Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Digital Literacy Matters

For years, I've heard teachers in the district rave about tech camp in Tucson. For years, I've thought, "Hm, that sounds nice. Too bad I wouldn't be able to convince anyone to pay for me to go to a resort for a week." In reality, I never asked, I just assumed that was the case. Yes, I know what that makes me. It also goes against my philosophy of "You never know till you ask." Either way, when my Instructional Technology director happened to mention that he still had slots to fill for both ISTE 2011 and tech camp, I "happened to mention" that I had never been to either. (Subtle of me, right?) So, when he offered me a spot at tech camp, I was all over it. And here I am!

While it's affectionately called tech camp, it's officially called "Camp Plug & Play 6.0" and is sponsored by the AZ K-12 Center. It's not a conference, so much as an extended workshop, in which you learn a specific skill all week. Some of this week's strands focus on iMovie, interactive whiteboards, Google, and digital storytelling (the strand I was signed up for). Though it's not really a standard sit-and-get conference, there was a keynote speaker yesterday, who made some excellent points. Her name is Angela Maiers and she was so passionate, I decided to go back for an optional evening session on the first day when I was already exhausted. The focus of her second presentation was the importance of digital literacy. I have never seen someone speak so passionately on this topic (for good reason)! These are some of her best points, written through my lens.  

Being literate is no longer only about being able to read words. Obviously that is a critical, first step, but if you don't know how to communicate in this new digital world, you will feel like you're in a foreign country. We see evidence of this everyday as more and more people with public identities try to speak in a language in which they are not literate (Representative Weiner, etc., etc., etc.) One of her key elements to being literate in the digital world is learning how to be a "great infosumer." Not only do our children have to know how to read, now they have to know how to find and then select the most relevant, accurate information. Without this, we have students meandering all over the wasteland of the internet looking at images as "research" or using Honda.com as an impartial source of information. 

Then, once they find the information their looking for, they need to know how best to represent that information to others. This includes synthesizing that information into a person's own unique words and understanding, as well as adding new information to what is already available. While many of our students are experts at knowing how to upload a fight video to Youtube or how to post on Facebook, they are absolutely clueless on how to post information that the world finds valuable. In Ms. Maiers' words, "The web doesn't care about you until you contribute valuable information to the community." Our students rarely think beyond the borders of their own community. They don't realize that there is a whole world of people who may be viewing their work, and that if those people find it valuable, it could be shared with hundreds and thousands of people. It absolutely behooves us to help our students differentiate between information for friends and information that is useful to people around the world. 

On a related note, we have to teach kids about how to act respectably and respectfully on the web. Heaven knows adults are not setting good examples for them, and we must point this out to them. We have to help them have a bit of foresight and know that the internet actually "does NOT have an erase button." There is no such thing as deleting. If your screen name in 7th grade was sexychica, it will define you for far longer than you want. Everything a student puts on the web will be searchable by someone, potentially someone you don't want to find it (a future employer?) and will do so long after it ceases to represent who he/she really is. (There are fantastic interviews with students on this point in Along Together.) We have to help our students have the foresight to represent themselves well. 

These were just a few of the points she covered in her 60 minutes, but she was kind of enough to show us her full-blown graduate class information via her wiki for free. Check it out if you want step-by-step lessons for ways to teach these concepts to your students. Needless to say, I will definitely be including portions of this information in my courses this year. 

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