Digital Literacy

Digital and media literacy are not just ‘nice to have’ add-ons in today’s education. They are real essentials as part of a balanced education that focuses on the development of the skills of a lifelong learner.

It has a number of different aspects to it, but at the deepest, most philosophical level, it begins with developing an understanding of what knowledge is, what learning is, truth, facts, reality and the due respect for one’s own and others’ knowledge, opinions and expertise.

When the internet spews out copious quantities of material it’s potentially all too easy to be slack, lazy and passive towards knowledge and facts. This leads to a lack of discernment and becoming easy to manipulate with false, misleading information that pursues a particular agenda. It can also lead students (and others) to fall easily in to the temptation to simply take the work of others and pass it off as their own.

The international Baccalaureate organisation sees plagiarism and ‘passing off’ as such a serious issue that it insists on the use of software like ‘Turn it in’ to check and verify that students’ written work is their own and genuine. They advocate that every school should have an academic honesty policy. In my experience, this is as important for educators as it is for students – we must lead by example. That means, we need to look at children of different ages, figure out what they need and what can be expected of them and then set out very clear expectations. So, at class 3-4 level, we might accept students copying and pasting lines from websites – preferring to focus on their skills of finding that information. as they get to class 6-7 we are likely to expect them to have mastered the skills of precising and taking that original material and putting it in to their own words. By the higher classes we should expect that they not only write in their own voice, but attribute the sources from which they have drawn in their research.

‘Fake news’ – the spreading and sharing of questionable factual information to pursue particular political agendas is worrying many, but especially educators, as evidenced by this recent article about the debates and discussions at the leading US IT in education conference. The article carries details of some new resources that are beginning to be developed to help teachers address these issues with students:

The Journal – ISTE Participants Respond to Spike in Fake News Websites

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Developing Children’s Digital Media Skills

I have written occasionally about how I believe the ‘learning how to’ skills cannot be learned in isolation through ‘one off’ workshops etc. (although for many children in schools today, even that would be better than nothing). The learning skills have to be embedded in to the learning experiences themselves.

This goes for skills such as study techniques, mind mapping etc. but also for aspects of building student understanding on academic honesty, plagiarism and research skills. A good starting point is something like an ‘academic honesty policy’, like the team produced when i was at Shri Ram, but I stress again that all that has to get embedded in to the learning, which means it must become part of the essential toolkit of every teacher.

Here’s an interesting article from ‘Mindshift’ applying this to the issue of choices students make about accessing digital materials. The Los Angeles i pad debacle is ample evidence that ‘command and control’ strategies to web filtering etc. are largely ineffective with children. If anything, the more filters you put in place, the more you challenge the children’s ingenuity to find the ways around those filters.

I remember from personal experience in a school where access to Facebook was blocked. I was told confidently that children in that school don’t ‘waste time’ chatting on Facebook. However, one of the first things I saw in one of the computer labs was two students chatting and updating status on FB. When it was investigated it turned out that the students were getting around the filter by going via a proxy site based in Russia to access FB. However, one has to wonder – were the risks worth the effort?

Mindshift Article – Making Children Their Own Filters

Ultimately, two things will make the difference in these matters. The first is the overall school culture, trust relationship between adults and children. A culture that emphasizes on ‘control’ and discipline will likely have continual battles in this area and things will go wrong from time to time. Secondly, every teacher in the school has to be IT savvy and trained to incorporate all the aspects of effective research skills and digital literacy in to lessons and teaching so that they are not delivered only as part of ‘computer lessons’ or as add-on workshops.

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