Digital literacy and the classroom

Some more of my thoughts about schools and teaching with digital media. All my reading, of the various blogs on education and research papers, seem to point towards encouraging the use of such media.

Technology is ubiquitous and touches many parts of our lives today, in the community, at work and at home. Most people spend part of their day using technology and many are using on-line digital technologies for work and personal use. Yet many schools lag behind when it comes to teaching our students about technology and digital media and integrating it into the classroom.

We don’t leave our students alone and expect that they will figure out the disciplines of science, maths, English, etc. We guide them through each of these disciplines, educating them on the principles that work and help them gain knowledge and learning as they negotiate their way through the many ideas and directions made known to them.

Why is it, then, that schools expect students to work out effective digital strategies on their own. So many sites are filtered out, with teachers having no classroom access to teach students about utilizing the good and useful and help them understand the shortcomings, and/or any bad aspects of the digital technologies. We need to help our students develop the skills and processes to negoitate their way through safely and effectively using the option that are available today and for the future developments.

Many educational systems and/or schools are ignoring the existence of much of the on-line digital media, by banning outright, filtering and heavily restricting use. This leaves our students alone to use and figure out the media on their own, outside school, with varying degrees of understanding about the intricacies of the best, appropriate and safe use. Studies are continually showing that more and more of our young people are using digital media in their own time without any guidance. Ignoring the digital media in the hope that students won’t be interested in or use most of it, isn’t working and it is dangerous.

Teachers need to be part of the learning process when it comes to students using digital media. They need to educated students about digital literacy, to help prepare them for the world beyond the classroom…. And why should there be this great divide between the classroom and the “real world”? Why does the phrase “never the twain shall meet” seem to be the order of the day when, at other times, we hear the phrases talking about preparing “students for a life after school” and “lifelong learning”? They seem to be at odds to me!

Why are schools not more involved in educating students to be digital literate and helping them to understand that they also need to be good digital citizens?

Vicki A. Davis on her Cool Cat Teacher Blog wrote a post about Digital Citizenship and created a matrix that I like. The post then goes on to look at the curriculum development/review processes and, although Vicki is in the US system, there is much that is familiar and usable to our Victorian set up.


I like the fact that there are 4 elements to digital citizenship and that there is a balance between each of the elements, and that each one can be seen as equally important.



 I like the above cycle, and in an ideal world this would be the model for schools. There is a process to review an existing curriculum, in a reflective and non-threatening way, and suggests strategies on how to follow-up. No school is perfect but this, or a similar, cycle is something that could be used to improve most.

The cycle below is probably more similar to one that is more often the case, for numerous reasons. 



We all want our students to leave school as confident citizens of the world, capable of finding their own paths, by evaluating the information around them and making decisions based on reasoned and thoughtful research and critical analysis. We must be pro-active and guide our students if this is to happen for the majority.

7 Responses

  1. Great post Rhonda. Thanks for passing it on.
    In terms of giving students experience of finding out for themselves, what do you make of our enthusiasm for project pathfinders? Isn’t that spoonfeeding the kids but we all do it, or don’t we?

  2. I love your reflections here and have to say that I agree with you totally.

    It makes such sense to teach digital citizenship and allow digital experiences to take place in the classroom.

    My students and I were discussing digital access today in digiteen and they were saying that now, with college board registering online, that some students in public schools cannot register for the SAT online but have to use paper because they cannot check their email at school — or they have to go to the public library and they don’t want to put their credit card in there.

    Filtering is a HUGE issue and I don’t think many people are convinced that we’re doing it well.

    I don’t think that working with digital literacy is spoonfeeding, Carole — we’re using the 9 aspects of digital citizenship from Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey’s book on and the students are doing great work – it is a student driven project and they are learning so much.

    It can be done without dictation and “spoonfeeding” just as any topic can be well done in an open, participative way.

    Not familiar with pathfinders, but just commenting in general.

  3. Hi Rhondda, came by this post via Vicki Davis’ bookmark on I’m writing my thesis on the concept of ‘Digital Literacy’ and would love to know how you would define it! 🙂

  4. Hi Carol,
    I don’t think that creating and using pathfinders is simply spoonfeeding. It depends very much on the empasis you are putting on which particular skills. You are creating a list of sites that you know are useful and reliable to start the student off. The students, if he knows nothing about a topic/subject has to start somewhere. After they have some ideas and/or understanding he can then be expected to find more information indendently. You could also use a tool such as Rollyo. This will allow you to create a range of sites that the student can then test searching skills but on a pool of sites that you have created. I think that is also useful to explain/show the students the processes you went through to find the sites that you have included on your pathfinder. As I said use it as a stapping stone or development tool.

  5. Thanks for the reply Vicki. I really like reading your blog posts because there are many on topics that I am very interested in. I really did like the review cycles that you created, as did a few of my colleagues. They ring very true! How we get everyone working on the first model and away from the second model, I’m not sure but will continue to try.
    I also think there is a lot ot be said about the filtering that goes on in schools. I am currently composing my thoughts for a future post.
    Thankyou also for the digiteen link. I will investigate it more.

  6. Doug,
    I’m stiil working on my definition of digital literacy, one that I am happy with but you have inspired me to actually put it on record. Will get back to you!

  7. Great article. As a school library media specialist, I am teaching information/digital/media literacy to my students. It is the most important skill I can give them!

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