On my blog, Ask a Tech Teacher, I run a column called Dear Otto where I answer teacher questions about how to integrate technology into their classes. Of late, the most common question is, “How to I assess student digital literacy?” with a close cousin, “I am the tech integration specialist. How do I assess faculty digital literacy so I can teach them what they don’t know?”
Happily, both can be accomplished the same way. But before I tell you how, let’s step back and talk about the meaning of “digital literacy”.
What is digital literacy?
The definition of digital literacy is pretty much what you’d expect:
“the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” –from the American Library Association
In the past, I discussed the eight skills required for students to be considered digitally literate. Today, I want to focus on the need to assess digital literacy and what tools are available to do this.
Why assess it?
Especially today–in a COVID-19 world–this is a good question. Here are the five most common reasons schools feel the need to assess student and faculty digital literacy:
Most educators–and parents–focus technology benefits on how it helps academically, but efriend Joe Peters reminded me the other day that there’s more to it than that. Joe’s not only a parent, but a freelance journalist and tech enthusiast, so I asked him to explain that to me and to my readers. Here’s his article on how edtech fosters a child’s social-emotional development:
As technology has become mainstreamed in modern education, learners are able to enjoy many key advantages. These include acquiring 21st-century skills, stronger peer relationships, and a greater motivation to learn. Technology also helps to prepare students for the future and improves the retention rate of information.
A child’s emotional well-being and self-confidence is essential to social and intellectual development. A worldwide survey conducted by the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group confirmed that the use of educational technology fosters collaboration, problem-solving, teamwork and interpersonal communications. These benefits can help children build important social and emotional skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
Importance of Social-Emotional Development
Every person experiences a broad array of emotions on a daily basis. These feelings are not right or wrong nor good or bad, but there are good and not so good ways to handle those feelings. Kids who are shown ways to identify, express and cope with their feelings will be able to handle tough situations later in life.
Parents and educators should avoid negating a child’s strong emotions. Dismissing child’s feelings may cause resentment, shame and confusion, and could make the child afraid to share similar feelings in the future. These negative emotions can also interfere with the learning process. Many parents and teachers do not fully understand social and emotional learning (SEL). They might see it as a way to get kids to behave rather than as a way to achieve improved academic, economic and social outcomes for their students.
‘Digital literacy’ is one of those buzz words floated by experts as being granular to 21st century students. It’s everywhere, on everyone’s tongue, but figuring out what it means can be daunting. ‘Literacy’ is simple: the ability to read and write–so ‘digital literacy’ should be achieving those goals digitally.
Not that simple. Here are a few of the definitions I found:
“the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.“.
“the ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information”
–Digital Strategy Glossary of Key Terms
“the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers:
–Paul Gilster, Digital Literacy
“a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments
–Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots
Philosophically, these are all good definitions, but after fifteen years teaching K-8 technology and grad school, I know ‘digital literacy’ is much more complicated than a couple of sentences, especially when we’re talking about students baptized in iPads and smartphones. Here are the eight transformative skills required of the digitally-literate student:
Digital literacy implies the same reading-writing skills, but without paper, pencils, books, or lectures. It’s purpose-built and student-driven. As a teacher, you’ll want to provide the following:
- digital devices–such as laptops, iPads, Chromebooks, or desktops, for daily use
- a digital class calendar–with due dates, activities, and other events
- an annotation tool (like Acrobat, Notability, or iAnnotate), to take notes
- a class internet start page–to curate websites, widgets, and other digital tools used for learning
- a backchannel device–to assess student learning while it’s happening (with tools such as Socrative, Today’s Meet, or Google Apps)
- a class website or blog–to share class activities with parents and other stakeholders
- student digital portfolios–to curate and collect student work for viewing and sharing
- student email–or some method of communicating quickly with students outside class time. This can be messaging, Twitter, or a dedicated forum
- vocabulary tool–so students can quickly decode words they don’t understand in their reading. Make this dictionary tool easily accessible from any digital device being used.
This is always challenging, isn’t it? Finding evidence that students have learned what you taught, that they can apply knowledge to complex problems. How do you do this? Rubrics? Group projects? Posters? None sound worthy of the Common Core educational environ–and too often, students have figured out how to deliver within these guidelines while on auto-pilot.
Where can we find authentic assessments that are measurable yet student-centered, promote risk-taking by student and teacher alike, inquiry-driven and encourage students to take responsibility for his/her own learning? How do we assess a lesson plan in a manner that insures students have learned what they need to apply to life, to new circumstances they will face when they don’t have a teacher at their elbow to nudge them the right direction?
Here are my top five strategies to determine if I’m succeeding:
I observe their actions, their work, the way they are learning the skills I’m teaching. Are they engaged, making their best effort? Do they remember skills taught in prior weeks and apply them? Do they self-assess and make corrections as needed?