In a previous article by Frank Baker on the importance of media literacy education, he defines digital literacy as the ability to read, analyze, construct, and reconstruct ideas in the realm of online spaces. As we gradually transition into a more technologically-integrated world, the capacity to operate in and understand the digital world is essential to keep up with the latest industrial developments.
This is why sophisticated technology is being rapidly integrated into schools, at all levels, around the world. For instance, 3D printing classes at Smithfield Middle School, have introduced technologies like 3D printers and computer design apps to help improve students’ digital literacy. In higher education, digital literacy is coming through the integration and study of the latest technologies as well as digital centers that offer real world simulations. Maryville University has developed a Cyber Fusion Center that allows students to attempt to solve real-world cybersecurity problems in a controlled environment. This center was a key reason why Maryville University has been recognized by Apple as a top school when it comes to digital education programs.
Digital literacy programs ensure that they have a head start when looking for a job in the digitally-driven workforce after graduation. Because all industries are now becoming increasingly reliant on tech, here are some suggestions for strengthening digital literacy through education.
Supporting community-level initiatives
In the Center for Digital Education’s guide on ways to improve media and digital literacy, they suggest starting from the ground up by supporting community-level initiatives. The first step involves mapping existing community resources and offering small grants to encourage the integration of digital technology into existing programs. Next, they suggest supporting and promoting the growth of a national network of summer literacy programs that teach digital literacy in public schools. Lastly, creating a digital literacy youth corps can help bring these ideas to underserved communities through venues like museums, community centers, and public libraries.
Establishing partnerships for teacher education
For older teachers, technology and digitalization wasn’t as widespread in their time as it is today, so they require further support and training to teach digital literacy effectively to their students. Even younger teachers—who may be more familiar with social media tools—may not possess sufficient knowledge when it comes to how these tools can be used for teaching and learning. As a result, district-level initiatives need to be created through various partnerships across education, the local community, and the media. Funding from media and technology companies will help raise awareness through local and national media outlets, as they help integrate technology into educational programs.
Promoting audience engagement
Trying to improve digital literacy through education is not only about the students. Parents and other stakeholders should be involved as well. For instance, Monterey County Weekly reports how digital literacy should be inclusive and involve the entire community. The non-profit Loaves, Fishes & Computers has bilingual parent-child workshops over half-day periods that aim to make them more comfortable with computers. Some lessons for parents include learning how to use email and how to safeguard their child’s internet browsing activities. After the workshop, the event hosta a digital scavenger hunt, and families leave with their own Google Chromebook. Other ways to promote engagement include supporting an annual conference and educator showcase to promote digital leadership.
Teaching kids digital literacy in an interactive way
It’s never too early to start learning digital literacy. Thinking critically and identifying the role of media in our culture is important when it comes to being influenced by ideas you find online, especially during this formative period. Because of their shorter attention spans, sit-down lessons aren’t very effective. Instead, incorporate digital literacy into everyday activities such as cereal commercials, food wrappers, and toy packages for little kids and YouTube videos, viral memes from the internet, and ads for video games for older kids.
Getting kids to ask questions when they browse digital media
Often, it’s easy for kids to be misled by subtle suggestions when they access the internet. Along with keeping an eye on their browsing activity, help them ask questions to more clearly analyze what they’re seeing and reading:
Who created this? Was it to inform you of something that happened in the world (for example, a news story)? Was it to change your mind or behavior (an opinion essay or a how-to)? Is the information balanced with different views, or does it present only one side?
It’s easy to be swayed by biased media, but having a greater understanding of digital literacy can help them form their own opinions and be more critical of ideas.
Through these various methods, teaching digital literacy skills will provide individuals with the proper training and knowledge needed to equip themselves for future challenges. However, simply having access to digital technology isn’t enough for these skills to be strengthened. Often, fear accompanies periods of change, and certain people are afraid of using technology, failing to see how it can empower students.
That’s why having the ability to confidently critique and use tools related to digital media is vital in the world in which we live. To do this, school leaders need to open up dialogues related to the use of technology in education, so that parents, children, and other stakeholders have a platform to voice any questions and concerns related to digital literacy.