What is Digital Literacy?
Technology has become ingrained into personal, professional, and social aspects of our lives. Educators must have digital literacy skills to better equip students to become productive citizens of society. Digital literacy means having the knowledge and ability to use a wide range of technology tools for a variety of purposes (Mantiri, Hibbert, & Jacobs, 2019). According to Widona (2020), “Digital literacy is the ability to use and create technology-based content, including finding and sharing information, answering questions, and interacting with others and computer programming” (p. 2).
As educators compete with social media and interactive apps, they will need to know how to effectively engage students in academics with the integration of technology. “Digital literacy involves more than the mere ability to use software or operate a digital device; it includes a large variety of complete cognitive, sociological, and emotional skills which users need in order to function effectively in digital environments” (Eshet-Alkalai, 2004, p. 93).
Students must have the competence to use and operate technology devices, software, and web programs to complete class assignments and produce products to extend their learning. Students have a wide range of access to digital tools such as the internet and web 2.0 tools technologies including but not limited to social media, email, web services, blogs, podcasts, messaging and networking sites, and should also be able to create new knowledge using their digital skills to enhance learning, (Hague & Payton, 2011).
Why is Digital Literacy Important?
Educators have a social and professional responsibility to be digitally literate (Widana, 2020). 21st-century jobs rely on technology for production and information processing. Educators must assist with closing the digital divide between subpopulations of students to ensure adequate equity and to provide them with the opportunity to compete on a global scale post-secondary education.
Students need to be well versed in 2.0 tools and systems management databases to support companies and businesses within our society. Companies are seeking digitally literate employees to help them maximize production, create new products, and manage the daily business operations. Educators must know how to successfully integrate technology with pedagogy to not only engage students, but to ensure students can effectively use digital tools to support the workplace and businesses for centuries to come.
Even entrepreneurs use digital literacy to promote and sustain their businesses. According to Casey and Bruce (2011), “Teaching with digital technology prepares pupils for future participation in an evolving society where new media practices are deeply embedded in the associated structures and processes” (p. 77).
Digital Literacy Assessments
Assessing students’ digital literacy skills ensures we are preparing them for life beyond the classroom. Young people’s confidence can also be misleading when applying digital literacy skills to research tasks and when completing projects (Hague & Payton, 2011). Educators cannot take for granted that youth are well versed in digital literacy because they can use social media platforms and navigate through software with little to no assistance.
It is important for educators and students to have competency skills in digital literacy. “Many established businesses have been uprooted and replaced by automation and digitization systems” (Widana, 2020, p. 1). Teachers can use rubrics and checklists to assess students’ digital competencies across content areas, by analyzing students’ products and tasks in reading, math, science, social studies, and writing.
Digital literacy assessments should include competency components and social-emotional descriptors to ensure our students are well rounded in digital literacy. Competency checklists can include but are not limited to using technology equipment with accuracy, navigating through software programs, using web 2.0 tools appropriately, and appropriately interacting with others in digital platforms.
Promoting Digital Literacy in the Classroom
“Digital literacy consists of skills, knowledge and understanding that enable critical, creative, discerning and safe practices with digital technologies” (Hague & Payton, 2011). In order to promote digital literacy skills in the classroom, educators must be able to overcome barriers that may hinder progress of utilizing technology in the classroom effectively.
The barriers are but not limited to language, limited access, different levels of experience, school infrastructure, and keeping up with changes (Mantiri, Hibbert, & Jacobs, 2019). Hague & Payton (2011), suggests on ensuring equipment is working in advance, develop a plan for managing data, know who to call for assistance when there are technology issues, remind students of copyright laws when producing work, and be prepared to provide assistance to students to ensure they are producing high quality work.
“Teachers may find it difficult to integrate digital literacy in a pedagogically sound and interesting way” (Ryberg & Georgsen, 2010, p. 90). Educators must be adaptable towards technology use, be open minded and willing to learn from students, and stay abreast of technological advancements, (Mantiri, Hibbert, & Jacobs, 2019). School districts will have to provide ongoing professional development to ensure digital literacy is at the forefront in every classroom across the country.
Digital literacy practices should not be limited to assigned computer class times. Teachers can implement digital literacy practices to engage students at deeper levels in the areas of reading comprehension, science exploration, mathematical computations and processing, arts integration, and many other pedagogy skills. “Digital literacy can sustain and enhance the inquiry learning cycles of asking questions, investigating phenomenon, creating new content, discussing findings, and reflecting on next steps” (Casey & Bruce, 201, p. 77 & 79). When students are able to create new knowledge, they capitalize from learning experiences, which supports their academic success and productivity in digital literacy.
Once students are expected to utilize digital literacy in the classroom, educators can celebrate students’ knowledge and successes. It would be great to have the students work on projects that would benefit the school community, such as creating flyers, managing general data for the school, creating PowerPoints for family nights, and digital media to promote school events. The more we empower students to embrace digital literacy, the better prepared they will be to enter the workforce with a digital literacy background to contribute to the ever-changing world of technology.
“Teaching digital literacy is important not only in supporting students to become independent, critical learners but also in narrowing the gap between children’s lived experiences inside and outside of school” (Hague & Payton, 2011). Educators must consider equity when supporting students with digital literacy. School districts need to maintain and monitor the availability of internet services and adequate technology devices to ensure all students have the opportunity to use digital media beyond the school hours. Digital literacy encompasses every component of our students lives within the classroom and beyond.