The importance of Digital Literacy Skills for Early Year Students
COVID-19 has brought about many changes in Education, the most noticeable of which has been an increased use of various forms of technology. Countless educators have spoken openly and honestly about their struggles with the constant use of technology. We often assume that students must be familiar and comfortable with technology since it has been around since they were born – however, this is not the case. Early on during online learning I discovered that many of my students, 6 and 7 year olds, could not independently use technology, making any online work I set ineffective. I believe our younger students require more explicit teaching of digital literacy skills in order to become more familiar, and ultimately more independent in using technology.
Teach them the basics
Don’t assume that students know the basics of their devices. Most students know what a computer or an iPad is and how to swipe across a screen, but they may not know how to close an app, turn the volume up or down, or how to navigate a web browser. It is important for educators to spend dedicated, explicit teaching time showing students how to navigate between different apps or how to close one app and open another. It is also important to teach students how to type their username and password into a text box. These skills may seem simple, however, skills such as typing on an iPad are a long, tedious process for younger students, which require a longer amount of time to practise and master.
Be explicit with digital literacy terminology
Another important element is teaching them the language and vocabulary of technology. Just as a mathematics teacher would explain the difference between multiplication and division, it is equally as important for educators to teach students the language of technology. Vocabulary such as ‘browser’, ‘refresh’, ‘font’, ‘bold’, ‘cursor’ and ‘mouse’ help students understand how to navigate their device and use it to enhance their learning of, and through, technology.
Teach basic digital citizenship
Students are never too young to learn digital citizenship. Digital citizenship refers to the safe, responsible and critical use of technology. Common Sense Education have a range of excellent resources for educators and families to support students of all ages to understand the topics of privacy, leaving a digital footprint, media balance and well-being, communication, cyberbullying and media literacy. From a young age, students should be taught to use technology in responsible ways, including how they collaborate and communicate with others respectfully, what information they should (and should not) share with others, and how to critically analyse information they find on the internet.
Partnering with parents
In my experience, parents are just as eager as educators to ensure their children are using technology responsibly and safely. I’ve had many parents keen to support their child’s digital literacy by asking for app recommendations or requesting to know in advance which technology or apps we will be using in class so they can practise using them at home. Partnering with parents in these ways can help students become more fluent and confident with the literacy skills they need to use technology appropriately in a variety of settings.
Allow exploration time
Giving students free time to explore the features of an app or an iPad, enables students to become familiar with and more confident with them. I have found using Book Creator as an open platform for exploring features such as font size and style, paragraphs, importing images, and practising typing on a keyboard both fun and useful. All these skills take time and practise to build and giving students free time and an open platform is very conducive for this.
By allowing ample opportunities to explore and experiment with technology, along with explicitly teaching digital literacy skills, students will be able to develop the skills they need to engage with technology in an increasingly independent way. These skills, like any others, require time and space for repetitive practise to ultimately lead towards independence.
11 November 2020 | Written by Fiona Morrison
Fiona Morrison is an infants’ teacher and Digital Literacy Coach from Sydney, Australia. She has over 14 years’ experience working with children in a variety of settings. Fiona is a passionate advocate about STEM, coding and digital technologies particularly with younger students. Fiona is a Google Certified Trainer, Seesaw Ambassador, Book Creator Ambassador and a Global GEG leader. She is currently studying for her Masters of Educational Leadership. You can find Fiona on Twitter @FiMorrison2.