Lauralyn Vasquez is a motivational speaker and author, passionate about healthy digital citizenship, safety, and AI in and for classrooms. She is on a quest to make sure everyone has the digital literacy skills they need for success. While in college, she discovered technology and how it helped her succeed in academia. Very few had computers at that time. She sold her car to purchase her first computer. No longer did her learning struggles inhibit her from college success. From then on, she knew that getting the right technology and instruction into the hands of learners would be a significant game changer in their academics and life. She holds a BA in Sociology, a Certificate in Leadership and Spiritual Direction, and an MA in Teaching and Learning with Technology. Currently, she is Director of Operations and Educational Services with Beyond Tech Ed, a writer, trainer on AI, and speaker on keeping our kids safe and balanced with technology and responsibility with technology in the classroom.
In recent times it has become difficult to decipher if what we see or read on television, social media or the web is opinion, entertainment, or fact. We have always needed to know how to decide what is fact or fiction. Yet, it is increasingly more difficult to determine what is fact or fiction. In 2018 MIT stated that they found “the spread of false information is essentially not due to bots that are programmed to disseminate inaccurate stories.” Instead, they found that humans were spreading the false information. “False news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories.”
In our ever-evolving digital world, which now includes AI, the terms ‘digital literacy’ and ‘media literacy’ are more than just buzzwords; they are essential skills that children must master from a young age. For students in grades K-8, learning these skills is not just about keeping up with the latest trends, it’s about equipping them with the tools to navigate, understand, and contribute to the world around them.
It’s also about helping them put down the scrolling and learn how to create, collaborate, communicate, and critically think. Some are calling this the 4th Industrial Revolution skill set. It’s a time where more than ever we need to teach our students how to problem solve, innovate, and constantly evolve in this fast-changing world.
The ABCs of Digital and Media Literacy
Digital Literacy, at its core, is the ability to use technology effectively and responsibly. This includes understanding how to operate digital devices, navigate the internet, and use software. But it’s more than just technical ability. Digital literacy also involves critical thinking, such as discerning reliable from unreliable online sources and understanding the permanence of our digital footprints.
It also includes digital citizenship and understanding how our words and actions online affect others as much as our words and actions in person. It’s learning how to be a responsible digital citizen.
Media Literacy involves understanding the messages conveyed through various media forms, from TV shows, social media posts, and online sources. It’s about analyzing and critically evaluating the content we consume, understanding the role of media in society, and recognizing biases and stereotypes. It’s about being able to identify the genre of a written or visual piece, who created it, and its purpose.
Why Teach Digital and Media Literacy in Grades K-8?
Safety First: With children getting online at increasingly younger ages, it’s crucial they learn how to navigate the digital world safely. This includes understanding online privacy, recognizing potential online dangers, knowing how to behave responsibly on social media as well as how to keep your password safe and cyber responsibility.
Critical Thinking: Digital and media literacy fosters critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By analyzing and evaluating media messages, children learn not to accept information at face value, a skill that is invaluable both online and offline.
Effective Communication: As digital platforms become primary modes of communication, students need to learn how to express themselves clearly and respectfully online. This includes understanding the nuances of digital communication, like tone and context. Learning how to properly write an email, the purposes of the different social media platforms, and understanding the different audiences who will receive the communication.
Civic Engagement: In an age where social media can spark social change, understanding digital and media literacy is key to active citizenship. It empowers students to engage with social issues and understand the impact of media on public opinion and policy.
Being a Global Contributor: Digital and media literacy skills are vital in a global context. These skills can help students understand and connect with different cultures, fostering a sense of global citizenship and empathy. The digital world has brought the ability to communicate worldwide within seconds. Being able to critically analyze and interpret media messages while being mindful of the cultural contexts in which they are produced and consumed, helps us understand the messages received as they were intended. It involves understanding that media is not just a reflection of culture but also a tool that shapes societal norms and values.
Integrating Digital and Media Literacy into the Curriculum
For younger students (K-3), focus on the basics of operating and creating on digital devices, understanding what the internet is, and recognizing the importance of personal information privacy and how to find information. Use interactive games and storytelling to teach these concepts in a fun, engaging way. Teach screentime balance. Lay a foundation for what types of questions to ask when you hear or read a story.
As students progress (grades 4-5), introduce more complex topics like evaluating online sources, understanding digital footprints, and online etiquette. Encourage discussions about media messages in advertisements, news, and entertainment. Assess the comprehensiveness, currency, credibility, authority, and accuracy of resources. Draw conclusions, and make informed decisions. Data analysis, computational thinking, coding, and presentations are all essential skills that can be taught at this age.
For older students (grades 6-8), delve into topics like the role of social media in society, understanding algorithms, and the ethics of digital citizenship. Projects could include creating media messages or critically analyzing a social media campaign. Teach research skills, the ethical use of AI, being a global collaborator, and innovation.
In conclusion, digital and media literacy are not just about teaching students to use technology or understand media. It’s about preparing them for a world where these skills are integral to their personal, academic, and professional lives. By integrating digital and media literacy into the K-8 curriculum, we can ensure that our students are not only consumers of digital content but also smart, responsible, and thoughtful contributors to the digital world.
Remember, in the words of media scholar Henry Jenkins, “The new media literacies should be seen as social skills, as ways of interacting within a larger community, and not simply as individualized skills to be used for personal expression.” Let’s guide our young learners to become not just tech-savvy, but also thoughtful, empathetic, and engaged digital citizens who collaborate, create, communicate, and critically think.