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.

Is email wasting your time?

This blog has been re-published with the permission of Trina Hoefling and The Smart Workplace.

Trina Hoefling is a longstanding organisation and team development expert and master teacher at the University of Denver graduate school. For over 30 years Trina has been helping organizations and people establish virtual presence, bridge virtual distance and build strong relationships that span time and space. Scheduled to visit Melbourne in April 2017 (details below), today Trina shares her thoughts about the inefficiency of email.

Learn and use the communication technology that best fits your work and relationships!

I’ve said for 20 years that email isn’t the best work vehicle for many reasons. Information obesity is the biggest deterrent, but loss of context also contributes to email ineffectiveness. Information is sent, received, and attended to in fragments, scattered amongst dozens of other types of messages, if not hundreds. Email forces us to be redundant in our communication, never sure everyone has read what’s been sent previously. Or we leave out or don’t remember vital information because it came through in an earlier email. That previous message is out of sight – and so – out of mind, especially if the subject line becomes irrelevant to where the conversation went. If email is being used as a project management and team communication tool on your team (be honest, most of us do it), you are spending too much time gathering information from here and there or losing critical information. Project management and team collaboration solutions solve the context and recorded history problems. Effective tool users have built-in organization tools to stay on top of tasks while facilitating communication among team members.

If email is being used as a project management and team communication tool on your team, you’re most likely losing critical information.

Now that Facebook and LinkedIn (and many others) are standard parts of our lives, most people understand the interface basics and tenets of how to communicate through a collaborative platform. With business growing more social in nature as more people realize that much real work gets done through conversation, we’re truly crossing the digital divide of team relationship management. Companies use cloud-based social media solutions, finally embracing efficiencies that early adopters have benefited from for years, thanks to the ubiquity of mobility.

Now people get it. Work behavior has changed. For example, 47% of all email is now being opened on a mobile device and often inside a social platform such as LinkedIn or Facebook. As a result, mobile collaboration apps can easily become the logical default for team collaboration. The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend has reached critical mass. (It may be giving Chief Technology Officers and Information Technology departments headaches over security concerns, but it is here to stay.)
As early as 2010, Gartner was predicting that 20% of business users would choose social networking solutions over email as the main channel for communication and collaboration by now. We have reached critical mass.  That’s not to say email is dead. It is still powerful as a direct communication tool, but it can stop being a productivity killer. Leverage the collaborative platforms and let email become, again, one – but only one – great communication tool in your team tool box.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to the The Smart Workplace. Hear from frequent contributors who are experts as well as from me. We’ll be publishing weekly posts that will inspire you while providing tips, hacks, resources, and free tools to help you master the virtual work world.

Don’t miss the opportunity to meet Trina Hoefling on Friday 28 April 2017 in Melbourne.

This enlightening speaker will tackle topics such as:

  • Teaching tomorrow’s workforce today
  • An engagement-driven rapid course design approach
  • Teacher as online facilitator – role model, stringent evaluator AND slacker
  • Aligning course learning outcomes to student learning goals
  • Where and when to do what – blended learning and flipped classrooms
  • The impact of informal and formal assignments

Please express your interest in attending via this link: Express interest

Improve your Moodle page load times

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. A self-confessed Moodle ‘geek’, Bernadette loves to discover new ways to navigate and make the most of Moodle. Today Bernadette offers advice about a common frustration – Moodle pages that seem to take forever to load.

Are slow page load times driving you nuts?

When you click on a link in Moodle, are some of the pages taking longer than they should to finish loading? Frustrating, isn’t it? And you’re not alone. The speed at which pages load is called the Page Load Time (PLT) and is measured in seconds. There are various extensions you can use to measure this, such as the ‘Page load time’ extension in Chrome. I expect my Moodle pages to load in less than two seconds, and not more than three seconds, and I think this is a reasonable expectation. So how do your PLTs compare, and do you know what to do about it if they are not ‘up to speed’?

What can I do about my pages loading so slowly?

The most common cause of slow page load times is having large images or video on the page.

Images

With images, you could improve your PLT by:

  1. Using image editing software to reduce (compress) the size of the image.
    Many products such as Photoshop enable you to choose the quality of the image. The lower the quality, the smaller the size. 96dpi is a good option.
  2. Resizing the image
    You can reduce the size of the image by specifying a smaller percentage for the image size. This can easily be done using products such as Paint.
  3. Using a screen capturing product such as ScreenHunter
    This will make capturing an image in an optimum size simple. If you have an image that is large, an easy way to reduce the size is to add the image to a Word document, make it the size you want, then use a screen capturing tool to capture it.
  4. Using online products such as Image Optimiser to get the best size and quality of your image.
  5. Using a screen capture tool to capture the image
    These can usually create a copy of the image that is 96dpi which is sufficient quality for online use. With a tool such as this you can easily:

    1. load your course page
    2. capture the slow-loading image with a screen capture product
    3. delete the slow-loading image in the course
    4. replace it with the image you just created.

Video

With video it is a good idea to use the Page resource instead of putting the image into a Label. Labels load when you open the page, whereas you need to click on the Page to see the video. This means the video only loads up when the student wants to see it, so the overall page will load a lot more quickly.

Google Analytics

For more suggestions you might like to use Google Analytics to analyse your Page Load Time (PLT) – Note: some of this is quite technical…:

If you have access to Google Analytics for your site:

  1. Log into Google Analytics
  2. Click on Behaviour > Site speed > Speed suggestions
  3. Next to the pages listed, there is a ‘Page Speed Suggestions’ column for each page
  4. Click on the link in that column
  5. A pop-up will offer suggestions.

You will see that there are many pages analysed!! Fortunately you can use the search box if you know what you are looking for.

Still stuck?

Moodle is our thing. So Let us know if you need a hand.

HTTPS and how to view blocked content

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. She is also our ‘go-to’ for answers to random questions from our clients and larger community – here she covers https and how to view online content when our browser ‘says no’.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for HTTP Secure. With HTTPS pages, encryption is added to requests sent and received. It has three main benefits:

  1. Authenticity – the browser checks that it has opened the correct website.
  2. Data integrity – the browser can detect if an attacker has changed any data it receives.
  3. Secrecy – the browser can prevent an attacker from eavesdropping on requests, tracking websites visited, or stealing information sent or received.

What is mixed content?

Mixed content is where a HTTPS web page which starts with https:// contains links to a sub-resource HTTP page which starts with http://. Examples of sub-resource pages may be images, videos, extra HTML, CSS, or JavaScript.

If you are using a Moodle site where all pages are HTTPS and you link to a video that is on a HTTP page, then this is an example of mixed content and the connection will be only partly encrypted. Mixed content weakens HTTPS as these requests are vulnerable to an attacker eavesdropping on a connection, and seeing or changing the communication.

How to avoid blocked content

Unfortunately you are unlikely to notice mixed content until it is too late and you have clicked through to a blocked page. Read on for advice about how to view blocked mixed content if this happens.

If you are responsible for creating and maintaining online content, now might be a good time to review links within your secure pages to ensure that you’re not inadvertently frustrating your readers by sending them to http:// pages and therefore blocked content. Then, where possible, link to https pages instead. You may also like to let your readers know what to expect – and what to do – should this happen. No surprises!

How to view blocked mixed content

By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer 10+, Firefox 23+ and Chrome 21+. When mixed content is blocked, you will see a blank page or ‘Only secure content is displayed’. This can be frustrating, especially when we’re in a hurry.  Try this next time it happens:

Firefox

  1. Go to the top of the page, left of the address bar, and click the shield icon https_firefoxshield
  2. In the pop-up window, click the down arrow next to ‘Options’, and click ‘Disable protection for now’.

Chrome

  1. Click the shield icon on the right side of the address barhttps_chromeshield
  2. In the icon dialog box, click ‘Load unsafe scripts’.

Internet Explorer

  1. Go to the bottom of the screen, and click ‘Show all content’.

Keen to learn more?
Good old Wikipedia offers comprehensive information about URI, TLS, TCP/IP, certificate authorities HSTS, SSL, stripping and much, much more. And I might get around to writing on each of those topics one day.