3 Ways Teachers Can Support Digital Literacy

Today’s students grew up with technology in hand—they’re a generation of digital natives who have had access to computers, smartphones and tablets for as long as they’ve been alive. And, over the course of the pandemic, online learning has made technology an even bigger part of children’s daily lives. This is set to continue as many provinces offer (or even require) online courses as part of the high school curriculum.

While screen time often gets a bad rap, it’s an undeniable part of our lives. Approximately 84% of jobs in Canada currently require the use of a computer and studies have shown that banning screen time can actually have a negative effect on a child’s academic success. This is thought to be because kids with less online experience haven’t had the opportunity to develop strong digital literacy skills—a key part of critical thinking that benefits individuals at every age.

Unfortunately, digital literacy isn’t as natural as using a touch screen. Government data from 2016-2018 indicated that 80% of grade four students in Canada used a computer at home for school work at least once per month (though arguably, this usage has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic) and 94% of 15-year-old students in Canada had access to a computer at home. However, only 70% of these older students reported having been taught how to assess online information and determine whether it’s subjective or biased. This is actually much better than international averages from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but still—there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Meanwhile, there’s also plenty of room for fun. Here’s a school assignment that parent and tech expert Amber Mac shared on Twitter. What a great combination of media literacy, critical thinking and creative art skills!

Tech is here to stay—so let’s be smart about it and teach students how to do the same. Here are three tips for teaching to support digital literacy skills in the classroom.

Understand the barriers

Before you start teaching digital literacy in the classroom, identify any students who have limited access to technology and/or the Internet at home as these students may need additional support. Other common barriers to digital literacy include limited reading and numeracy skills, financial or geographical barriers, a fear of failure and/or a lack of appropriate resources. Once you know which students face these and other barriers, you can work on addressing equity before diving into digital literacy lesson plans.

Offer encouragement over shame

Kids learn best when they’re engaged and comfortable asking questions. Start by teaching them all about their digital footprint. Teach them the difference between factual reporting and opinion pieces, and how to know which is which. Be sure to illustrate how easy it is to be confused by bias or misinformation—it may help to explain that adults often fall for subjective statements or online scams, and that digital literacy is a learned skill. If you’re working with older students, you may want to introduce the concept of confirmation bias.

Digital literacy takes time to master, and that’s okay—especially when students are still learning and growing as individuals. You don’t want them to feel embarrassed or ashamed if they’ve fallen for misleading headlines on unaccredited news sites or posted personal information online without thinking about the consequences. Be positive and empathetic, offer resources and encourage questions throughout. The bottom line: they’ve got this!

Give examples—and make it fun!

Show your students a variety of online materials—these can be real life examples or headlines you’ve written yourself—and have them identify misleading and/or biased information vs fact. Use digital literacy resources to demonstrate fact checking and critical thinking skills, and incorporate images, video and even memes in your lesson. Examples that include social media are critical, and the focus should be on both Internet safety and assessing the validity of online information. In most cases, these elements go hand-in-hand.

When it comes to digital literacy for students, there are many great educator resources out there—here are a few to get you started.

By Staples Canada

March 03, 2022