locating, interpreting, evaluating, and creating digital information have a very different experience to students who simply use the Internet to locate information and conclude the search at the first result served up by the search engine. By creating space and opportunities for students to think through the information and resources they have found, and by broadening the topic to more than one source of information, students are then able to learn how to evaluate what is good and what is poor with regard to digital content, and so they are less likely to take the first bit of information they find online at face value. In so many ways, the risk isn’t about teaching students how to be digitally literate, if we wait or get this wrong, the risk is teaching them to become passive consumers who are digitally illiterate.