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What is Digital Literacy? (And Why It's Essential for K-12 Students)

While literacy is often defined as simply being able to read and write, the term digital literacy is quite broad and encompasses much more. The two are similar in that the latter still involves reading and writing — it just takes place online and via various nontraditional sources such as smartphones and video games. Digital literacy involves the ability to find, use and communicate information online, which is a valuable skill for any K-12 group.

Components of Digital Literacy: Consuming, Creating and Communicating Content

Digital literacy can be broken down into three key components:

1. Consuming Digital Content

Any time a student goes online to peruse an article or download an e-book, they are consuming digital content. However, being digitally literate goes beyond just knowing how to find these sources and scroll through the pages. Some of these resources might contain elements such as hyperlinks or share buttons, requiring the users to have greater understanding of how these features work.

Consuming digital content also involves knowing how to discern trustworthy sources and accurate information from fake news and misinformation.

2. Creating Digital Content

Creating digital content is a bit more advanced than simply consuming it. The student now needs to understand how to create their own digital media and publish it online. Whether in something as simple as posting a Tweet or more involved like recording and uploading a podcast, understanding how to create digital content is key to being able to communicate with an online audience.

3. Communicating Digital Content

Regardless of the type of digital writing, the main goal of publishing it online is usually to communicate with others. Digital literacy also involves knowing what to share and what not to share online as well as what appropriate internet interactions and behavior should look like.

Why Is Digital Literacy Essential for K-12 Students?

Digital literacy involves cognitive and technical capabilities — both of which transfer to external competences. As students learn how to navigate digital content and discern what information is and is not credible online, they will learn information management and critical thinking skills.

Because technology is used to receive and communicate information, digital literacy also teaches students communication skills that they will be able to use on and offline. They will be able to understand how to communicate with others, helping them to recognize, properly respond to and prevent cyberbullying.

Digital literacy will also teach students an understanding of online safety and security. They will be able to learn what type of content and information is appropriate to share online as well as how to protect their privacy and personal details.

Why Is It Important to Provide Students With Access to Technology in Schools?

Without access to technology, students will not be able to develop their digital literacy skills. Because technology is used virtually everywhere, obtaining these skills at a young age will benefit them academically as well as in their future career.

In upper grades, the majority of the research students conduct for their courses will take place online. Similarly, most careers will require applicants to be proficient in digital literacy skills.

Having access to technology at an early age will give K-12 students an advantage and prepare them for a successful future.

Developing a Digital Literacy Curriculum for Any K-12 Age Group

A digital literacy curriculum can be developed for any subject and any K-12 age group. One of the first steps is learning as much as possible about the specific group receiving instruction. For example, are they new to technology or do they already possess some skills and understanding?

Then, find resources and digital tools to deliver an engaging, hands-on learning approach. Students should be able to interact with the material and technology during the learning process.

When developing the material, be sure to consider when and how you will deliver the curriculum. Some formats might be more effective than others depending on the students' age group and skill level. Whether you host an after-school seminar or morning class, you will be equipping your students with the tools and skills they need to thrive in their future.

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