Perhaps you saw the recent story in the New York Times about the new research on middle-school students’ digital literacy skills? This research shows that although kids can use digital and social media for entertainment, they can’t access information, comprehend it, or evaluate it to create their own interpretation.
The article shows the important and troubling differences between rich kids and poor kids in digital literacy, which is no surprise. My URI colleague Dr. Julie Coiro is working actively on research that examines the digital literacy skills of middle-school students. There are important gaps and shortcomings in students’ ability to analyze information. But the New York Times also points to the fact that teachers don’t necessarily recognize what their students do and don’t know about online information — or know how to support the learning of digital literacy competencies. For this reason, Julie and I have collaborated to create solutions to help teachers acquire the new knowledge and skills to be effective in helping learners handle the volume and variety of information and ideas they have access to online.
After the success of the 2014 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, we launched the Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy. In just 2 years, more than 160 K-12 and college educators, school and public librarians, and media professionals have participated in graduate-level professional development designed to bring digital literacy to children and young people. What are we learning? We’re finding that teachers, librarians and media professionals have enormous creativity and imagination in developing ways to integrate digital literacy into their existing programs. And they’re energized by the opportunities to work collaboratively with their colleagues in a face-to-face experience with a deep-dive focus, followed up with online dialogue with the community of educators who are using of the power of communication and information to make a difference in the lives of their students and their communities.
We think it’s important for people to understand what digital literacy is – and how it is closely related to, but different from other educational technology initiatives like blended learning, the flipped classroom, or connected learning. One way to accomplish this is to pay careful attention to the embedded literacy practices in the learning environments and experiences that teachers are creating. Digital literacy focuses on the literacy practices, not the tools per se. What am I so excited about? For one, it is possible to generate new research questions about how educators learn and apply ‘best practices’ in digital and media literacy that incorporate critical analysis and creative production in the context of connecting classroom to contemporary culture.
Effective collaboration is one of the keys that unleashes creativity. Check out the work of Jen Thomas and Tim Oldakowski, who developed a creative approach to use digital literacy to teach about argumentation by creating a set of model lessons for a staff development program for educators. Jen Thomas is a high school library media specialist at Dighton-Rehoboth Regional HS and Tim Oldakowski is an English professor at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. They came to the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy and worked collaboratively to design a professional development workshop that encourages educators to use an inquiry-based approach to learning about what makes a good argument. To demonstrate their learning, teachers synthesize and present their findings through the use of a digital tool.
Their goals: They want teachers to see how digital media can be used to help adolescent learners understand (1) that argumentation is a life skill; (2) to have credibility, your ideas need evidence; and (3) it’s important to recognize bias an opinion which are present in all forms of communication and expression. These are fundamental life skills today.
Working together, they developed a range of engaging learning activities including: annotating an article from the New York Times, analyzing a student-produced news story, gathering credible information sources, and synthesizing information using Padlet, a digital bulletin board. As you watch their video reflection on their learning experience at the Summer Institute below, please notice how the process of collaboration deepens reflective thinking and metacognition. The best teachers are fully-engaged learners, too. This is no “cookbook” approach to technology integration and professional development. Indeed, this work is based in deeply honoring the creativity of educators – at all levels – who seek to advance the art of curriculum design in a digital age.