The Dos and Don’ts of Teaching Digital Literacy

Learn how to implement an effective digital literacy education.

Is there a right and a wrong way to teach social media in schools? Some administrators think so.

Many schools across the country have banned the use of social networking platforms, but others are transitioning to a more proactive approach. Many experts and school officials say that abandoning the more reactionary responses to social media is the first step toward implanting a more effective digital literacy education.

“The fact is, social media isn’t technology in the lives of our kids, but an essential aspect of their world. Social media isn’t ‘new’ anymore,” said teacher and education consultant Dan Haesler on his blog. “We can’t continue pretending that it is, and using this as an excuse for not addressing it. And by addressing it I do not mean banning it!”

Haesler, a proponent of proactive social media education, posed an interesting question on his blog regarding social media and digital literacy education: what if we approached driver’s education in the same way? Taking this hypothesis one step further, Haesler came up with three conclusions:

  • Driving lessons would be taught by adults with little or no experience of driving.
  • Driving lessons would only focus on what not to do.
  • Driving lessons would NEVER take place in an actual car. In fact, most cars would not be allowed on school property.

Can you imagine learning to drive under such conditions? I can’t either. And Haesler’s comparison isn’t that farfetched. Both subjects involve making responsible choices and can cause serious consequences for the people making these choices. They both also require users to navigate areas of ambiguity and to make difficult decisions that become easier with time and practice.

Canadian K-12 principal George Couros used Haesler’s method of thinking to design a rubric for schools to see how well their digital literacy programs hold up. In order to receive the highest grade, Couros said schools must open up social media to students while teaching the tools to navigate these sites, rather than instituting a ban or providing the curriculum without opportunity for actual practice.

Couros maintained that if a student said something they might regret on Twitter or Facebook, it does not make them a bad student. In fact, he said that many of us have likely made a similar mistake when in the company of friends.

To many kids now, they think that being on Twitter is, in some ways, being with their closest friends.

“When I was a kid and was with my closest friends, I might have said similar things.  To many kids now, they think that being on Twitter is, in some ways, being with their closest friends,” said Couros. “We have to talk with our kids and be honest with them that we are not perfect as individuals either, but we have to understand what is meant to be public and what is private.”

Actions like those of Alexandra Wallace and others whose insensitive remarks have gone viral signal a lack of access to teachers and digital literacy education.

The relationship between private and public, as Couros said, is an important one to understand, yet can often be confusing for students to navigate. Our curriculum, which has sections dedicated to both privacy and self-image, contains tips and resources for educators trying to take a proactive approach to teaching digital citizenship.

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