The internet is a terrifying place — where you can learn all kinds of amazing things.
Both of these statements are true! Parents and teachers alike can see the benefits and perils of online information for children. When our students are young and there is good parental and classroom control, using the internet is not too scary or dangerous. But take a step into the middle school and high school realms where encouraging students to conduct online research can be like sending them into a house of horrors. Most students who are “digital natives” already don’t have any qualms about searching for content, and clicking (and using) the first link on the list. Adults, however, cringe at the false information or inappropriate content that might await them.
As both a middle school teacher and a parent of teens, I want to shield children from inappropriate content — but we can’t expect them to suddenly wake up and have the ability to discern good online content from bad, solid research from weak, or ethical online conduct from unethical.
It must be taught.
That’s where digital literacy comes in…and that’s where teachers come in. I think that all teachers (and parents, of course) should teach their students how to navigate the pros and cons of the internet. We can’t assume that because kids have smartphones and know how to create videos, snapchats, vines, instagram posts, facebook posts, etc., so much better than many adults — that they know how to fact check, determine bias, or evaluate websites.
Students should be taught, in all subjects, what it means to use online resources. I think now, the start of a new school year, is a good time for us to think about how we can do that.
But where to start?
Ten Ways to Strengthen Digital Literacy
- Start by determining what research looks like in your subject area. Students will certainly be researching different things in a history class than in a science class.
- Complete a simple research project or investigative question with your students. Show them the process of developing a question and searching for an answer. Show them how you research something — the purchase of a smartphone or a car. Hook students in by choosing an item they’d like to have.
- Decide what kind of research sources you will allow. Is Wikipedia okay? If not, make sure students understand why not. If so, make sure students understand that as well.
- Does your school subscribe to a data base? If so, teach your students how to use it. Make sure they understand the value of a data base.
- Teach your students about bias. How can they determine if a website is biased? Again, use your own subject matter to discuss this. How does bias look in science? or History?
- How do you want your students to cite their sources? Check with your teaching team. This will be easier for the students if all the teachers agree how students will cite their sources. We know how easy it is to plagiarize.
- Teach students to fact check. There is a reason teachers require a certain number of sources; do your students know this?
- Do your students know how to evaluate a website? As we know, anyone can post anything on the internet. Middle school students probably don’t want to use a third grader’s website as a resource.
- Manners. No digital literacy conversation is complete without discussing how students should behave and interact online. If you have a class blog or Edmodo account, this is a great introduction to online manners.
- Teaching digital literacy is critical thinking in action. Talk about a real-world skill! Adults do this all the time — reviewing products, evaluating services, purchasing products, and exploring questions. You teach a lifelong skill when you teach students to navigate online information.
By investing in some solid digital literacy practices at the start of the year, you can ask students to practice and strengthen those critical thinking skills throughout the year.
Thanks for reading!
ps: I’ve created four digital literacy lessons that you can find in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Please feel free to check them out.