Digital Competency

In a past post I addressed ‘Global Competence‘, one of the ‘New Universal Knowledge and Skills’ suggested by Yong Zhao in Catching Up or Leading the Way. This post addresses the other universal knowledge or skill: Digital Competency.

As Yong Zhao says, “We should acknowledge that technology is not only a tool for the teacher to use to raise test scores, but also an important tool for students to develop digital competencies, to be creative in art and music, to develop social skills in virtual worlds, and to stay engaged with school.” (page 196)

As defined by Zhao, digital competence is “the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and ability to live a healthy and successful life in the virtual world.” (page 176) Other terms used that cover this have been computer literacy, digital literacy, media literacy, information literacy, and digital citizenship. Many of these other terms had limited definitions and often refer to only cybersafety and the ability to access and assess information found on web. Although these are components of living healthy and successfully in the virtual world there is more to it than that. Web 2.0 is more than a place for accessing information, but rather a place for thinking, creating, sharing, collaborating, communicating, and gathering.

What we can do in the classroom to increase students’ digital competency is to expose them to technologies, not necessarily so they only know certain applications, technologies, or digital tools, but more so that they can transfer their knowledge of one technology tool/world to the next technology they will need to use. This exposure includes online virtual worlds like Second Life, social networking sites, as well as sites that allow creative creation, communication, and collaboration around the globe.

Here are just a few ideas of how to support digital competency in your classroom:

  • Expose students to technology tools and virtual worlds that are embedded in purposeful learning. The more technologies they are exposed to (in meaningful ways), the more they will see similarities and differences in the tools, thus allowing them to transfer knowledge from one tool to another.
  • Involve students in authentic project-based learning, such as creating a website, podcast, digital presentation, building a virtual school/community in Second Life, or creating a digital game.
  • Recognize and discuss the differences between the physical and virtual world.
  • Give students many opportunities to interact in the virtual world. This may involve being a member of a social network (create a class page on facebook, or use edmodo– a secure social network for students and teachers), have students blog, or create and post a video on youtube, or schooltube. Second Life and other virtual worlds like River City are also great venues for your students to actively take part in a virtual community. ( I know that due to bandwidth and other school restrictions being a part of a virtual world community may not be an option for you. If it isn’t advocate for the use of such tools by creating purposeful projects that involve such tools as an intricate part of your learning environment. If that doesn’t work, find tools that you can use and don’t stop being an advocate for 21st century digital competency.)
  • Have discussions about digital security with your students. What should be shared online, and what shouldn’t be shared? Use examples from the technology tools that they are using, such as facebook, myspace, youtube, etc… These discussions won’t mean a thing unless they are connected to technologies that are in their life. Don’t just lecture, they have heard it before.  Instead create hands-on activities, give them scenarios that they have to figure out if the characters in them are being safe or not, or create webquests so they can explore and answer their own questions about digital security. Also remember, students learn more by doing so the more they can be an active member of the web the better. Check out The Best for Learning Online Safety and cybrary man’s Cyber Safety site for more resources about digital security.
  • Conversations, and modeling of ethical and legal use of ideas, text, audio, video and other digital content needs to start in kindergarten. With young kids you talk about the difference between things they own and things they borrow from others. If they take digital pictures themselves who owns them? If you find a picture on the Internet who owns it? When doing projects, even if the content is covered by fair use (for schools), you still need to teach students to give credit. For younger students you will probably give them a citation slide/image for the end of a digital project, as they get older they will be producing their own ‘credits page’. For information about copyright and fair use check out copyright clarity wiki, Six Resources for Learning about Fair Use and TeachersFirst: Copyright and Fair Use Resources)
  • This goes along with the bullet above. As a teacher:  model, model, model.  Make sure you practice what you preach and always show copyright information of resources that you use in digital presentations, as well as information you use in the classroom.
  • Address reliability of digital resources. Have students critically assess information, websites, and the organizations behind the information in order to be able to ascertain any bias and be able to determine how valid the information is. Teach students to use Alexa.com, which in most cases can give you owner/contact information as well as related sites. Most of us have heard about the fake website ‘Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus’, but here are some other resources for helping your students assess the validity of digital resources: Evaluating Websites by cybrary man has a great list.
  • Teach students to use Snopes.com which allows them to check for urban legends and frauds that are on the Internet.
  • Finally, as an educator please realize that you don’t have to know everything there is about technology to help your students become digitally competent. I don’t care who you are, you can’t possibly know it all, because it changes so fast! The best lesson you can model is that we don’t all know everything, that is why we work together to help each other. So, as you use and explore technologies, if there is a question- put it out to all your students to see if they can figure it out. If not, students can go home and continue to try to solve the problem. As the lead facilitator you can also continue to explore and of course ask your ‘go to’ PLN.

I apologize for the length of this post, definitely longer than usual, but worth exploring indepth.  I’d like to end with another quote from Catching up or Leading the Way, by Zhao about why our students need to be digitally competent to live in this newly emerging world:

They need to have the proper attitude, understanding, skills, and perspectives that can enable them to lead virtual communities, to manage virtual relationships, to defend our nation in cyberspace, to re-create the virtual world, and to direct the development of the virtual world for the betterment of humankind. (page 180)

Do you have any examples of ways you develop digitally competent students?  Please add them here, we’d love to hear about them.

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