Since before your students were born, the internet has been integral to daily life, making them part of a generation of “digital natives.” Most children can “drag and drop,” “click,” “scroll,” and “login” even before starting elementary school. However, digital literacy goes far beyond such basic processes. Digital literacy skills fall into various domains such as:
- Functional skills
- Staying safe online
- Finding and evaluating credible information
- Using digital tools to create
Learning Functional Computer and Internet Skills
While most youth today get plenty of screen time, many students still lack critical functional computer literacy skills. Some students have limited internet access at home. Even students in homes with fast connections often use it primarily for entertainment rather than learning. Teachers find that students frequently lack the necessary competency to use apps and programs important to education.
The International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, offers a wealth of resources to inform you about best practices in digital citizenship and computer literacy. They recommend that teachers provide explicit technological instruction and guided practice. The following list of foundational digital literacy skills is a good starting place to help students succeed with minimal frustration.
- How to upload, download, and share documents, media, and other file types.
- How to name, save, and organize files.
- How to use software such as word processors, spreadsheets, software for collaborating and presenting, e-mail, Learning Management Systems (LMS), and other EdTech.
- How to log in and out of sites.
- How to use standard operating systems such as Apple MacOS, Chrome, and Windows.
- How to use accessories such as cameras, headsets, and mice.
Allow students already adept in all these skills to help their peers (and possibly adults). The recognition of their expertise and opportunity to shine will feel good.
Staying Safe Online
While the internet offers amazing tools for researching, sharing, and creating, it also has a dark side with dangerous people lurking, ready to pounce on people’s vulnerabilities. With both those realities, avoiding the internet is not a practical solution to staying safe. Most students are naive about the type and severity of attacks from scam artists and other nefarious people. Adults must therefore set up safeguards and teach students how to protect themselves online.
Your district’s internet security system should be sufficient for restricting students to safe sites and activities when they are on campus. However, few homes have adequate internet security. The amount of schoolwork that students must do online from home means that teachers, parents, and students share the burden of keeping kids safe online. The Federal Trade Commission offers guidance for what students should avoid doing online. These tips include:
- Never share personal information online.
- Be wary about downloading any games, apps, or files.
- Stay away from illegal or untrustworthy sites.
- Avoid interacting with strangers online.
Finding Credible Information
The internet gives us unfettered access to a plethora of videos, websites, blog posts, social media posts, and scholarly articles. It allows us to explore almost any topic in-depth with minimal effort and time. The problem is that the quality of information varies dramatically. Students using the internet for research need to find and vet credible information sources.
Search engines use keywords to search the internet for relevant content. Therefore, teaching students what keywords to put in the query box significantly reduces their research time. Teach students to use specific keywords to narrow down the context of their search results.
For example, a student learning about the ecosystem in Yellowstone will get higher quality results from entering “Predators and Prey in Yellowstone” and “Food web in Yellowstone” than just “food web” or “Yellowstone.” Show students how to refine their keyword searches as they learn more about their subject. For more advanced research tips, read 35 Google Search Hacks that are Going to Change Your Life.
The adage, “Don’t believe everything you read,” is especially accurate when using the internet. Student researchers must understand that they will find misleading and incorrect information. Evaluating the credibility of information also strengthens their critical thinking skills. Even a young child can learn to recognize that cigarette ads from the 1940s are not credible sources about how smoking affects a person’s health. Here are some questions students can use to evaluate their sources:
- How recent is the information?
- Is the author/organization an expert in this field?
- Is this information relevant to my query?
- What biases or external motivation does the author have?
- Do I understand this information, and how does it fit with what I already know?
Using Digital Tools to Create
Quality cloud-based software programs empower students to unleash their creativity and apply it to almost any subject. If you are tech-savvy, you might want to offer enrichment lessons in using creative software before assigning a project. If computers aren’t your strong suit, consider giving students time to investigate creative software independently and share what they learn. Here are some fun programs your students can start trying to create videos, art, animation, 3d models, music, and so much more.
- Animation- DigiCel FlipBook and Doodly
- Photo editing- Adobe Photoshop and Affinity Photo
- Video editing- Movavi Video Editor and iMovie
- Music composition-Dorico and Sibelius
- Drawing- Krita and Artweave Free
- 3d Modeling- BlocksCad and Morphi
- Coding and programing-Scratch and Tynker
- Game Development- GameMaker and Unity
Many professional-grade software programs offer low-cost and free versions for advanced student learning. However, be cautious about introducing students to robust programs that exceed your students’ capabilities. A seventh grader tried creating 3d models with the program Blender. After hours of frustration, he vowed never to use it again. Luckily, he gave it another try several years later and now uses it frequently and competently. Unfortunately, some students would likely get permanently discouraged.
Our Role in Technology Education
The everchanging and sophisticated global economy requires that students continue to advance their technological skills. However, teachers do not need to feel pressured to keep up with the fanciest technology. Helping students learn basic computer literacy skills will allow them to develop more skills as they need them. Harris Education Solutions provides software solutions to help teachers teach, and students learn. Let us know how we can best support you.