In our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write. Students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies that are important in our global society:
- Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
- Content/Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
- Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
- Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
- Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)
As School Librarians we need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, so I’m addressing each of these literacies in a separate blog post to offer examples/suggestions about how we might do that. Previous blog posts covered reading literacy, content/disciplinary literacy, and information literacy, so this post looks at Digital Literacy and its associated Technology Competency.
Defining Digital Literacy & Technology Competency
The definitions of Digital Literacy are multitudinous. Here are a few:
- Digital Literacy-the ability to use technology to navigate, evaluate, and create information. Common Craft
- Digital Literacy is the ability to understand, use and safely interact with technology, media and digital resources in real-world situations. Learning.com
- Digital literacy…includes knowledge, skills, and behaviors involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy. Wikipedia
- Digital literacy…specifically applies to media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and other nontraditional sources. [It] includes both nuts-and-bolts skills and ethical obligations. Common Sense Media
- Digital Literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills. ALA Digital Literacy Task Force
- AASL National School Library Standards doesn’t define digital literacy, but defines Technology Literacy as the “ability to responsibly use appropriate technology to communicate, solve problems, and access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information to improve learning in all subject areas and to acquire lifelong knowledge and skills.”
These definitions include Technology Competency—knowing how to USE technology equipment, applications, and online services, but too often we show students how to use a tool within the narrow confines of a particular assignment and fail to teach them why that tool is being used. Consequently, today’s students have and use digital devices, but they don’t really comprehend the digital world. We must, as the above definitions clarify, go beyond mere tech competence and build Digital Literacy: a full understanding of the type and purpose of technology tools in order to create original multimedia products for a variety of communication needs.
With the increase in cloud computing, students can only achieve digital literacy if they understand broad digital and online concepts, such as:
- Purpose. personal use, group collaboration, or presentation.
- Audience interaction. 1-to-1, 1-to-many, or many-to-many
- Delivery method. 1-way broadcast or 2-way exchange
- Response interval. synchronous (same time) or asynchronous (different times)
- Scope/Efficacy. all potential uses vs. the best use
For example, a word-processing tool’s best use is to record information, but it can be a collaboration tool by using comment and track-changes features, it can be a multimedia tool by including charts, images, and hyperlinks, and it can be a presentation tool by publishing to a larger online audience.
Integrating Digital Literacy
Creating lessons that integrate technology in an authentic way can be daunting. I find that models such as SAMR, TPACK, LOTI, and TIM are more theoretical than practical. As busy librarians we certainly need practical! For us the fundamental question is always, How can we create Digital Literacy Library Lessons that:
- are short & simple and can be scaffolded over time?
- focus on the objective of the assignment and the purpose of the library visit?
- have a classroom-related activity so students can practice what they learn?
With such lessons, teachers, who otherwise might not know about or use the tools, can see how to integrate them into their own lessons.
ISTE provides Technology Standards for Students as 7 Student Outcomes, under which we can organize our in-house and online tools, as shown in this example table:
By emphasizing the type of a tool, rather than a brand name, students learn what it is and why they use it regardless of who makes it. Though I created this table, I find it’s still impractical for organizing digital literacy concepts for students.
The simplest way I’ve found for students to understand technology is by introducing these 3 Conceptual Groups:
- Personal individual tools (1-to-1) for organization, communication, learning, and reflection: email, digital documents, and digital storage.
- Group tools (many-to-many) for collaborating with others: chats, discussion forums, wikis, social networks, and Web/video conferencing.
- Presentation tools (1-to-many) to create and publish original multimedia products: blogs, audio pod-casts, slide shows, animations, videos, and live broadcasts.
This organization incorporates broad digital concepts into short, simple lessons, and makes it easy to introduce a variety of media & technology tools for students to express themselves and add creativity & value to their products.
Practices to Promote Digital Literacy
♦ Test a new technology tool with students by using it as an alternative for a non-tech task; later it’s easy to interest them in new ideas using the familiar tool. I often try new tools with ELL and SpEd students: these teachers are very flexible with curriculum and eager for new experiences with their students; lessons must be short, simple, and specific so these students grasp what I’m showing them; and classes are small so I can work with each student individually. Initially I was surprised how quickly these students learned and began using the tools for other classroom activities, but now I understand it’s because technology is visual, interactive, and adaptable for every learner.
♦ To integrate a new technology tool, I use my Library Lesson Matrix to determine which Subject would most benefit from it, and I prepare a Library Lesson Plan to convince teachers to visit the library with their classes. I did this for the 6g Spanish teacher who asked how students could give online written responses to practice vocabulary, and now “Cloud Computing” with a district-provided online service is the first 6g technology lesson of every school year.
♦ When technology is to be the end product of an Info-Lit project, I introduce the technology tool during the Create phase of the problem solving model. I show students the tool while the teacher distributes a checklist of end product requirements and an assessment rubric, both of which include my input for the technology tool.
♦ When integrating technology into a project that requires work outside the classroom or library, we need to be cognizant of the digital divide in our schools. Always offer options: a hands-on product OR a technology product that both meet the assessment evidence, but are completely different in nature. (When offering options to middle school students, we find that 3 choices gives variety without being overwhelming for students—or for teachers to create guidelines and rubrics.)
♦ Think about how to scaffold lessons in small chunks across subjects within a grade level or across different grade levels. For example:
- 6g Social Studies students learn that landmarks and monuments represent the culture of a country and its collective memory. I show students how to search for copyright-free images online, then, working in teams, they use the images and an in-house tool to create a picture calendar of landmarks from 12 countries. This project is used again the following year in the 7g Social Studies course on State history as a tech refresher for students.
- A 7g ELA project offers students the option to create a song for a novel they’ve read. Students learn to find copyright-free soundtracks online then use an in-house audio tool to create and sing the song. (7th graders like singing, even into a computer!) Students also create a cover for a CD container, using prior knowledge to find copyright-free images.
- When 8g ELA students create a video book-talk, I just need to review how to find copyright-free images and sounds online. I show them how to upload files to an online video-creation service then copy the URL into an online QR-code generator so others can view their book-talk.
♦ Convince teachers to integrate technology into lessons early in the school year so we can gradually build skills in students. So often big technology projects happen after State testing, but a school only has so many computers and kids can only learn so much new stuff at a time!
Toward a Digitally Successful Future
In spite of the abundance of technology tools, educators still have obstacles to overcome: availability and reliability of tools, wide variation in teacher comfort, and the digital divide among students having home access to the Internet. And while we educators use digital tools every day for professional and administrative needs, what students need for their work is quite different. Thus, our challenge is to equip students with the digital literacy that will help them achieve success in school and in their future.
For further reading, try these 6 Books on Digital Literacy.
This is the fourth entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.