Students are spending more time online than ever before. Forty-four percent of children under the age of 18 use electronics for more than four hours a day, and the average average 8 to 12-year-old child spends four to six hours using or watching screens per day.
That means children spend up to 42 hours per week using devices, enough time to make electronic usage a full-time job.
Of course, being digitally engaged isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Students can build community, connect during the pandemic, and build valuable life skills by playing video games. However, teachers must show students how to engage with digital media, so they can have fun while staying safe online.
What is Digital Literacy?
Digital literacy is a vital skill in contemporary society. There is no universal definition for digital literacy, but we can broadly define it as:
“The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information.” (Source)
So, those who are digitally literate can work across formats and websites to find the information they need, evaluate the content they find, and utilize the format to create desired outcomes.
Digital literacy is most visible when someone is not digitally literate. In the United States, 16 percent of adults are not digitally literate. This means they were not able to complete online tasks like finding and sending emails, they were unable to interact with websites, and could not complete real-world tasks such as purchasing goods online.
In the classroom, you probably don’t need to teach your students how to use operating systems like Windows or search engines like Google. You should, however, be aware that not all students will be equally accustomed to digital technology. Instead, your focus should be on ensuring that students who consume digital content have positive outcomes and stay safe online.
Depending on the class you are teaching, some good learning outcomes for digital literacy classes include:
- Students know how to navigate search engines and can routinely choose the most reliable information source;
- Students can express the value of using digital technology but can also communicate why too much usage might be a bad thing;
- Students understand how to communicate with one another online and understand that internet abuse is just as damaging as in-person bullying;
- Students can use digital sources to present information and use digital content (videos, infographics) to further their presentations.
Achieving these outcomes will take time and will require teachers to present information in pertinent, digitally engaging ways. Perhaps the best way to engage with digital literacy in the classroom is to embrace the increasing usage of video games and work towards gamification.
Video Games and Digital Literacy
Video games themselves are an important part of digital literacy. In the same way that educators value engagement in sport and extra-curricular activities for students, teachers can promote healthy usage of video games. This is because games can actually be good for students:
Games teach important skills
Gamification is when we weave game-like elements (objectives, rewards) into processes that typically aren’t associated with gaming. Gamification can help you create interest in the activity you’re presenting to the class and helps students who would otherwise be disinterested in a digital literacy class.
For example, games can teach students vital life skills like resiliency and give them the confidence to solve complex tasks. In a classroom environment, gamification can be leveraged to help teachers keep students engaged, while they work towards some of the learning outcomes discussed above.
Gamification is easier than you think
You can find gamification apps online. Some of the most popular classroom-oriented gaming apps are Gimkit and ClassDojo. These apps provide templates for game-oriented classes and allow you to customize the way material is presented and how you will reward students.
However, if you are planning to gamify your classroom, you need to be vigilant and ensure that your learning outcomes are achieved. This is because gamification can often trick us into thinking we’ve achieved desired outcomes. After all, we’ve received a reward like a badge or completed a challenge. In reality, we may not have achieved the desired outcome, despite receiving our dopamine-fueled reward.
Make sure to check student progress
That’s why your learning platform can help you analyze outcomes and, at the same time, reward your students for their work.
So, when gamifying your classroom, always follow the same knowledge and skill checks that you usually use when teaching.
You can’t rely upon a gamified reward system to give you accurate feedback about your student’s success. Instead, you must double-check knowledge through more traditional methods like formative assessments and novel approaches such as analytics.
The Future and Digital Literacy
In a world where 74 percent of the population uses computers for work, teachers must equip students with the tools and knowledge necessary for success and safety in a digital environment.
Teachers who engage with digital literacy should help students manage their usage, show students how to find reputable sources, and ensure that students know how to stay safe online. To achieve this, teachers can utilize the growing demand for video games as a social and teaching platform to create better engagement with learning outcomes and teaching materials.
Charlie Fletcher is a writer and former preschool teacher from the lovely “city of trees”, Boise, Idaho. When not writing, she can be found exploring the great outdoors or geeking out over the latest Game of Thrones fan theories.