Digital literacy – what it is and why it’s important

Digital Literacy Acer teacher with student and laptop TravelMate B3

Digital literacy has become imperative in today’s society. In an increasingly digital world, technology offers tremendous opportunities in almost every aspect of life. This form of literacy is required to take full advantage of these opportunities.

So it’s no surprise that digital literacy skills are essential when preparing students for the future. Read on for a deeper dive into what digital literacy is and how to assess it in the classroom.

What is digital literacy in education?

In general terms, digital literacy refers to an individual’s capacity to understand, use and evaluate information in a society steered by digital technologies. These skills apply across the board in conjunction with the use of devices – from PCs to smartphones and tablets — that connect to the internet.

When students become digital citizens, they learn to analyse, apply and evaluate online information while coming to understand the importance of their own digital footprint.

Why is digital literacy important?

Digital literacy is not a synonym for IT proficiency. It is a specific understanding of technology that mixes digital tool knowledge with critical thinking and social engagement.

By building digital literacy, teachers lay the foundations for students to fully embrace and understand digital tools and online resources – in both learning and everyday life.

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The main digital literacy skills for students

Digital literacy encompasses several skills that teachers can foster in the classroom. We spotlight a few of them here:

1 – Information literacy and critical thinking

The internet has become the primary source of information for almost everyone, from children to adults. Therefore, pupils must be taught how to analyse and evaluate the information they encounter.

First, students must learn to distinguish between relevant information and misinformation or fake news. Secondly, they must find their own patterns and connections to elaborate content and put it into practice. Only then will they be able to apply what they’ve learned in the real world.

Moreover, it’s crucial for teachers to underline the ethical use of resources. Students must learn to report sources and not copy/paste online material, just as they shouldn’t from textbooks.

2 – Understanding the digital footprint

Everything shared online – especially on social media – becomes part of an individual’s digital footprint. This includes photos, media, cookies, browsing history, passwords, etc.

Because they spend so much time online, youngsters may not always consider the implications of what they share. Within the context of digital literacy, this topic should be discussed with your class. In particular, the importance of cybersecurity should be highlighted – especially regarding sharing personal data or recognising scams, fake ads or fraud.

3 – Cultural and social understanding

Since its inception, the internet has been a vital space to express diversity. It is also a powerful amplification tool to spread not only positivity but also negativity and hate.

Therefore, seek to instil in students a respect for inclusivity and to discourage any form of cyberbullying.

How to teach, assess and improve digital literacy

Learning-by-doing is perhaps the best way to develop digital literacy. Through practical lessons, help your students to surf the web and collect information. Assign tasks that include the use of online tools and research. Point out positive and negative examples of what we have discussed above, and encourage an attitude of “practice makes perfect!

Be aware that digital natives can be precociously tech-savvy without fully maturing into digital citizens. It’s up to mentors to help them to develop digital literacy to prepare them for the future.

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