This school year I set out with several personal growth areas: Science, Brain-based Learning, Student Book Clubs, and Formative Assessment. I can proudly say that I am making strong gains in all 4 areas, as I devour literature on these topics any chance I get and apply my learning directly in my classroom with my students and alongside my teaching partner. But one additional area snuck its way into my daily life through my own personal growth process; Digital Literacy is now on the forefront of my mind. In my professional life, as well as my personal life, I am now “connected.” I finally feel like I understand our present technological world, and I am more prepared than ever before to face the future advances that technology will have to offer.
So what does Digital Literacy mean to me now?
I would define Digital Literacy as “the ability to use technological tools to compose ideas, research information, reflect, communicate, network, create, and collaborate.” I also believe it involves using tools in a variety of venues and for a variety of purposes. When one is literate, in regards to a topic or skill, that knowledge is naturally incorporated into one’s daily life. It no longer feels foreign, but rather essential. I relate it to learning how to read… when the skill does not exist we learn to cope, but when we finally learn how to read many doors open. And then when we become literate in thinking strategies we are able to explore literature at a much deeper level. At some point we consider, how could I ever live without this skill? The same goes for technology. Many of us are skill coping with living in this Digital Age, but as we learn new skills we realize the possibilities. I personally have said aloud many times recently, “I do not know how I could ever live without my iPhone!” It truly makes my day to day life so much more efficient and organized.
So what would Digital Literacy implementation look like in the classroom from my perspective?
Technology should be a part of the daily routine. Students should have frequent access in an authentic manner. They should have their hands on document cameras, digital cameras, and video cameras as tools to promote and share their thinking. Access to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel should be at the students’ leisure to meet their own learning needs. Students must have the opportunity to use the Internet as a resource to extend their knowledge, research topics, and practice skills. Classroom websites and Blogs should be used to aid in collaboration within the classroom and networking with the world. Students should be encouraged to email as an additional way to communicate their learning with their teachers.
In addition, teachers should be efficient in utilizing these skills from a personal standpoint, in order to truly serve as experts and guide students on their journey through the 21st Century. Creating a professional Blog, and surfing others, extends one’s own PLN to continue individual growth. Next on my to-do list is finding resources that will allow me to get Netbooks or iPads in the hands of my students. I am currently also researching potential Apps to use with these devices that would assist me with efficient formative assessment, as well as foster student learning.
Allowing the tools to be part of the natural classroom environment rather than a planned schedule of use is essential to promoting digital literacy. Again, going back to using reading as a metaphor, effective reading teachers have learned that offering students a library FULL of books from ALL genres/levels and allowing CHOICE based on interest/needs is how our students exponentially grow as readers. Students should not have limited access to technology as it stifles their growth. Instead we need to provide a variety of tools and allow choice based on their independent needs/interests, as well as freedom to access the resources.
So what do I think of Digital Literacy in terms of Professional Development?
First, I think the message needs to be clear regarding utilizing technological tools: If the teacher is the one accessing the tool, it is mainly helping with improving instruction and adding novelty to the lesson. For students to personally benefit and become literate in this area the tools need to be in their hands. I think the second message must be that technology needs to serve as a resource that is naturally integrated into the learning environment, not a separate entity.
To assist teachers in embracing technology, professional development opportunities must be available. Many teachers feel hopeless at times with the rate that technology changes and advances. It can feel daunting to even consider “catching up”. However, if we switch our outlook to believe it is achievable, we feel less intimidated to take the steps to attain literacy in this area. Sometimes a simple conversation, or even an arranged collaboration time, is all it takes to diminish the feeling of impossibility. When we have others to lean on and learn beside our mentality can change.
I think effective instruction can be possible without making the switch to a digital learning environment. Nevertheless, our mindset needs to be providing and modeling effective tools for the 21st century. Technology is our students’ present and future, to ignore this is just plain ignorance and a disservice to our students and our own future. We must be ready to welcome the advancements and make them a part of our own daily lives. By immersing ourselves in the digital tools, language, and environment, we will become literate. Don’t we immerse our non-readers in a language rich atmosphere, attempting to expand their vocabulary and provide them access to a variety of resources in an environment that appreciates books?
So what is next for me with my Digital Literacy goal?
The most humorous part of this whole reflection to me is that I had always considered myself a “techie,” so to speak. I have stepped up for professional development on this topic in my district, solved tech related dilemmas for my colleagues, incorporated technology into my lessons, allowed my students to access technological resources, and generally felt literate in this area. However, my greatest growth this year has been recognizing that what I was doing for myself and my students was not enough. As I researched and dug deeper to fulfill my PD needs within my 4 targeted areas, technology was front and center. I found myself learning that to meet my goals I needed to incorporate additional technology tools to facilitate learning, and my students needed to be directly connected to these tools. Exposure is not enough. I no longer want to be behind the times, but instead desire to create an environment that aligns with our 21st Century needs. So as I know good readers expand themselves by reaching out to unfamiliar genres, collaborating with peers, and stretching their minds with thinking strategies, I plan to do just that to develop my digitally-literate self.
My favorite article on this topic, Digital Natives Digital Immigrants, was written by Marc Prensky (2001). His words were published over 10 years ago, but the content is more relevant now than ever! Prensky coined the terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants,” right at the turn of the century as we entered a generation buzzing with technology. As teachers, we can choose to take a negative perspective on technology as digital immigrants, but when we do it only makes the digital natives in our classrooms feel uncomfortable in their own world. We must look for ways to develop our skills, learn 'the language', embrace the diversity, and celebrate the opportunities awaiting us and our students. We need to use technology as a way to inspire our creativity, promote individual growth, and connect our students and ourselves with OUR world. A variety of resources surround us, what are we waiting for???
***Any additional ideas, websites, and suggestions to further my own personal journey in our digital-era are appreciated. I will grow, and in turn my students will benefit!
***This blog post has been cross-posted on Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth.
Prensky, M. (October 2001) Digital natives digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5).