banner_digital-literacy

Developing digital literacy in learners: a how-to guide for teachers

Allison MillerAllison Miller is a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog who is passionate about engaging learners, equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the world of work. Here she considers digital literacy, what it does and doesn’t mean, and the important role of educators in enhancing these crucial skills.

What is digital literacy?

“Digital literacy involves finding, using and disseminating information in a digital world” (Deakin University, 2016). Digital literacy is also a transversal skill, which means that by having good digital literacy, a person’s ability to learn and improve other skills increases through the use of technology.

In the next 5-10 years, a number of routine jobs will be taken over by automation and artificial intelligence (AI) (ACS, 2016). This automation and AI will also be ingrained in workplaces, homes and everything we do, due to the increased productivity and lifestyle gains that these technologies provide. In order to remain current in the workplace, and to be able to fully function in society, the need for good digital literacy has never been greater.

While a number of government initiatives aim to address this need in the school sector, a large proportion of the Australian adult population  needs to further develop its digital literacy (ABS, 2013). Either that, or risk ‘dying’, figuratively speaking, in a digitally disrupted world. A common misconception is that young people are highly digitally literate, because they are so active online. While it is true that many adult Australians are engaged on social media, and many of these were born into an ‘online world’, research suggests  that this does not equate to them having good digital literacy. This means that adult educators not only need to be aware of this shortfall, they play a significant role in meeting this need.

Developing learners’ digital literacy

At a minimum, the use of technology needs to be embedded in the learning and assessment process.  This can be done through a blended approach which allows learners to access and submit part of their work online. This ensures that all learners engage with information online, but in a very safe and supported environment. This approach can also help to improve the quality of the learning and assessment environment.

Using technology as part of the learning and assessment process starts by using a simple and easy to use online learning environments such as learning management systems (LMS), ePortfolios, blogs, social media and online meeting rooms, with well-designed learning and assessment activities. It is important to offer an ‘orientation’ to the online learning environment, which can be done either through face to face or online workshops using Google Hangout, Skype or Zoom. Easily accessible orientation videos on YouTube or Vimeo can also provide good support, as well as providing more traditional text based ‘how to’ and ‘help’ support while the learners learn to navigate the online environment on their own.

Digital literacy development activities

If, in the first instance, learners have had limited exposure to computers and mobile devices prior to being asked to interact online, then working with foundation skills staff / consultants to help the learners develop some basic computing skills may be required. This training could be offered through relevant bridging units. Once orientated to the online learning environment, activities which build digital literacy should be adopted.  The following table includes some approaches you might like to consider:

Activity Description
Discussion forums or online groups Learners do online research or view online videos, and then post what they have found into a discussion forum or online group.  These learners should then be asked to review other learners’ posts and comment on them.
Instant messaging or ‘chat’ Learners connect with others in real time to organise a group activity or debate ideas and concepts solely through text.
Mobile devices Learners capture evidence of their learning, or tell a story or present information about their training, through video, audio, photos or mobile apps. This digital content is then uploaded or shared via the online learning environment.
Online calendars Learners schedule when their assessments and other commitments are due. Then the online calendar ‘reminds’ learners when things are due through the pre-set alerts.
Online journals Learners keep a written record of their progress, either on or off the job. These online journals can be either shared with others or solely with the educator.
Online meeting spaces Learners come together to discuss topics, plan group activities, brainstorm problems, conduct interviews and/or present their work to others.
Online questionnaires/surveys Learners either design questions as part of their research or they are required to undertake a survey to demonstrate their knowledge in an area.
Social media Learners follow and interact with key individuals or organisations to find out what current practice or issues are happening within their industry, or to benchmark their own work against these practices.
Wikis/Google docs/Mind mapping tools Learners work collaboratively online to solve a problem or come up with new ideas or designs, either in real time or over a period of time.

Helping learners stay safe online

Before starting any online activities, however, information and activities about the correct ‘netiquette’ when learning and working online should be introduced. This can be offered as generic information to be used across an organisation as part of a learner’s induction to their training, or embedded into the training program itself.

Learners will also need to be supported to manage the privacy of their own information, and that of others when working in groups. Helping learners understand the profile and privacy settings in third party online sites such as social media, as well as reading through and discussing the terms and conditions of these sites can be helpful. Information regarding how third party online sites manage and use learners’ information should also be provided, and discussions about what organisational online learning environments capture about a learner such as ‘activity logs’ should take place.

Ensuring learners work successfully online

Interaction with technology as part of learning and assessment will mean that learners create digital objects such as Word documents, video and audio files, and images. Enabling learners to develop good file management habits should therefore be supported.

Helping learners develop strategies for remembering their login details, and teaching them to have ‘strong’ passwords which contain letters, numbers and symbols is also crucial. A lack of skill in this area is said to be the number one killer of online activities as learners cannot access their work.

And finally, discussions and/or information about copyright and plagiarism are important. Learners need to understand that just because information, resources and digital objects are readily available online, doesn’t mean that they can use these resources as their own.  Teaching learners about quoting and referencing other people’s work is very important.

Sites such as search.creativecommons.org allow learners to filter their web searches so they are only presented with information, video, music and images and so on which have been licensed for open use, as long as they attribute the work. This practice will help the learner easily transition from using other people’s information and content for educational use to more public and online use, without breaching copyright and intellectual property laws.

Guide and let go

Developing digital literacy happens best when learners are supported and guided to learn and work online. Like any real learning, however, this is best done through a spirit of experimentation and risk taking, and an adult learning environment is a great place for this to happen.

Ensure you cover all of this by using this Developing digital literacy checklist.

5 thoughts on “Developing digital literacy in learners: a how-to guide for teachers”

  1. Hi Alison, I was really interested to read your blog. As a librarian I am aware that digital literacy is my route back into making serious connections with teachers. Your first quote as to what digital literacy is explains where school librarians fit in because the finding and disseminating of informaiton is an important part of information literacy/research skills. Although your guide is very practical I would have loved to see an introduction to how information literacy and digital literacy go hand in hand. Without finding and evaluating all the information we find the value of what we share becomes less.

    I know it is impossible to write about everything in one blog post and I do like what you have written! I am currently writing a blog on how this all links myself so will link to your blog as it will mean I can write less :)

  2. Thank you Elizabeth, you have raised a very important point that information literacy / research skills go hand in hand with digital literacy, and so they should be taught hand in hand.

    This also highlights the symbiotic relationship with all literacies, as developing learners’ critical literacy is also really important when developing digital literacy in learners, so they can distinguish useful information from shams and scams :).

    I look forward to reading your blog post.

  3. Thank you Elizabeth. You are obviously seeing that some school students are not being encouraged to correctly attribute the sources of their school work. The need for students to understand that just because it is freely available online, doesn’t mean you can use it as your own, is a really important digital literacy.

    Thank you also for sharing the information about EasyBib Bibliography Creator in Google Docs. I’ll certainly be using this great add-on as I use Google Docs a lot.

Leave a Reply to Allison Miller Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *