The Importance of Digital Literacy in K-12

by Becton Loveless

The Importance of Digital Literacy in K-12

Beginning digital literacy programs in grades K-12 is essential. This introduction to digital media prepares young children and teenagers for the skills they need to engage in technology both safely and responsibly. What’s more, digital technology education empowers and educates children by providing them with the tools they need to thrive in an ever-changing digital world.

What Is Digital Literacy?

The incredible advances in technology have changed the way people communicate, interact and work, but that’s not all. Technology has also altered the way children learn. Digital literacy, also known as virtual learning and e-learning has the potential to improve lifelong learning.

It involves learning through various technology platforms, such as computers, the internet, remotely, or a combination of all three. Becoming digitally literate means that students develop technological skills, learn authorship rules, such as copyright and plagiarism, understand how to access online information and learn social responsibility while interacting on social networks.

As digital learning continues to expand, it’s important for K-12 curriculums to embrace new technologies. A study conducted by Learning.com from 2012 to 2017 found that 75 percent of fifth and eighth grade students were not proficient in 21st century technological skills. Above all, digital literacy is a key factor in education today. The future success of students depends on them becoming digitally literate.

This involves developing skills and knowledge that enable them to safely navigate and discern all forms of digital technology. Knowing these IT skills allows students to learn traditional subjects in innovative ways through educational courseware and online resources.

Teaching digital literacy in primary and secondary schools is all about understanding that today’s children need different types of skills and technological knowledge in order to think critically, evaluate their work and engage with a global community.

Differences between Traditional Literacy and Digital Literacy

When you think of traditional literacy, reading and writing come to mind. Learning phonics, sight words and eventually, reading literature. Today, students need more than the written word to succeed in elementary school, high school and continued education. Digital literacy expands the scope of traditional literacy. It encompasses e-learning skills that incorporate audio and video for strengthening thinking and learning in students.

When combining digital and traditional literacies, not only do students learn how to read and write, but they also learn how to expand their communication, language and media skills. They grow and engage the world through images, diagrams, audio and video media, taking their reading and writing skills to a higher level of learning. They also develop dynamic creativity that helps them think, communicate, design and engage in the world around them.

When reinforcing literacy skills, conventional teaching methods involve:

  • Textbooks
  • Workbooks
  • Written tests
  • Recitation

Digital literacy teaching methods expand on print literacy with the following tools:

  • Cloud computing
  • Courseware
  • Multimedia slides
  • Game-based learning
  • Educational video
  • Audio learning
  • Digital production
  • Interacting on digital devices
  • Combining virtual and physical worlds

Conventional and digital literacy go hand-in-hand in the classroom, enriching your students’ creative thinking and integrating them into today’s digital world.

Building Communication and Literacy Skills with Digital Media

It’s important that educators expand their ideas about literacy. Children in grades K-12 adapt to technology naturally, making it the best time to teach Internet technology skills. It’s the time for them to create relationships between the written and visual word for better communication with others.

Communicating through pen and ink is a lot different from communicating in the technological, visual world where children need to be aware of appearance, gestures, and the tone in which they speak. These qualities don’t matter in printed material, but they’re essential skills that student need to learn for effective communication today.

Traditional literacy is all about learning nouns, verbs, sentences, grammar, and reading and writing text. By taking a broader look at digital literacy, implementing technology in the classroom greatly enhances the learning experience beyond conventional literacy. This interactive visual media deepens understanding, thinking, and interpreting content, elevating your students beyond the confines of structured literacy.

Introducing Digital Skills in Formative Years

Making information technology an integral part of children's lives from a young age, enables them to access and become familiar with digitally interactive "smart" learning tools. In today’s digital world, teaching children IT skills in their formative years helps them evolve along with information technology. If learning platforms don't initiate digital literacy programs, students will become overwhelmed as technology advances.

Age or social standing shouldn't limit an increased understanding of digital media. Not all students have access to Broadband, electronic devices and computers at home, so schools play a large part in helping students who don’t have the same electronic devices, internet and computers of connected students. Introducing digital tools, apps and internet platforms to your students, helps close the digital divide that hinders achievement.

Digital Literacy Goes Beyond Reading and Writing

Advances in technology provide digital resources for education curriculums, which significantly contribute to digital literacy learning. For example, when students have digital tools available for writing assignments, they enjoy creating multimedia presentations that enhance their writing skills. The following digital tools help bring your students’ writing to life:

  • Insert relevant videos
  • Insert images
  • Receive instant feedback with chat features
  • Ability to search and attain facts instantly
  • Edit spelling and grammar themselves
  • Access to more experts and data
  • Revise work without having to rewrite the whole paper

Familiarizing children with computers, software and mobile devices encourages them to use these outside of the classroom. That makes it second nature for them to learn on their own.

5 Ways Digital Literacy Makes Learning More Effective

Traditional classroom settings restrict the time and space of students’ learning capabilities. When you offer them technology tools, it opens the door to the whole universe. They can learn anywhere, anytime and about anything. It’s a way to extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom to help encourage a lifetime of learning and sharing knowledge.

1. Take learning everywhere

When your students learn how to use digital media, they can utilize this skill everywhere. Technology is all around them. For example, at home they probably have smart devices like mobile phones, tablets, computers, and other smart devices. Your students can take their knowledge with them, using their digital literacy skills for profound learning outside the classroom. The restrictions of time and space fall away, opening their minds to independent learning. They can continue their research and writing wherever they go, increasing their independent learning and inquisitive nature.

2. Interact with peers

Another benefit of harnessing new technology in the classroom, especially in older children is the interpersonal computing they can do. When students work on their assignments using cloud environments, they can interact with each other, reviewing, offering encouragement, and making suggestions. This not only helps motivate students to perform better, but it builds collaboration and negotiation skills that they can use throughout their entire lives.

3. Constant connection with teachers

On top of staying connected with their peers during assignments, teachers become even more important in web-based learning environments. They can access everything their students are doing, which helps evaluate their students’ learning potential, peer reviews and exactly what they’re are working on. Gathering this analytical data, helps assess each student’s performance and ability. Cloud computing gives teachers more visibility over their students’ progress.

4. Work at their own pace

Every student has different needs, whether in elementary or secondary school. E-learning allows students to work at a pace that’s comfortable for them. This helps relieve the pressure of keeping up with others in the classroom. You can track and intervene to adjust the material so that the student can successfully complete the assignment. As educators, by expanding instruction using digital media, you offer support for the needs of individual students. When they connect with their peers, it puts your students at ease, keeping learning fun and interesting for all ages.

Traditional thinking is that it’s easier to talk to the whole class, and have the students work on the same assignments. It’s difficult to provide personalized learning in a large classroom with specific time limits. Today’s digital literacy tools allows for personalized learning for all students. This means that students can work on different projects at the same time, completing them at their own pace.

5. Decreases behavior issues

When your students leave the classroom at the end of the day, they go home and text their friends, share photos and become instantly connected to the digital world. Since they’re accustomed to these constant personal connections, being in a confined classroom environment can cause frustration and boredom. For many students, they find release by acting out.

Integrating Web-based Technology in the Classroom

According to Dr. Mary Kalantzis, Dean of Education at Illinois University, educators today need to “harness the different modes of the digital revolution in order to be effective representers of knowledge.” She goes on to say that today’s learners and future learners need to engage in all areas of digital media, making it the “core of teaching and learning.”

Here are a few basic technology requirements for starting a digital literacy program in the grades K-12:

  • Technology devices, such as tablets, desktop computers or laptop computers for every student
  • Broadband connection
  • Classroom website where students, teachers and parents can view updates and classroom events and assignments
  • Digital calendars that are updated with daily assignments, due dates and other classroom events
  • Email addresses for all the students. This is for higher grades that can interact on their own mobile devices.
  • Develop e-safety procedures that protect children from inappropriate content, cyberbullying and predatory behaviors.

Teachers face the challenge of preparing children to be technologically fluent and enhance their aptitude for digital resources. Integrating innovative, web-based technologies into daily lesson plans, such as interactive read-aloud sessions with audio and video, digital whiteboards, STEM activities, creativity enhancing digital art production and video recording tools advances children's literacy and thinking skills throughout grades K-12.

Learn More about Digital Literacy

If you’re looking for ideas on incorporating digital literacy into your curriculum, you can find many useful tools online that outline strategies for every grade level. Here are several helpful resources:

Literacy today goes beyond developing reading and writing skills in K-12 classrooms. It must promote digital competency, which prompts critical thinking, learning outside the classroom and communicating effectively. Children's imaginations thrive and grow when exposed to technological innovations, preparing them for the world of the future. Digital literacy is everything to students today, harnessing new ways of interacting and learning.

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