Digital Literacy: Survival Skills

Dec 6th, 2014 | By | Category: Uncategorized

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This lesson plan developed by Brad Robinson asks students to consider the rhetorical situations of their own social media sites. The process prompts students to reflect on their level of fluency in online networks, the identities they create online, and the audiences that receive their postings. Students also hone textual analysis skills, which prepares them to analyze digital sources for bias, reliability, etc.

Use the comments section below to share your reactions to Brad’s plan, or to let us know that you’re planning to use the resource.

“Net smarts are not just vital to getting ahead; you need this knowledge to keep from falling behind” (Rheingold 24).

“Social scientists such as Harvard University professor Robert Putnam claim that social capital—the mesh of traditional agreements that enable cooperation, and the networks that carry reputation information and thus lubricate transactions—is a key factor that influences the way one society thrives and another struggles” (25).

“Most important, as people who are trying to get along day to day in a hyperscale, warp-speed civilization that seems so often to be beyond anyone’s control, digital literacy is something powerful we can learn as well as exercise for ourselves and each other” (3).

“Teens will not become critical contributors to this ecosystem simply because they were born in an age when these technologies were pervasive . . . youth need opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge to engage with contemporary technology effectively and meaningfully” (boyd 177).

“Educators have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environ­ments that the internet supports. Familiarity with the latest gadgets or services is often less important than possessing the critical knowl­edge to engage productively with networked situations, including the ability to control how personal information flows and how to look for and interpret accessible information” (177).

Sstudents…need skills in evaluating the quality of different sources, how perspectives and interests can color representations, and the likely mechanisms by which mininformation is perpetuated or corrected” (Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture 44).

“Students also need to develop technical skills. They need to know how to log on, to search, to use various programs, to focus a camera, to edit footage, to do some basic programming and so forth” (20).

“Young people who spend time playing within these new media environments will feel greater comfort interacting with one another via electronic channels, will have greater fluidity in navigating information landscapes, will be better able to multitask and make rapid decisions about the quality of information they are receiving, and will be able to collaborate better with people from diverse cultural backgrounds” (10).

Educators should foster digital literacy in their classrooms because their students will rely on digital literacy skills for basic survival. Students will need the technical skills to keep up with the immense pace of the blooming digital world. They will need the ability to determine the reliability of online sources, the ability to follow online social norms and rules, and the ability to curate their own online identities and reputations. As Rheingold warns, such skills are not convenient or ornamental tools but tools vital to one’s survival in the emerging digital world.

The fast-paced, ever-changing nature of the digital environment itself demands digital literacy skills for our students to keep them abreast of new modes, resources, and tools. Adaptability and quick learning rely on strong foundational knowledge and basic fluency. “As people who are trying to get along day to day in a hyperscale, warp-speed civilization that seems so often to be beyond anyone’s control, digital literacy is something powerful we can learn as well as exercise for ourselves and each other” (Rheingold 3).

Students need to know how to sift through the information flooding their devices and computers. Dangers abound in the digital landscape. Individuals misinform, dupe, sell to, and victimize the unwary via pop-ups, scam emails, websites, and banner ads. To avoid being manipulated and to stay safe, students must be aware of motive, authorship, rhetorical appeals, and reliability of online information. Students need frequent exposure to online sources and opportunities to measure reliability according to explicit criteria. Rhetorical analysis and research paper units offer that exposure.

Students should learn in the classroom the importance of curating an online identity. This involves monitoring and editing the information connected with the online identity (status updates, comments, pictures, tags, etc.) and working to create and protect useful networks. A brief comment can lead to real consequences, sometimes social (loss of friends due to social networking faux pas), sometimes more serious (loss of job/scholarship due to inappropriate Facebook content). Too few teens realize what power they may wield with a Facebook account full of supportive connections. A number of “likes” given to a page could create momentum for an event or cause, or propel a single network member into a position. Online identity discussions fall nicely into rhetorical analysis instruction.

Students need basic technical skills. During my student teaching internship at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky, I was shocked by the limited computer literacy of my students. Few students could type with speed and accuracy. Many did not know how to manipulate font sizes on Microsoft Word or how to retrieve lost email passwords. Students entered whole questions into search engines (How do I use MLA citation?). They became easily stumped rather than try different key word searches. My students’ digital repertoires lacked basic skills. The “digital natives” that my university teacher preparatory program had assured me I would find were not there. I learned in that semester what our texts warn: students will not develop digital literacy simply because they were born into a digital age. Students need time and space in class to develop the fluency needed to safely navigate and take full advantage of the rising digital landscape.




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