A Teacher’s Guide to Digital Literacy & Digital Literacy Skills in the Classroom

digital literacy

As seemingly everything becomes more digitized, having the tools and wherewithal to navigate a digital-first world has never been more important. These skills, known as digital literacy, are not only required for professionals navigating the working world, but also for students as they learn in today’s education environment.

This has put the onus on teachers to integrate digital literacy into their curriculum, but not every teacher has experience with these lessons. To help, here is a quick guide for teaching digital literacy in your classroom.

What is Digital Literacy?

Why is Digital Literacy Important?

What Does Digital Literacy Look Like?

Benefits of Digital Literacy for Students

How to Teach Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy Resources

What is Digital Literacy?

UNICEF defines digital literacy as “the knowledge, skills and attitudes that allow children to flourish and thrive in an increasingly global digital world, being both safe and empowered, in ways that are appropriate to their age and local cultures and contexts.” 

Through the lens of education, we like to think of digital literacy as a student’s ability to use digital tools and technologies to work, learn and interact. Digital literacy manifests as both cognitive and technical skills.

Why is Digital Literacy Important?

Digital literacy is important for a number of reasons — it can improve learning, help students discern misinformation and it gives them access to a wide variety of resources, among other things. But most importantly, children are more exposed to the digital world than older generations. UNICEF reports that 70% of 15–24-year-olds are on the internet, so they are developing digital skills all on their own. This leaves room for them to develop poor digital literacy, unless there is purposeful instruction in their schooling.

6 Benefits of Digital Literacy

Beyond being a basic required skill to move about in today’s connected world, there are a number of specific benefits students will realize once they gain digital literacy skills.

  1. Improved writing, reading, listening and speaking skills
  2. Ability to identify authentic materials
  3. Increased frequency and ability to use digital technology 
  4. Enhanced ability to collaborate with teachers and peers
  5. Enhanced engagement 
  6. Improved academic performance

What Digital Literacy Looks Like

5 Pillars of Digital Literacy

To be digitally literate, one must demonstrate five key competencies. These are known as the pillars of digital literacy:

  • Information and data literacy: To articulate information needs and to locate and retrieve digital data, information and content. To judge the relevance of the source and its content. To store, manage, and organize digital data, information and content.
  • Communication and collaboration: To interact, communicate and collaborate through digital technologies while being aware of cultural and generational diversity. To participate in society through public and private digital services and participatory citizenship. To manage one’s digital presence, identity and reputation.
  • Digital content creation: To create and edit digital content. To improve and integrate information and content into an existing body of knowledge while understanding how copyright and licenses are to be applied. To know how to give understandable instructions for a computer system.
  • Safety: To protect devices, content, personal data and privacy in digital environments. To protect physical and psychological health, and to be aware of digital technologies for social well-being and social inclusion. To be aware of the environmental impact of digital technologies and their uses.
  • Problem solving: To identify needs and problems, and to resolve conceptual problems and problematic situations in digital environments. To use digital tools to innovate processes and products. To keep up-to-date with digital evolution.

In students, digital literacy presents as several skills, and broad understanding of the digital world and the tools required to navigate it. Students who possess digital literacy will be able to: 

  • Fact check information
  • Identify reputable sources and conduct research 
  • Participate in online communication
  • Cite sources and copyrighted material
  • Discern biases from word choice and sentence structure
  • Find and identify images and videos

How to Teach Digital Literacy

To teach digital literacy, it helps to become digitally literate yourself. Or, you can take a course focused on helping teachers learn how to teach digital skills. Once armed with these skills, there are a number of steps educators can take to actively and passively teach digital literacy.

  1. Emphasize the importance of critical thinking
    This will help students learn how to evaluate information resources to identify bias, point of view, motivation and more from particular resources. Being a good online citizen means using only reliable information, and that starts with understanding how to think critically.
  1. Provide guidance on how to avoid plagiarism
    Finding reliable and trustworthy resources is one thing, but properly using and citing these resources is another. Throughout their education careers, students will conduct lots of research activities, and they need to know how to properly cite their resources without copying them word-for-word. Teach bibliographies, APA and MLA formats, and of course how to cite online information to ensure students avoid plagiarism.
  1. Teach students to manage their online identity
    As they say, social media is forever, so what students post now will still be accessible when they’re adults. This will matter when applying to college or to jobs, so students want to be sure they cultivate a positive online identity. 
  1. Help students manage digital distractions
    With omnichannel access to the digital world, it’s easy to get distracted by the online world. Teach students about boundaries, setting limits and the importance of not spending every waking moment online. This will not only help protect their eyes, but it will also ensure they are exposed to a variety of resources and experiences.
  1. Teach students about online safety
    There are billions of people online, so ensuring a student safely uses digital technology is imperative. Parental controls are a good start, but students also need to know how to protect themselves.

Digital Literacy Resources

There are a number of teaching and learning tools around digital literacy that teachers should explore as they develop their strategy and lesson plans. Some of these tools include:

Once you have established a solid foundational understanding of digital literacy, pursuing professional development opportunities about the subject are a great next step. At the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education we offer a number of courses about digital literacy in teaching, including a complete series on Learning and Teaching in a K-12 Digital Classroom. With these lessons, you will feel confident about your own digital skills and your ability to instill them in your students.

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