How to Teach Digital Literacy in Any Subject
As if teachers didn’t already have enough on their plates, there is an entirely new realm of literacy that students need to master: digital literacy. Perhaps stakeholders have assumed that, since they are digital natives, students already know what they need to know in order to be considered digitally literate. But this is simply not true. According to a recent study by Stanford University, very few students were competent in the very basic aspects of digital literacy, such as distinguishing a paid advertisement from a website’s core content. Obviously, students are in no position to fairly assess the reliability of information that they find online if they are unable to distinguish paid from substantive content.
Fortunately, it is possible to teach students about digital literacy in the context of any academic subject. One excellent resource is the digital literacy portal maintained by the federal government. It links to a wealth of information that will help students develop the skills that they need to safely assess, interpret, and create digital information. To put it in actionable terms, here are the four main skills that students will need to succeed in their efforts to manage digital information:
First, students need functional skills. This means that they need to be able to use a wide variety of software, platforms, apps, and tools in order to accomplish educational and career objectives.
Second, students need to know how to evaluate digital information. In the era of accusations of “fake news,” this is obviously a tricky skill. But, in any subject, a wise instructor can guide students toward understanding which websites and apps in the field are considered reputable. Further, a solid base of content knowledge can help students assess various claims that they will encounter in the future. In short, students need to be critical thinkers, and they need to know how to apply their critical thinking skills to all of the information that they encounter digitally.
Third, students need to be able to communicate appropriately using digital tools. They need to understand the importance of civility, as well as their obligation to be an “upstander” and not a “bystander” if they see someone else being treated poorly.
Fourth, students need to know how to keep themselves and their data safe online. With whatever digital tools a teacher uses in class, students need to be taught how to create strong passwords, how to store their passwords, and how to manage their privacy and security settings.
These four domains can, to be sure, seem like a daunting task to a teacher who already has a full plate of discipline-specific content area to cover. Fortunately, there are many online resources that can help to teach digital literacy, including the excellent materials from Harvard’s education school.