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Ever wondered what is “digital literacy,” and why it matters?

Although the definition varies greatly depending on one’s sources, it encompasses more than just reading from a computer screen and writing with a keyboard.

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What Is Digital Literacy?

With the advent of new computing devices, social media platforms, and cutting-edge technologies like virtual and augmented reality, the meaning of digital literacy evolves with the release of every new iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone.

To put it in more technical terms, the American Library Association (ALA) defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

Using this definition, it’s important to distinguish between the truly internet literate and those who are merely technically competent in handling digital tools. Sending private messages and posting memes on Facebook or Instagram is only one small aspect of digital literacy – especially in education.

From an academic perspective, digital literacy encompasses more than just navigating social media or communicating using messenger applications. In a classroom setting, for example, students require certain skills when analyzing online subject matter and sharing their insights with teachers or other learners. For this reason, school administrators and instructors must recognize the importance of equipping their students with essential abilities to succeed in today’s increasingly digitized academic environment.

Reading internet content does not equal digital literacy

Subscribing to an ebook service or browsing internet sources like Wikipedia constitute only a small aspect of digital literacy. Often, merely consuming online content by scrolling through web pages is not much different from flipping through the leaves of a traditional printed book.

Although students from every school level acquire valuable skills from just 15 minutes of reading material found on the internet, developing a sense of digital literacy requires the ability to sift through, analyze, and interpret factually correct information while also disregarding erroneous or misleading sources.

It’s important to keep in mind that – unlike traditional books and reading material – the vast majority of information on the internet can be unreliable. Skillful fact-checking, objective skepticism and meticulous cross-referencing techniques are essential to being digitally literate.

Hyperlinks have changed the way people read online

The creation of hyperlinks within a digital article makes it fundamentally different from its non-digital counterparts. By clicking on one of these links, a student can branch out and explore different streams of knowledge, broadening his or her reading experience.

Skillfully navigating these links, digesting their contents, and putting them together as a unified whole requires careful instruction from experienced teachers. To develop digital literacy, students must learn that everything they read, create, and share on the internet has both intended and unintended consequences.

This is why finding digital content to consume necessitates a specialized skill set that differs from traditional academic querying. While seeking printed materials in a library, students might ask for specific books and guidance from adult supervisors. But on the internet, young learners rely on search engines, most of which use algorithms to collate relevant results.

Assessing the reliability of certain sources and websites is an important aspect of digital literacy – this comes hand-in-hand with responsibility and awareness of some of the internet’s problematic regions. Before clicking on that hyperlink or watching that video, instructors should remind students to be mindful of their safety.

Digital literacy involves critical evaluation and ethical behavior

Because this new form of literacy is so wide-ranging and evolves with each new technological device introduced into the market, critical evaluation becomes an even more necessary characteristic of sophisticated online users.

Without critical assessment skills, the student may become lost in a sea of information that sometimes conflicts with each other. Technology then becomes the primary driver of learning, not the individual.

Whereas writing on paper is often a personal act, digital writing targets an audience of anonymous readers. This allows for greater creativity and freedom of expression and exposes young minds to possible dangers. The choice of sharing content, especially those with personal details, cannot be taken lightly.

For that reason, learning about online ethical behavior is also a component of digital literacy. It is necessary to empower children by teaching them how to create content and share it with the world, but with this privilege comes responsibility towards oneself and others.

Creating content enhances digital literacy

Digital literacy also encompasses content creation, which includes writing emails, blogs, and tweets, along with creating other forms of audiovisual media, such as podcasts and YouTube video blogs.

Companies such as Apple and Samsung have created bustling online marketplaces where cheap, and often free applications can be downloaded and shared with one’s peers. The proliferation of platforms where one can share thoughts and perspectives has created a veritable renaissance explosion of creativity among youth groups.

Most of these applications are programmed to be user-friendly. The rise of so-called social media influencers and “thought leaders” is a testament to the ease with which the masses have absorbed these digital tools.

Consequently, this has created an online environment where sharing one’s thoughts and perspectives is encouraged and rewarded. Being able to express one’s thoughts through various media encourages a deeper appreciation of the collaborative process since most online content is meant to be shared widely.

Digital libraries enhance student performance

Digital libraries catering to native and non-native English learners provide opportunities for personal growth.

Current research has shown that easy access to reading materials, digital or otherwise, fosters independence and motivation. Online educational platforms such as the nonprofit organization Khan Academy and Edx.org have taken advantage of new digital tools that can be accessed by anyone in the world, regardless of race, age, or gender.

How exactly does a digital library work?

Today, as new technological devices transform how people read and write, educators and school administrators have begun constructing digital archives that cater to their student communities’ various needs.

These online libraries, just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, adhere to strict standards that deliver:

  • Greater access, equity, and motivation toward learning
  • Statistical data that focuses on reading practices can assist teachers in identifying areas of improvement

A robust online library that follows these principles should also:

  • Ensure that digital books and sources are from respected publishers and authors
  • Provide material for a wide range of interests, grades, and reading levels in a variety of literary formats
  • Maximize student motivation and engagement by allowing groups to read titles simultaneously

Why is digital literacy so important?

School administrators and educational media specialists have recognized the value of digital literacy because today’s students use the internet as a primary source of information.

Digitally literate students know how to search for and consume information faster than their peers, thereby giving them an advantage that grows exponentially alongside technological progress.

For now, however, the digital literacy definition remains in flux and may change according to educational needs and demands.

The definition of digital literacy will constantly evolve

Because the definition of “digital literacy” constantly changes with the introduction of new digital tools, the term itself may become confused as time passes and newer forms of media are created. What exactly does it mean to be digitally literate? Is internet literacy able to consume, create, and share digital material? Do computing skills like coding and computer engineering fall under this definition?

Some experts argue that the pluralistic term “digital literacies” should be used instead because it encompasses many digital tools, texts, and multimedia platforms that can be leveraged for content creation. Others would prefer to avoid the term altogether, opting to use more general terms such as “new literacies,” which somewhat conveys the rapid expansion and evolution of new technological advances.

Whatever definitions digital and internet literacy will retain or assimilate in the future, it is vital to keep the interests and welfare of students as the priority. By developing such a mindset, academic specialists and professional educators create student-centric environments that can impact a learner’s growth and intellectual development.