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What educators should know about digital literacy

Modified on: Mon, Aug 26, 2019 at 10:01 AM


(What is the issue and why is it important?)

In the twenty-first century, digital literacy is really life literacy. Not only are we expected to be digitally literate in school and on the job, our social interactions are increasingly dependent on technology. Whether we're researching information for a school paper (to be written in a word processing program), preparing a PowerPoint presentation for work, or sharing photos with friends and family via a social network, digital literacy makes our lives richer.

A digitally literate person can demonstrate competency in the following areas:

  • Computer—Able to use a computer or mobile device, including peripheral devices (mouse, keyboard, etc.), and navigate the computer's operating system to find programs or applications, etc.
  • Software/Applications—Able to use basic software, including word processing and spreadsheets
  • Internet—Able to search for information, sending e-mail, using social media
  • Evaluation—Knows how to discern what is relevant and useful versus what is irrelevant, biased, or outright false
  • Safety—Knows how to protect one's hardware from malware; knows how to protect sensitive information; knows how to protect one's online reputation

Real-Life Examples / Lessons Learned

(Why should faculty and students care about this?)

  • We assume that all millennial students are "digital natives," but a digital divide remains. According to a report from the Pew Research Internet Project, as of September 2013*, African American, Hispanic, and rural families are less likely to have broadband access than suburban or urban white families. *  (Source: http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/broadband-technology-fact-sheet/, retrieved June 2014).

Such students may be coming into college at a disadvantage when it comes to using technology effectively. Activities that build digital literacy skills will help balance the playing field for these students.

  • Even students who have experience with the first three competencies of digital literacy need reinforcement of the last two—being able to critically evaluate information found online, and knowing how to protect themselves online.
  • Because the integration of technology into everyday life will only increase in the future, students today expect—and need—technology to be integrated into their class activities.

Recommendations / Best Practices

(My time is limited. Where should I start for the most impact?)

  • Design learning activities that help students build their digital literacy skills as they master the subject matter of your course:  
    • As appropriate, assign projects that require the use of word processing, spreadsheet, or presentation software. (Direct students who need assistance with these programs to MU's DOIT training, which is available to and free for students.)
    • Encourage students to use the Web for research, but discuss with them how to evaluate the information that they find.

Talk to an instructional designer (your college's academic technology liaison or an instructional designer from Course Design & Technology) if you would like to brainstorm relevant activities for your course.

Sample Language for Your Syllabus

(What do students need to know?)

Use of Technology

In this course, you will be expected to use [list hardware and/or software as appropriate]. If you do not have personal access to [hardware/software], you may visit one of the computer labs on campus; see http://doit.missouri.edu/services/computer-lab.html for locations. If you need assistance using [software], the Mizzou Department of Information Technology offers free training; see http://doit.missouri.edu/services/training.html for schedules.

Web-Based Research

In this course, you will be expected to [describe writing assignment that requires research]. Although you are welcome to use online resources in your research, you must use your critical thinking skills to determine which sources are credible and reliable and which are not. See "Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial," from the University of California, Berkeley (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html), to learn more about evaluating online resources. You are also encouraged to ask a Mizzou librarian for assistance; visit one of the libraries in person, or go to http://library.missouri.edu/contactus/.

To Learn More

MU Resources

(Where can I go on campus for help?)

DOIT Training
Training for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, as well as Apple iPad

Helping students navigate the technology of online learning, including Canvas and i>Clicker

MU Libraries
Sources to help students locate and evaluate information:

General Resources

(Can you recommend 1-2 great resources where I could learn more about this topic?)

Project Information Literacy
Project Information Literacy (PIL) researches early adults and their study habits, including their use of technology and online resources.

Northstar Digital Literacy Project
The standards page lists specific competencies related to digital literacy: Basic computer skills, operating system (Windows or Mac OX), World Wide Web, e-mail, Word, Excel, and social media. Competencies related to safety and privacy are included; for example, competencies for World Wide Web include "Identify antivirus software providers and function of antivirus software (Norton, McAfee, AVG)" and "avoid providing personal or financial information unless on a secured website (https://)

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