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Digital Literacy in the primary classroom

Image courtesy of Doug Belshaw 
I've been following the work on Digital Literacy by Doug Belshaw for just over 2 years and I'm still getting my head round what it means to be digitally literate. Two years ago Doug published a post which really grabbed my interest in which he outlined his 8 elements of Digital Literacy as part of his thesis. I am reproducing these below (all rights belong to Doug).
  • Cultural [Cu]
  • Cognitive [Cg]
  • Constructive [Cn]
  • Communication [Co]
  • Confidence [Cf]
  • Creative [Cr]
  • Critical [Ct]
  • Civic [Ci]
Now, I wouldn't be the teacher I am if I wasn't on the lookout for a resource that could be used in my classroom. And when I read these I thought, I need to use these somehow! Well, I put them at the back of my mind and there they remained. Until today. The Easter break is coming to an end and I have been completing my Personal Journey's for each of the pupils in my class. The 8 elements came back to my mind as I was writing these and the following is my interpretation of how they might be used for teaching and learning in a primary classroom.

So what is Digital Literacy?
Futurelab, an organisation 'committed to developing creative and innovative approaches to education, teaching and learning', gives the following definition in its publication Digital Literacy across the curriculum,
To be digitally literate is to have access to a broad range of practices and cultural resources that you are able to apply to digital tools. It is the ability to make and share meaning in different modes and formats; to create, collaborate and communicate effectively and to understand how and when digital technologies can best be used to support these processes.
This definition has been the one that I have focused on and the publication gives some examples of where digital literacy can be found and how it can be utilised across the school curriculum. I is not enough to think that digital literacy is only to be looked at during technology lessons or whilst using a computer. The challenge is how we as teachers can foster digital literacy in all areas of the school curriculum. Children today are born into a digital world, they are surrounded by more and more digital technology as they grow up and making sense of this is something we cannot take for granted. Many children do show they are confident users of different types of technology but it is our responsibility to ensure children are not only confident users but can also make informed decisions about the use of such digital technologies to help them in their learning.

So how do these 8 elements fit into a primary classroom?
Let's not use the word fit here. Instead, ask this question. How can we ensure that our learners are digitally literate? The elements then become a stable foundation for any planning to start from. I have taken each of the elements and looked at it as a starting point for planning learning and teaching in my class leading to the following possible strategies.
  • Cultural - Look at your class, your school. What cultural make up does it have? Where do we come from? Where have we been? What is it like to live somewhere else? We can help children understand their role in the wider community and how they will have an effect on it. What they say becomes incredibly important when you begin to use digital tools to publish their content online for the world to see. Look at how this can be misunderstood by others. Digital links can be put in place to inform and question others in a different culture which can be used to help us develop a better understanding of using social media to discover the world around us.
  • Cognitive - Don't envisage this as how your learners will use digital tools but how they will use their own cognitive tools to do so. Children begin school asking questions, exploring, trying things out. By the time they leave primary school many of them have lost the ability to explore, ask questions and find things out. Somewhere in the depths of National Curriculum agendas this natural curiosity seems to be less called upon due to the teaching styles used by many teachers - they know what the class needs to know and the children will learn accordingly. Fostering digital literacy cognitively is in my opinion one of the most difficult to manage if you are the type of teacher who prefers to teach from the front. A change in perceptions is required, put the learning first and allow the class to develop their natural curiosity once more. Go with what the learners suggest, follow up their questions even if it isn't in your panning. Cognitive digital literacy will not be possible without this freedom in the classroom although it may well happen elsewhere. They must also make informed choices that will keep them safe online and recognise the dangers and know how to react when faced with such concerns..
  • Constructive - Using social media to connect with other cultures is one thing, developing links and strengthening those bonds by fostering projects and interaction is the next step. David Mitchell has been championing the use of blogging as a constructive digital tool that develops communication and builds community across the world. His QuadBlogging project connects 4 schools from various countries together through their online blog so that pupils can connect with other classes to discuss blog posts and work together on projects.
  • Communication - It used to be so straightforward 30 years ago, communication with others involved face to face meetings, writing a letter or making a telephone call. In today's digital world children have a multitude of ways to communicate that are more or less digital variations of those tools 30 years previously. Now a smart phone can handle the following - face to face video calls, phone calls, text messaging, emails, instant messaging, blog posting, photo blogging, video blogging, video uploading, music creation, podcasting and more. Learners today need to know which tools are the best to communicate the message they want to say, they need to make deliberate and informed choices that recognise what these digital communication tools can do and how best to utilise them. This choice doesn't come easily and requires teachers to approach the possibilities offered by using them themselves. Communication today requires mixing all types of media if called upon to do so.
  • Confidence - It will only be through the use of these digital technologies and learning how to use them effectively will learners become more confident in their own choice of tools to solve the problems they will face now and tomorrow. You want a class of learners that will know which tools will get the job done effectively and which tools will only hold them back, do they choose PowerPoint or not for example? Will the whole recorded conversation suffice or does it need to be edited before being uploaded as a podcast? "It's okay Mr M, I know how to do it. Just click that link, then upload the file. Easy"
  • Creative - The creative possibilities that digital tools offer learners are mind boggling. Never before has a learner been presented with so much choice to draw a picture - from pencil and paper to digital pens and paper on a tablet device. The digital tools are there and learners are already using them to create content and upload it to sites such as Flickr, YouTube and self hosted blogs. However the creative potential is being held back by teachers who are either not prepared to use these tools in their class due to other ill conceived curriculum pressures or they just don't know how. The choices continue to grow daily and many schools are quickly becoming places were digital content are not going to be places were it is created.
  • Critical -How do you know if the online text is real or not? How do we know it is written by the author claiming it to be so? We need to develop critical awareness and thinking. For example, many children will look for information online by using Google and then using the first result that appears. This has to be contested and challenged. Children cannot go on accepting the first result they receive from a search. Develop in them their curiosity to go further, to check against other resources and searches and to question and discuss their findings with each other. Search functions can reveal more than just a sentence of words so the digital vocabulary of searching must be learned and practiced if learners are to be more successful in what they are linked to online.
  • Civic - Further along a learners life they will come to a point where these digital literacy skills will not only help them solve problems and communicate with others across the world but provide opportunities of employment in a constantly evolving digital world. As it has been pointed out, Digital Literacy must be developed across every part of the curriculum and not just ICT and our learners must be given the freedom to do so in schools today. If they can already do so when they are outside of school because they take it upon themselves as part of the digital culture in which they are part of then why are they waiting to do so inside? We are denying them these opportunities if our curriculum and teaching of it doesn't adapt to their digital needs.

These are initial ideas built using the information provided by Doug on his blog and from the Futurelab publication. I have yet to put any of this into the classroom but I recognise that a lot of this is already in place in my class although not referred to as digital literacy.
That is going to change and during the next few weeks as I introduce the terms to my class I will post their thoughts here along with any adaptations they wish to make.


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