What comes to mind when you hear the word "literacy"? If I had to guess, your answer is probably reading and writing, and I wouldn't blame you. Literacy is a storied staple of American schooling, beginning with D'nealian Handwriting practice, running through the book report era of middle school, and continuing to the glorious five-paragraph essay experiences of high school.
Those three examples have a common bond: they somehow involve words on paper or some other physical media. But the prevalence of computers, smartphones, and pretty much every other recent technological advance has expanded the definition of literacy.
Nowadays, educators must also be cognizant of promoting digital literacy, putting the proper utilization of digital tools and technology right on par with reading and writing.
Three Vital Reasons to Promote Digital Literacy
Now you may be thinking, Are you serious? It's tough enough getting kids excited about reading and writing, now we're expected to teach them digital literacy?
Here's the catch. Digital literacy already has a proverbial foot in the door in relation to students' interests and attention. For a vast majority of digital natives, the idea of books and paper is old and boring. They have these awesome tablets, laptops, apps, etc. that put old-school media to shame. Why not use students' predisposition to digital media as a driver of engagement?
Here are three reasons why tapping into the high level of technology interest to develop digital literacy is a modern-day education necessity:
1) Digital Literacy Promotes Higher-Order Thought Skills
Whether your state is transitioning to the Common Core State Standards or revamping its own independent state standards set, the key movement is to steer instruction away from memorization and, instead, promote the acquisition of higher-order skills (analysis, cooperation, creating, etc.).
Digital literacy skills are transmutable from the tech world to real world and meet many of the basic needs required by today's learning standards. Instilling strong levels of digital literacy creates great avenues to learn and practice these higher-order skills, ranging from students working collectively via a Google Doc to developing the ability to analyze a web sources credibility (and everything in between).
2) Digital Literacy Breaks Down the Walls of Learning and Information
The traditional pen-and-pencil system presents tons of barriers to student access and connection, whether it be the plight of a master narrative, language disconnect, etc. By instilling adept digital skills, students can break through these walls and become producers of knowledge.
Allowing students to find their own learning resources (via the web, cloud-based learning tools, etc.) and analyze the sources benefit creates a true personalized learning environment. Students are no longer given a static text set that dictates how and what they should learn. Instead, developed digital literacy skills afford students the ability to seek out and utilize knowledge resources that help them create a personal learning connection.
3) Digital Literacy Prepares Students for a Digital Post K-12 World
Not to be lost in all of the higher-order thinking and personalized learning benefits is the fact that the workplace is becoming increasingly digitized. Much of our goals as educators are geared around ensuring students have the tools they need to become successful Post K-12 citizens. That now includes having familiarity with technology.
Whether it be working with Microsoft Office, understanding the nuances of a Windows/Mac operating system, or even the simple use of a mouse and keyboard, it's vital for students to be ready to roll when sat down in front of a digital device. In today's climate, gaining familiarity with digital device functions and features is now just as important as learning to read and write.
Dont Be Afraid to Learn Some New Tricks
We could go on-and-on about great reasons to add focus towards student digital literacy. To me, the above three are important because they add real value to a students learning, instead of just making it easier or more efficient. The key is to understand these reasons and apply that to your own digital literacy.
And let's be honest, some of your students know more about technology than you do. Don't be afraid to learn a bit from them too!