How digital and media literacy affects today’s classroom
There aren’t many teachers who complain that they simply don’t have enough material to cover in their class. Rather, the opposite is usually the case. So the call to add more material – this time in the form of digital literacy and media literacy – is unlikely to be wholeheartedly welcomed by American teachers. Yet these issues are so important to society as well as to each individual student that they deserve attention.
What is the problem?
Teachers and other educational actors could assume that today’s students, as digital natives, know what they need to know in order to find their way around the digital world. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, recent research from Stanford University shows that students lack the most basic skills needed to validate the information they find online.
For example, a large number of middle school students were unable to distinguish paid content from editorial content on a news website. It is difficult to imagine that when these students grow up they will be able to gauge the deluge of information that surrounds them in order to make wise decisions about their health, wealth, and civic welfare
What happens in the classroom
Most education professionals advocate constructivism, an approach to learning that emphasizes the student’s own role in creating and disseminating information. Of course, unless students can verify the quality of the information at the most basic level, they will not be able to responsibly learn and communicate with others, and constructivist approaches are unlikely to be of much value.
Teachers therefore need to ensure that their students know how to handle the information they encounter online.
What can be done
Fortunately, there are many resources available to teachers to teach media literacy and digital literacy. Teachers don’t have to reinvent the wheel or develop their own materials from scratch. Instead, they can use professionally designed curricula that cover basic topics such as privacy and security, digital footprint and reputation, copyright law, appropriate communication, and cyberbullying.
No teacher cries out to cover more in his class. At the same time, media and digital literacy are essential to a student’s success. Teachers can find ways to incorporate these topics into their current classroom, for example by discussing how they chose a science-based video clip for the class, rather than just using the first hit for the topic on YouTube.