What is Digital Literacy and Why Do Students Need It?

According to the NSW Department of Education, ‘A digital citizen is a person with the skills and knowledge to effectively use digital technologies to participate in society, communicate with others and create and consume digital content.’

Digital literacy has become increasingly important for academic and career success. Parents want to ensure students are being equipped with the skills needed for the future, but many are unsure what to look for.

Defining Digital Literacy

Most students can navigate social media, use a range of apps, play games and produce their own content. Digital literacy, however, is about more than the ability to use devices. 

Professor Yoram Eshet broke digital literacy down into five areas:  

  • PHOTO-VISUAL LITERACY: Refers to the ability to understand visual representations and instructions online.
  • INFORMATION LITERACY:  Students need to have the skills to not only locate information but critically evaluate it and use it to solve problems.
  • SOCIO-EMOTIONAL LITERACY: The ability to take advantage of digital communication while avoiding its ‘traps’ requires a unique set of skills.
  • REPRODUCTION LITERACY: Students should be able to create meaningful and authentic digital works and interpretations.
  • BRANCHING LITERACY: Refers to the ability to build knowledge and create by accessing information in a non-linear way.

All of these skills are important, but information literacy and socio-emotional literacy provide the bedrock for digital citizenship.

Information Literacy

Critical thinking is the key to digital literacy, particularly in the era of ‘fake news.’ With so much information available online students need to be able to evaluate sources and make decisions about whether they are reliable. 

Schools should be teaching students how to identify authoritative websites and recognise the difference between news reports and unsubstantiated opinion pieces or ‘click bait.’ They also need to know how to dig deeper and follow links to find the original sources of information. 

Instead of taking everything at face value, students should be encouraged to seek out alternative points of view. Much discredited research is presented as fact online and the only way to find this out is through investigation.

Socio-emotional Literacy

Safety is very important in the online world, and students need to know how to avoid the ‘traps’ of cyberbullying, privacy breaches, identity theft and addiction. Schools should be teaching students about these issues and giving them strategies to manage their digital lives.

It’s not just privacy breaches students need to be aware of though. They also need to know how the information they provide freely online is used by marketers to create profiles to target products to them. They should be aware that their browsing and viewing history can influence the types of news stories that come up in their social media feeds, creating a ‘filter bubble’ which means they are only exposed to a narrow spectrum of opinion.

A simple way to find out if your student is learning enough at school about digital literacy is to ask them. Starting a conversation will help you gauge if your child is being equipped with the skills needed to thrive in the digital world.

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