With technology so widespread at work, at school, and at home, being able to efficiently interact with it is an essential skill for everyone — adults, teenagers, and children. To a certain extent, the impact of computer literacy in our personal and professional lives can be compared to the importance of literacy a century ago. If illiteracy makes social and professional inclusion difficult or impossible sometimes, the same goes for digital illiteracy.
Studies show that higher rates of labor participation and employment are directly correlated with higher levels of digital literacy; to put it differently, if someone has low digital skills, they are most likely to be unemployed, to get unskilled or underskilled jobs, or to receive a lower wage.
One might tend to believe that nowadays this is no longer a problem, especially as far as the younger generation is concerned. After all, parents, teachers, and psychologists complain that kids and teenagers spend a lot of time engaging with their devices and that persuading them to stay off their gadgets is quite a challenge.
However, the key question is not how much time kids spend online nowadays, but what are they doing while spending that time online? Compulsively engaging with social media, posting everything about their daily lives, or playing video games is not synonymous with digital literacy. On the contrary, it may do more harm than good.
3 Digital trends in K-12 education
Using the internet to learn more about the world, to prepare for a job, or to better understand concepts such as law, finance, robotics, and so on, might be quite helpful. Here are three educational trends that may help students interact with technology and online media in a more meaningful way:
Digital critical thinking
Perhaps one of the most important skills of the 21st century is critical thinking, especially for the assessment of online resources. In the fake news era, everyone needs to be able to scrutinize the information which incessantly appears on social media newsfeeds:
identify the source of a piece of information;
check for any biases or vested interests (political, ideological, commercial, etc.);
find authoritative sources of information (for instance, read medical journals or medical blogs if you want to know more about vaccines, not the opinions of a media personality with no medical training).
Students must understand the difference between being famous and being an expert if they want to be well informed.
The concept of open content started with universities, which were among the first educational institutions to put some of their courses online, but it might become the new thing in K-12 education as well. Some teachers might be concerned that their role will be obsolete, with all the learning opportunities available online. But these concerns, while justified to some extent, are a little bit far-fetched.
Granted, with all content available online, students might not see the teacher as the authoritative figure who knows all the answers and who is the only valid source of information. But a teacher might be an excellent mediator, could help students find high-quality content, and make the learning journey more meaningful.
What’s more, this opens up an array of content creation possibilities for the teachers themselves, who can upload their own content online, update it when necessary, and reuse it every class, semester, or school year.
Virtual and remote laboratories
Virtual laboratories are easy to create and access via online learning platforms. They allow students and teachers to simulate experiments online and learn more about procedures and equipment. Remote laboratories, on the other hand, may allow students to participate in real experiments via webcam or remote control devices.
The main advantage is the possibility to access both virtual and remote laboratories from any location, even from home, thus increasing the learning opportunities for all students.
Granted, onsite laboratories allow students to learn by adopting a “hands-on” approach, but they are quite expensive and not all schools afford them. Allowing students to experiment online or remote is better than limiting their learning experience to a theoretical approach.
To sum up, technology is a wonderful tool in K-12 education. In the 21st century, technology can be not only a tool for education but an integral part of it, the same way pen and paper are.
Education technology allows both students and teachers to create high-quality content and share it with students all over the world, to experiment in virtual and remote laboratories, and learn more about the world. However, a critical approach is essential to differentiate between sources of information, because “all that glitters is not gold” on the Internet.
Veronica is a University lecturer with years of experience in language learning, a translator and interpreter, and a life-long learner.