Teachers and students use technology in new and ever-changing ways every day. We all receive and communicate information online, and as a result 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 a successful LinkedIn profile.
What is exactly the definition of Digital Literacy? The American Library Association's digital-literacy task force offers this definition: "the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills."
The term is in fact so wide that some experts prefer to stay away from it, and choose to focus instead on specific skills that exist in the intersection of technology, the internet, and literacy.
Aspects such as finding valuable material online, being a critical consumer of internet and social media information, creating online content and networking on social sites - all fall under the umbrella of digital literacy and 21st century skills, but each deserves its own attention.
Let's discuss, for example, online content creation.
Digital content creation includes writing a text in digital formats such as email, blogs, Tweets and other social networks texts, 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. Ms. Hobbs defines 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," as the American Library Association noted 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.
Online literacy is one of the most important 21st century skills students need to be taught at high school. When students are coached the importance of expressing themselves safely and proactively online, they get the tools for creating a space for themselves, as well as creating opportunities that can transcend differences of economic, social, or racial backgrounds. In that sense, the internet is a great equalizer.
We at Social Assurity focus our expertise on the practical aspects of social and online literacy, and 21st century life skills: our social media coaching train students how to express oneself well online, while keeping goals such as college admissions and finding work in mind.
We teach students and teachers the importance of creating a presence on social networks, the benefits of creating online student portfolios, how social recruiting works, and how to use LinkedIn and network on it, as well as on Twitter.
We teach the 'why' and the 'how' and we get quite deeply into how to make it all a rich, rewarding experience.
Read more on the subject: Social Media Training Required: Are Schools Listening?