The textbook definition of digital literacy is an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and compose clear information through writing and other mediums on various digital platforms. In layman’s terms, it means having competence in using computers, smart phones, electronic tablets, and other web-accessible devices. In education, however, digital literacy encompasses much more.
Today, students must have the ability to do more than send a text or post a picture on social media. Digital literacy requires specific skills as students are also being asked to create, collaborate, and share digital content responsibly. For these reasons, educators must understand the importance of implementing digital literacy lessons in the classroom.
In order for students to be digitally literate, they not only need to learn how to use technology, but to be critical of the information they gather, Toronto science teacher, MuditaKundra, told Teach Magazine in a recent article.
Kundra explains that since 21st century students are exposed to information digitally through articles, statistics, videos, etc., they require explicit instruction to be able to discern old, biased or false information from the facts. She goes on to explain that educators are evolving their lesson plans to teach students to identify false information, in part by being analytical thinkers.
Building a curriculum around digital literacy skills, online safety, and digital citizenship should start as early as kindergarten, or when students first have access to computers. Lessons can begin by preparing students with online safety skills and the importance of making responsible choices online.
Russell Hazard serves as the Director of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation at AidiSchool/NIT Education Group in Beijing, and has also published research on digital literacy and citizenship. As an example of such work in practice, Russell Hazard is working to implement the new global framework for a digital intelligence quotient (DQ) at Aidi School. DQ is the collection of social, emotional and cognitive ability that enable individuals to deal with challenges and demands of digital life. According to DQ Global Standards Report 2019, the digital age requires young people today to have new knowledge, skills, and attitudes that relate to the digital realm. Developing Digital Intelligence (DQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) are now just as important to today’s students as traditional IQ.
“At Aidi School, we are making a tremendous effort to embed the DQ program within our curriculum and support it with in-class learning activities, such as language support, discussions, and individual reflective projects. We are also using it to engage in a broader whole-school discussion on digital literacy and citizenship because teachers also need support in this area as part of pre-service training and ongoing professional development” explains Hazard.
Russell Hazard notes that digital citizenship refers to a person using digital technology in order to engage in social and political action in the digital world at levels that include the local, regional, national, and global.As such, he feels it is an essential component of Education for Sustainable Development, or education oriented to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals for a more healthy and prosperous future. In the classroom, there are many ways teachers can help students learn how to become responsible digital citizens other than through theory alone. For example, linking digitally with a classroom outside of their school’s geographic area is a great way to connect young people and help them to work together to understand each other’s local problems as well as comparing how larger global issues are manifesting to them. Collaborating on topics such as how digital media studies relates to citizenship within different national systems, multimodal rhetoric, bias, and news analysis, historical perspective sharing, or digital community service projects can all help support the goal of broadening the definition of citizenship to include both global and digital awareness when they are framed as ways to create meaningful change.
Citing work such as Is in and Rupert’s Being Digital Citizens as well as seminal research papers such as Buckingham’s Defining Digital Literacy, he posits that digital literacy includes the unique skills such as understanding bias in digital media as well as the ability to produce multimedia texts to influence the digital world and make effective rights claims. He also explains that there are a number of unique features of digital citizenship that students need to be aware of, such as “traciblility”, which refers to the digital footprints we all leave behind. Digital literacy therefore may serve as the foundation for effective digital citizenship much as traditional literacy has long been held as the essential prerequisite for effective citizenship.
In his abstract, Peter Serdyukov from National University says the need for educational innovations has become critical. He goes on to explain: “It is widely believed that countries’ social and economic well-being will depend to an ever greater extent on the quality of their citizens’ education: the emergence of the so-called ‘knowledge society’, the transformation of information and the media, and increasing specialization on the part of organizations all call for high skill profiles and levels of knowledge.”
Scholars in this field report that it is important to remember that digital citizenship starts with the person, not the tool. Teaching digital literacy in schools, as well as in non-traditional educational contexts for marginalized children around the world is now more important than ever. However, it cannot be separated from the wider goal of helping young people learn how to grow up into emotionally mature, empathetic, young adults who care about the people, society, and world around them. A lot has changed since digitalization was first integrated into education, but one thing has remained constant is the importance of teaching students how to care about both themselves and others in the analogue world – and in the digital one.