During the last few decades, the pace of progress with digital technologies has increased rapidly. Different types of digital software and hardware underpin the operations of virtually every industry. The importance of digital literacy has never been more prevalent.
Building digital literacy skills must start as early as elementary school. Instilling digital literacy at a young age helps students keep up in an increasingly digital-friendly world. Lack of digital literacy can be a barrier for student populations already at an equitable disadvantage, and instilling digital knowledge at a young age helps them remain competitive with their peers. In an article by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) calls digital literacy a key component of general skills development for elementary students.
However, the "screentime conundrum," as the tech blog Built In writes, is real for elementary education professionals. Research on the long-time effects of screentime on children's brains is limited, and the World Health Organization urges "less is more" when it comes to screentime for young people. Technology plays a role in the elementary classroom by "augmenting educational toolkits rather than dominating the curriculum." Young students don't need to be steeped in digital education, but gaining familiarity with its functions and features has real-life benefits.
In many ways, digital literacy is simply an extension of what we have traditionally imagined as literacy, or the ability to read and write. As the educator blog Education Corner explains, digital literacy employs similar critical-thinking and creative processes, such as the ability to discern reliable sources online or combine images with words to communicate effectively.
Even introducing students to concepts like navigating computer software or opening a file from the Cloud helps keep them gaining technology skills they will use in their future professional and personal lives.
The IEEE outlines four basic areas where elementary school children should be digitally literate:
- Basic computer skills: Computers and the internet have increasingly become a part of public life and professional careers. The ability to operate them on a fundamental level helps young students interact with the world.
- Reliable information: The ability to research and critically assess the accuracy of media sources has become increasingly difficult as the internet and social media have democratized the flow of information. This trend has led to a general surge in the quantity of content, which increases the possibility of misinformation and makes the ability to discern a source's legitimacy more important.
- Authorship and plagiarism: Copying or re-creating another person's content has never been more common than now, as online information is abundant and widely shared. Using proper citations and attributing content is crucial in certain academic, intellectual or creative contexts, and understanding those distinctions is critical for academic and professional success.
- Digital citizenship: Just as manners and social expectations are significant in face-to-face interactions, treating people with respect and humanity online is also vital. Given the possible anonymity of online personas, many people use that possibility to instigate toxic or inhumane interactions online.
Teachers can also use digital technology in their lesson planning to enhance instruction in various ways. For instance, integrating audio or video into a lesson can help students transpose their understanding of course content from one medium to another. As Edutopia notes, using these mediums makes it easy for students to learn at their own speed by revisiting instructions or replaying a recorded tutorial.
Like other forms of expression, digital technology offers a new medium for students to share their ideas. For example, students can create videos, websites, audio recordings and more as a digital presentation of their ideas. Or, they can create digital versions of tangible mediums, like posters or comics. Gradually exposing students to these options helps expand their modes of expression.
In the online Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.) with a specialization in Elementary Education program from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNC Pembroke), coursework includes a pedagogical examination of digital technologies and shows education professionals how to use them in inclusive, culturally appropriate ways and measure learner success. Graduates learn the theories and principles of human growth and development that inform how to use digital tech to suit student needs and improve learning outcomes.
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