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Developing Our Digitally Literate Nomads

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Written by Linda Parsons, Educational Technology Lead, Deira International School

A couple of days ago, I sat with a friend whilst she recounted her frustrating and very relatable story of that one person in the office that refused to upload a key document onto their shared cloud. This was not only delaying productivity, it later transpired that the person in question found a patchwork system of working that separated them from the rest of the team, despite having the rest of the team offering advice to her.
It has happened to all of us. I bet you even found a familiar face pop up when you read that. When we look at our children, we imagine a shining future where they use technology as seamlessly as Iron Man and J.A.R.V.I.S to integrate their thoughts with their world. As we dream of our children’s future, we need to remember the need to explicitly teach and model digital literacy, just like we do with traditional literacy. Perfecting these essential skills means our children will be able to access rich information and to connect productively with the world around them.
Digital Literacy is the skill set needed to comprehend, communicate and curate content through digital means. It is a skill that requires practice and attention to detail to improve upon. Here are the Four Principles of Digital Literacy with strategies and resources a parent, teacher, or Principal can use to proactively boost student development.
Comprehension
This is the ability to find reliable sources of digital information. It is also the ability to identify unreliable sources of information and to infer the underlying objectives of paid advertisements, disinformation, and sponsored content. This year’s Safer Internet Day (2021) centered around teachers, parents, and leaders delivering age-appropriate activities that helped students as individuals, classes, or across their school develop their comprehension skills.
We wade through fake news, disinformation, and opinions being presented as facts in our daily lives. Therefore, it is important that students learn how to critically analyse sources before sending them off on the yearly “Climate Change” research project. My advice is that these activities are best delivered over a course of at least several days to encourage students to think critically about digital information as a habit.
Interdependence
This one will help our friend above. The skill of understanding how devices and platforms are interdependent to build ecosystems is essential to understanding how to best apply “microskills” of platform use. I hate the phrase “Digital Natives”. This implies our poor students automatically know how these complex systems work, and they often find themselves as lost as an exchange student trying to pick up a foreign language through only immersion.
This also implies that all adult educators are somehow exempt from developing these vital skills. What I can get behind is that our children are “Digital Nomads”. Able to glide from one device to the next, equipped with the knowledge of what skills they need to make a system work to their own ends. This comes from a knowledge of apps that are interdependent, a knowledge that they have learned from us, their “guides”.
A great example is using “Cloud Sharing” to organise personal files, collaborate and communicate in a school. Teaching the interdependence of platforms that make up your classrooms is an essential skill that needs to be explicitly taught as part of the transition of students from Primary to Secondary school. Mirroring the student’s immersion and training should be the parents’ access to workshops and advice on how to help their children access and understand how their school environment is built.
Social Factors
Apps such as Flipgrid, Wakelet, Jamboard, and iMovie have become regular learning partners in Primary and Secondary classrooms alike, prompting our students to learn how to create their own content to an established audience to convey the message they want and document their own ideas and achievements. Peer learning and recognition is a powerful tool that has been harnessed by educators long before the term “selfie” existed.
It is crucial that everyone understands the impact of choosing the right application at the right time. The social factor of learning should spotlight learning, and never distract from the learning itself. Learning safe practices and habits to curate and digest social media content goes into the realms of Digital Citizenship, which is for another time, however, Common Sense Media is my go-to website that has a wealth of advice and information about the social impact of the digital world on children and young adults.
Curation
Go into your cloud photo album right now and scroll down to a random day. Do you have photos of random animals/food/landscapes that you didn’t know existed? At the time you thought it was the most amazing moment on the planet worthy of immortalising. Don’t worry… I have yet to meet a person that honestly does not digitally horde something.
Understanding what effective content curation looks like will prevent your students from becoming overwhelmed with information, which is an essential skill to develop before they are expected to manage their time and research skills in independent projects. A great platform you can use in British Curriculum schools is Idea.
This can be made as a personal account for individual children to improve their digital literacy in a range of skills with their parents, or it can be used for individual classes, or even schools, depending on how the teachers or leadership. I recommend the Bronze Worker Badges to help them with their Digital Literacy, however that is one of many pathways they can explore!
With time, and explicit teaching of Digital Literacy at all stages in education, the conversation above will hopefully become a thing of the past as we all become digitally literate. These skills will always need to be explicitly taught to children in a place where they can explore and test their own boundaries.
Like any other teaching, human interaction when teaching Digital Literacy is so important. Please don’t entrust or assume your children understand how to communicate on a self-moderated platform, just because they are “Digital Natives”. They will quickly be starring in their own version of Lord of the Flies, with the bonus of creating an unintended digital footprint of their mistakes.
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