As a global community, we are immersed in a profound and transformative period in history. How can schools play a positive role in this significant shift?
Although technology provides us with unprecedented connectivity and access to information, the fundamental skills required to be successful, both socially and in the workplace, are increasingly ambitious. This leaves educators in a complex quandary. While we grapple with the details about best practice and how to integrate digital literacy and technology into existing curriculum, our students continue to use technology in more and more areas of their lives. They also seem to have a minimal learning curve and quickly acquire the skills to navigate new technology. Seem is a critical word here. We must consider how our students are using technology and the impact of this use in their lives and the world around them. The digital world that we find ourselves in is fast paced and ever changing. How long can we wait to support our youth to make the adjustment positive and meaningful? I believe we cannot wait another day.
Canadian youth are highly connected to digital media. This connection is often outside of school and largely unsupervised. Media Smarts is a Canadian organization for digital and media literacy (http://mediasmarts.ca/). Their vision is “that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens. The results of a national study indicate that the majority of our youth have access to the Internet through personal and portable devices. Top websites include Google, Twitter and Facebook. The most frequent activities include streaming music, social media and playing online games (Media Smarts, 2014). We certainly have a generation of technology consumers.
I often encounter educators who are concerned about how they will ever catch up to the ‘digital natives’ or ‘technologically savvy’ students that they are supposed to teach. Another common reason for resisting technology in their practice is the belief that students get enough technology outside of school. As I reviewed the results of the Media Smarts survey I began to wonder, at what point did we decide mass consumerism indicates a high level of skill or thorough understanding worthy of a title such as digital native or tech savvy? The vast majority of today’s students are comfortable with technology and they are using it. This is something we know. It remains unclear how well they are using it and what potential is lost when educators fail to realize the powerful role they can play.
The Information and Communications Technology Council and MediaSmarts facilitated a one-day Symposium to discuss digital literacy and the critical issues facing Canadian Youth (2014). Participants included students, teachers, researchers, policymakers and other representatives interested in promoting a digitally literate population that can compete in a growing global economy. Although responsibility for supporting essential digital literacy and skills does not land solely on educators, participants agreed that schools play a significant role. This does not imply that teachers must become experts in using the plethora of digital devices now available. The teachers role is much more significant and varies little from the description of an exceptional educator who makes learning accessible, relevant and engaging for each individual student. Educators can support digital literacy as a facilitator, activator and motivator to move learning forward in a meaningful way. I believe that making this shift in our classrooms will help to move students from simply users of technology to producers who know how to learn and can use their understanding to create, collaborate and communicate in new and profound ways that will have a positive impact for them and their global community.
Steeves, V. (2015). Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Trends and Recommendations. Ottawa: MediaSmarts. Retrieved from: http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/publication-report/full/ycwwiii_trends_recommendations_fullreport.pdf
Use, understand and create: A digital literacy framework for Canadian schools (2015). Ottawa: Media Smarts. Retrieved from: http://mediasmarts.ca/teacher-resources/use-understand-%20create-digital-literacy-framework-canadian-schools
Youth and Digital Skills Symposium: Preparing young Canadians to make social, economic and cultural contributions (2014). Ottawa: Media from: Smarts. Retrieved from: http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/pdfs/publication-report/full/Symposium%20summary%20Final%20EN_0.pdf