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Why is digital literacy important?
With the advancement in technology over the years, we now live in a world that is both enriched and burdened by computers and gadgets. The domination of technology in our everyday lives highlights the importance of digital literacy not just for adults but also children. The digital world offers enormous benefits and advantages to everyone, however, without proper use and understanding of technology, the digital world can be overwhelming, and even dangerous.
Teaching kids digital literacy skills is very important. Kids need to be able to understand the technology that they use so they can use it safely and effectively. Digital literacy is not just about knowing how to take a selfie or update facebook. Digital literacy means understanding technology and using it appropriately.
So what is digital literacy and why is it important?
We all know what traditional literacy means. Literacy is the ability to read and write. But in today’s digital world, being literate isn’t enough anymore. It is important for children to become digitally literate as well.
Digital literacy means being able to understand and use technology. It relates to the ability to find, use and create information online in a beneficial and useful way. Digital literacy also means knowing the limitations of technology and understanding the dangers and precautions that the use of technology requires. It is different from being computer literate. Sure, being able to use a computer is a part of it. But digital literacy goes more in-depth than the simple use of a computer.
Digital Literacy Examples
Digital literacy can be simple or complex. In the simplest terms, Digital literacy means things such as the ability to navigate a website, send an email or use social media. However, digital literacy also refers to a deeper understanding of the technology that surrounds us. It can also refer to practical software skills such as creating a blog, coding a website or an app.
Digital literacy is not just knowing how to check SnapChat or Instagram. Several important topics within digital literacy include understanding:
- Internet Safety
- Digital Footprints
- Ethics of using online resources (avoiding plagiarism)
The benefits of digital literacy for kids
Children are at a great advantage with an understanding of digital literacy. In a world which is so connected, kids learn digital skills from an early age. Many of these tech skills are essential in the classroom and in the workforce. Almost any industry children move into when they start their career will require some form of digital literacy.
And with most schools now requiring projects and assignments being submitted online, children are expected to have basic skills such as being able to type up a document, research using a search engine, and send an email as well as being able to use the internet safely.
Now more than ever, a digital literacy curriculum is imperative. Where we run into trouble is with the use of technology without a clear understanding of its purpose. Kids who use social media should understand how it works, who can see it, and what digital footprint they are leaving behind.
Quick Tips to encourage digital literacy in the classroom and at home
Talk about what digital literacy means in your classroom
Talking about what digital literacy means, and why it is important will give kids a simple understanding of the digital world. We can start by talking about how things were in the past, and how our future is heading. We live in a digital world, and being able to navigate technology these days is a vital part of it.
Start by asking students how they use technology in the classroom or for learning. Ask them to give examples of how they learn with technology. Whether it be using specific apps, online notebooks, youtube tutorials or others, we learn more and more using technology.
However, it is equally important that children know that technology doesn’t replace learning, it simply enhances it. Children need to know that it is possible for them to learn without technology.
For an overview of digital literacy, check out this awesome resource from Cornell University
Talk to kids about the digital world and internet safety
Children need to be taught how the internet works and how to use it properly to their advantage. They should know the basics about navigating the internet and also evaluating the information they find online.
It is also important they know that not everything they find online is correct. Fake news and information is everywhere so when using information found on the internet it really needs to be evaluated to be assured that it is real.
Google has an awesome curriculum developed for kids entitled, Be Internet Awesome
In Google’s curriculum, they address 5 areas that are important for internet users, especially kids:
- Share with Care (Be Internet Smart)
- Don’t Fall for Fake (Be Internet Alert)
- Secure Your Secrets (Be Internet Strong)
- It’s Cool to Be Kind (Be Internet Kind)
- When in Doubt, Talk It Out (Be Internet Brave)
Google offers a Be Internet Awesome Curriculum for teachers and also offers an interactive game to teach kids the principles of internet safety called Interland. These are great resources to have in your classroom.
Talk about cyberbullying
Although there are many benefits of digital literacy, there are also many things you should be aware of as technology becomes more a part of your child’s life. It is important to understand the potential challenges.
Cyberbullying is, unfortunately, a more and more commonly recognized event for young children and teenagers. Children are particularly vulnerable to cyberbully as they may not fully recognize the limitations of the internet.
Connect Safely offers a set of tips and tricks for parents and students regarding cyberbully. This includes tips like talking to an adult, capturing the evidence, and avoiding retaliating online. Check out their resource for an excellent list of resources and tips.
Encourage the use of digital products
When trying to build children’s digital skills, the use of digital products is essential. Although we may feel the need to exclude technology from the classroom, embracing technology with a focus on responsibility will likely result in a more responsible use of technology for adults.
Just as we would teach your kids how to swim, or how to ride a bike, we need to teach them how to appropriately use their digital tools. Many kids learn computer and app-based skills on their own, but parents and teachers should use these programs and apps with their kids so that they can understand what they are doing and help teach kids the purpose and goals of these programs.
There are so many ways that teachers can integrate technology in the classroom. It’s even possible to use the apps and programs that kids are using every day. How about a classroom tweet to end every lesson? Kids will be challenged to summarize what they learned in 140 characters. From facetime or skyping with experts to delivering classroom content via youtube, you’ll want to check out these 25 easy ways to use technology in the classroom.
Make lessons digital
Creating a lesson where children need to use these digital products can help encourage digital thinking.
Taking photos is a great example. Using the camera to take photos, then learning how to transfer the photos onto the computer and save them in a folder. Then perhaps editing that photo with an editing program and printing it out. Or sending that photo via email or messenger.
Set Technology Limitations
One way to encourage conversations about our use of digital products and understand the importance of setting limitations is to consider a product like Circle with Disney. Circle with Disney is a very cool device that helps to control and monitor your family’s internet use. Using the app and plug-in device you can monitor how much each family member is using the internet, and where they are spending their time. You can set limitations and pause the internet for certain members of the family when they have exceeded their daily limit. This product is a must-have for any household!
We live in a digital world, Kids need to have digital literacy skills
With the world heading in this direction, digital literacy is only going to become more important as time goes on. The online world is nothing to be feared. It should be seen as a great opportunity for the kids of today, making life easier in many ways as they move through life.
Parents and teachers need to be encouraging digital literacy at home and in the classroom from the start in order to establish these skills and build a solid foundation to build upon from the very start.
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Katie is mom of two rambunctious boys and a self-proclaimed super nerd. With a background in neuroscience, she is passionate about sharing her love of all things STEM with her kids. She loves to find creative ways to teach kids computer science and geek out about coding and math. You can find her blogging at Teach Your Kids Code and in her spare time, documenting her families travels at Tear Free Travel.