The need for digital literacy and tech instruction

The need for digital literacy and tech instruction
Bram Teague April 30, 2021

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Digital literacy is a skill set that is increasingly becoming essential. According to ALA’s Digital Literacy Task Force, it is defined as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” These abilities are required to survive, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is increasingly conducted through the internet, social media, and mobile applications.

STEM and tech careers

With new societal norms and demand for qualified workers in tech and STEM-based fields, there’s little reason to wonder why the growth trajectory in these career fields are rising.

“Computer occupations as a group are projected to grow about 3 times as fast as the average between 2019 and 2029 at 11.5 percent. This growth will result in slightly more than half a million new computer jobs over the 10-year period.” (U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics)

So how does this demand translate to the classroom? And how are educators expertly weaving in digital literacy into their subjects?

What do students need to know?

Today’s student has moved past the need for separate computer literacy classes. He or she now requires a broader education in digital and media literacy. That is because today’s generation of young people are fluent in the use of social media, apps, and devices from as early as kindergarten. However, this does not negate the need for more in-depth and practical teaching in subjects like coding and the Microsoft Office Suite of programs (especially Word and Excel). Although it is easy to assume that students already grasp certain technological concepts and abilities, educators must still incorporate these trainings into their daily instruction.

Limiting instruction to technical skills will not give students all the tools they need for success in the digital and media-driven world. David Buckingham, Emeritus Professor of Media and Communications at Loughborough University, writes in his article Defining Digital Literacy:

“The internet, computer games, digital video, mobile phones and other contemporary technologies provide new ways of mediating and representing the world, and of communicating. If educators wish to use these media in schools, they cannot afford to neglect these experiences: on the contrary, they need to provide students with means of understanding them. Digital literacy, in my account, is about these means of cultural understanding.”

To have an impact on the growth and development of students, instruction should accomplish more than just swapping technology for traditional curriculum. Kids will rebuff learning if technology is simply added to a lesson plan or lecture.

Media literacy

Media literacy is defined as “the ability to encode and decode the symbols transmitted via media and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages” (US Digital Literacy). As teachers it is necessary to foster critical thinking when it comes to engaging with media content, especially on social media platforms. This development of good internet citizenship is a crucial skill to blend into course work. Students need the ability to authenticate sources and identify red flags in the content they are consuming. Many lesson plans are available to educators for building these fact checking skills in students. As they evaluate the media they are consuming in any form, having a mental checklist is helpful when identifying the quality of the material. This checklist includes things like verifying the author and publication information, shareability, and obvious reporting bias. Lesson plans through quality sources like PBS are available to teach a test before you trust approach to media literacy.

Teaching methods and resources

When teachers have crafted a digital tool kit that is customizable per student needs, they create richer and more meaningful learning experiences. Students take ownership of their work and they learn better when technology is not perceived as the desired outcome. Instead, technology is seen as a means for reaching a goal. For this to be successful, the tools and platforms being used must be intuitive and compatible with the internet infrastructure at school and inside a student’s home. Teachers, students, and parents will need to take active roles in implementing the necessary steps to reach digital literacy and making sure that all technology tools are accessible and easily understood.

There are many technical tools available to help teachers deliver quality instruction. Learning Management Systems (LMS) with user-friendly interfaces, such as Brightspace, Canvas LMS, Edunation, Blackboard, and Schoology, facilitate online learning and can be used to assess student performance. They can also manage communications between the teacher, parent, and student. Instructors often use these platforms to upload lessons, videos, and fun assignments that align with the work students are currently doing in their classrooms.

Beyond software programs and platforms, there are many resources for supporting teachers in bringing a digital literacy focus to their classrooms. The TPACK pedagogical model, developed from the existing PCK model, highlights the importance of pedagogical and technological knowledge. TPACK is a framework that aids teachers in developing an individualized approach to overlapping content and teaching methods with technology. There is no one-size-fits-all to this method because each school and classroom has different needs and resources at its disposal. Another tool that complements TPACK is the SAMR model, which stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. Dr. Puentedura, the creator of SAMR, describes the method as a ladder for teachers to move up when integrating technology into their classrooms.

In this video produced by Common Sense Education, Dr. Reuben Puentedura gives the example of creating digital maps as an assignment. He goes on to explain the importance of not only substituting these maps for paper maps but enriching the work students are doing by having them create their maps in a linked online platform, where the work they are creating is connected and interactive with each other. This collaboration gives deeper meaning to the project and greatly increases the likelihood of students paying attention, retaining information, and increasing their digital literacy skills. Dr. Puentedura describes it as “gateways to each other’s knowledge.”

While approaches to digital literacy are impacted by factors such as access to technology, teacher’s comfort level with technical solutions, and school funding, technology and digital literacy integration in the classroom is still a necessity. STEM and “Big Tech” careers are in demand and projected to increase over the next ten years. These jobs require applicants to have standard sets of tech skills. Building comfort and fluency with technology could even begin in early childhood classrooms. This atmosphere will serve students academically and socially as they move into professional careers utilizing the same collaborative mindsets learned in technology-based classrooms.

Bram Teague is a Kansas City-based writer specializing in academic journalism and technical writing. He received a degree in education from the University of Central Missouri in 2011 and has gone on to successful careers in both project management and certified technical writing. Curiosity is the driving force behind all of Bram’s interests and he can usually be found deeply engrossed in a book when not writing or spending time with his partner and two children.

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