The What, Why, and How of a Digital Literacy Program

A budding buzzword, digital literacy occupies the minds of educators globally. The broad set of competencies that comprise digital literacy are fundamental to success in the 21st century. To breakdown this complex topic, this article will address three common questions: What is digital literacy? Why is it important? And how can a school or district implement a digital literacy program?

What is Digital Literacy?

Digital literacy encompasses a range of skills that together prepare students to operate in an increasingly digital world. Specifically, digital literacy skills enable students to understand, use, and safely interact with technology, media, and digital resources in real-world situations.


Why is Digital Literacy Important?

With rapidly evolving technology that touches all aspects of life, today’s students require this new form of literacy to succeed in academics, in the workforce, and in their personal lives.

For example, when transitioning to online assessments, states noticed a significant decrease in student performance on those using online assessments versus those using paper assessments. This becomes especially critical, when end-of-course exams and high school graduation exams determine whether a student can progress to the next academic year. Beyond online assessments, as grade levels progress, students are more likely to be required to use digital mediums; and if they have not developed the necessary skills in their formative years, they are less likely to succeed.

In the workforce, it is estimated that by 2020 nearly 80 percent of jobs will require some level of technology proficiency. Productivity lost due to low technology skills is estimated to cost the US economy $1.3 trillion each year. And time wasted as a result of inadequate digital skills is estimated to consume 21 percent of a worker’s time, costing businesses roughly $10,000 per employee annually.

Finally, in students’ personal lives digital literacy helps them to stay safe online, critically evaluate information, and connect with others on a global scale.


How Can a District Implement a Digital Literacy Program?

When implementing a digital literacy program, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In line with this, the remainder of this article will explore three models for rolling out a digital literacy program.


In the Computer Lab

Computer labs are great for experiential learning and are beneficial when introducing students to new digital literacy skills. Computer labs also provide students with opportunities for independent practice at their own pace.

All About Equity: Digital Literacy implementation in the computer labs reaches more students and offers instruction by specialists who are likely to be skilled in technology, creating opportunities for instructional equity. Additionally, approaching a digital literacy program in the computer lab ensures all students have access to technology when a 1:1 initiative is not in place.

Steps for Success:

  • Clearly display your lab rules and procedures
  • Have instructions prepared and printed for each student
  • Encourage typing practice at the end of activities

Tech Teacher Feature: “By refocusing and dedicating lab time to building students’ digital literacy skills, we watched students gain stronger technology capabilities.” Tony DeMonte, Instructional Technology Coordinator

Pro-Tip: Find a tech-savvy student volunteer to help you answer questions and assist other students that need extra support.


In the Library

The school library is a multi-purpose instructional space that in recent years has transformed into a digital learning hub. Similar to the computer lab example above, implementing a digital literacy program in the library also ensures all students have access to technology when a 1:1 initiative isn’t in place.

Cross-Functional Learning: The library provides opportunities for students to develop digital literacy skills while accessing a range of other educational resources. By doing so, students learn how traditional and technological models for information gathering converge. As students encounter more and more projects that demand research, they can skillfully navigate a holistic research process.

Steps for Success:

  • Show students how to identify credible websites and properly cite sources
  • Set up individual student folders with passwords, logins, and lesson materials
  • Use AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner as a framework for implementation

Tech Teacher Feature: “When teachers experience how the library media specialist are using a technology curriculum with students in the library, they get more familiar with digital literacy and can better support these skills in the classroom, too!” Stormy Cullum, Instructional Technology Coordinator

Pro-Tip: Have students partner up at the computer if there are not enough stations. Sharing duties and taking turns promotes important collaboration and problem-solving skills. Be creative in setting up stations to encourage imagination and support multiple learning modalities.


In the Classroom

There are several ways students can access technology in the classroom. Some schools use laptop carts, have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, or are 1:1.

Technology for Life: Introducing technology into the classroom helps move instruction beyond a passive learning model that engages students and orients digital tools as a fundamental piece of student learning, helping them acquire the skills needed to leverage these tools in future academic studies and work. In fact, a CompTIA study found that nine in ten students believe regular technology use in the classroom will be integral to their future employment.

Steps for Success:

  • Familiarize yourself with devices first, so you can help students troubleshoot
  • Look for lesson plans that include digital activities to deepen learning
  • Make it clear that you will be moving around the room to keep students on task

Tech Teacher Feature: “Even the simple activity of having students write a poem in class using the computer becomes an opportunity to incorporate digital literacy.” Emily Bourgeois Instructional Technology Specialist

Pro-Tip: If using a video for whole class instruction, show it at the front of the entire class, instead of having all students watch it on their own computers to prevent any slowing or freezing network issues.


In All of the Above

Whether introduced in computer labs, libraries, or classrooms, digital literacy programs set students up for success. And in fact, many schools and districts use a combination of these approaches in a hybrid model. In this case, collaboration among classroom teachers, computer lab teachers, tech specialists, and librarians is key.

For example, if a classroom teacher informs that computer lab or library staff that their students will be working on essays, introducing the ethical use of digital resources and word processing skills would be a valuable way to integrate digital literacy into core instruction. Or, if students will be doing presentations, take advantage of that opportunity to deepen their knowledge of how to properly use presentation software.

Opportunities abound to equip students with digital literacy skills needed in this technological world.

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