Teaching Proactive Digital Literacy to Students

Teachers and students use technology in new and ever-changing ways every day. We all receive and communicate information online, and need to acquire a growing set of new skills: everything from how to purchase and read an article online; work collaboratively on a Google Doc; share a YouTube video or write and edit a Wikipedia article.

What is exactly the definition of Digital Literacy? The American Library Association's digital-literacy task force offers this definition: "Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills."

The term Digital Literacy is in fact so wide that some experts prefer to stay away from it, and choose to focus instead on specific skills that mix technology, the internet, and literacy.

For example, the skills of creating digital content.

Creating Content

Digital content creation includes writing a text in digital formats such as email, blogs, Tweets and other social networking, as well as creating other forms of media, such as photos, videos and audio podcasts.

An article titled “What Is Digital Literacy?” published last year in Education Week, the newspaper covering K–12 education, quotes Renee Hobbs, a professor of communication studies at the University of Rhode Island, defining digital authorship as "a form of social power."

Creating digital content is a "creative and collaborative process that involves experimentation and risk-taking," she said. There's more risk-taking (in digital authorship) than in print writing because digital writing is so often meant to be shared.

That makes digital writing a potentially powerful lever for social good, allowing

students to "actively participate in civic society and contribute to a vibrant, informed, and engaged community," the American Library Association notes in the article.

It also makes digital writing a potentially dangerous tool—decisions about when and what to share online can have repercussions for a student's safety, privacy, and reputation.

"We need to help kids see they can use digital tools to create things and put things out into the world, but there's responsibility that comes with that," said Lisa Maucione, who is a reading specialist for the Dartmouth public schools in Massachusetts.

Digital literacy is one of the most important 21st-century skills students need to be taught at high school. When students learn the importance of expressing themselves proactively online, they get the tools for creating a space for themselves, as well as opportunities that can transcend differences of economic, social, or racial backgrounds.