7 Reasons Why Digital Literacy is Important for Teachers
The meaning of "digital literacy" has shifted over the years. While there was a time when job candidates were encouraged to list "Proficient at Microsoft Word" on their resume, now such skills are considered standard. This shift toward a technologically savvy workforce has permeated the classroom as well.
It makes sense to assume that the more digitally literate our teachers are, the more they'll employ these skills in the classroom, which will in turn foster a strong sense of digital citizenship in our students. However, the importance and scope of digital literacy extends beyond this simple theory. Here, we've laid out seven reasons why digital literacy skills are important for today's teachers.
1. Moving Beyond Google
Google is a powerful tool. Students with access to a computer and the Internet are able to find the answers to not only simple questions, but also incredibly complex problems. However, there is a significant difference between Googling an answer and understanding why. Looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy, we want students to gain the deepest level of understanding when faced with a problem.
Simply Googling an answer does not provide students with true, deep learning. And while most students understand how to use a search engine, it is up to teachers to provide students with the additional skills to bring the answers to the next level.
There are several ways teachers can embed digital literacy skills into Internet searches:
Teach students to evaluate and question their sources. Students need to know the difference between a trustworthy and untrustworthy source.
- Is their source an academic website or a marketing company?
- When was the source last updated?
- How many other sites link to this source as a reference?
- Is the information presented in objective or biased language?
Teach students how to draw a strong conclusion. Sure, students might find the right answer to a problem, but what use is that search if they’ve only memorized the logic to get them there? It’s up to teachers to teach that logic and to contextualize the answer.
Push students to new levels of creativity. Once students have a deeper understanding of the answers they’ve found, push for creative application of that knowledge. This could be anything from challenging students to pose related questions to having students use other digital platforms to create something new. Examples include:
- Film a science experiment based on the answer they’ve found.
- Record a history podcast that tells the story of how their answer came to be.
- Write an investigative journalism piece on that same topic.
Again, digital literacy does not mean knowing how to use every piece of software students will encounter. Teachers should encourage students to seek out and learn the software they need to know in order to do what’s required.
2. Teaching Digital Citizenship
Being a good digital citizen means understanding and applying appropriate and responsible uses of internet and technology. Two issues top the list when it comes to digital citizenship: academic plagiarism and cyberbullying.
In a culture where students are constantly sharing content, they may not know what plagiarism is, let alone when they’re doing it. Teachers should set clear anti-plagiarism policies at the beginning of each year.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place through the use of electronic technology, and is a pervasive issue in schools and online communities. And while today’s students may be digital natives, they still need to be taught that social norms apply to online behavior. Resources should be in place to prevent cyberbullying and to help students who are being bullied.
3. Closing the Digital Divide
According to a 2014 report by the Federal Communications Commission, 31 percent of urban schools and 41 percent of rural schools do not have an Internet connection. Students in these schools struggle to take advantage of the tools, platforms, apps and resources available to their connected peers. But this digital divide isn’t just in schools — there is also a lack of access to devices and broadband at home. The divide is pervasive and accentuates already destructive achievement gaps. Digitally literate teachers advocate for change and seek innovative solutions.
4. Expanding Conceptions of the Digital World
While students may be adept at using digital tools, their understanding of what these tools can do is often limited.
For example, students use Instagram to post photos but don’t think to use the platform for art or history projects. They record themselves with a voice memo app but do not realize those apps could also be used for journalism projects or a historical narrative piece. Digitally literate teachers know how to inspire students to use today's technology as a powerful toolset to expand their learning opportunities.
5. Enabling Differentiation
Differentiation in the classroom is essential to meeting the needs of all learners, but it is time-consuming, especially for new teachers. Technology, when used creatively and correctly, can be used to mitigate those differences, such as in one-to-one classrooms. Teachers can lead the class through a lecture, while visual learners follow along with illustrations on their tablets and audio learners record the lecture for later review. Technology like this enables teachers to give their students choice in the kind of work they create for projects, such as a video, podcast or written story. Digital literacy is required in order to set the standards and boundaries for this kind of differentiation.
Digitally literate teachers also understand that it is less about the technology itself than it is about the tailored experience the technology can provide to each student. This is what drives differentiation and can make it powerful and highly targeted to students' individual needs.
6. Making Thoughtful Cultural and Platform Decisions
Teachers often receive mandates from administrations to use a particular technology product or app even though it doesn’t make sense for their students. Good teachers know how their students engage and learn and can use that knowledge to push for techcnology that will unlock new teaching potential. This makes digitally literate teachers great advocates for the appropriate technologies. These skills become increasingly important in diverse classrooms in which students are bringing different cultural contexts into the mix. Both the content and the technologies chosen may vary in effectiveness given a student’s familiarity with the tools and the various norms within their culture. A sensitive teacher will make digital choices that reflect these varied cultural contexts.
7. Improving the Technology
There is a distinct lack of current educators working with education technology companies. This is problematic because it often means that teachers are consulted about a product late in the design process — or often not at all. While the technology created may be sound, whether or not it’s actually relevant to the classroom is debatable. And since teachers aren’t regularly consulted to see what tech solutions they need for their classrooms, there are a wealth of potential products that are never made in the first place.
Teacherpreneurs are starting to change this — and they’re drawn largely from the ranks of the digitally literate. These are teachers who saw the need for new digital solutions in their classrooms and made them on their own. While teachers should in no way be required or pressured to make their own digital solutions, when they do, they tend to be relevant and widely applicable.
It is crucial that school and district administrators emphasize teacher digital literacy to avoid policies that simply mandate placing technology into the hands of students without thought for how that technology will be used.
Digitally literate teachers see technology for all of its creative potential, rather than something they are mandated to do in a step-by-step fashion. Digital literacy doesn’t require that teachers become experts, but it does require that they understand the digital tools that can unlock their deeper teaching potential.