With the start of the new school year, our District has seen the launch of a new approach to teaching digital literacy with the release of student Dashboards which include student blogs, email, instant messaging, calendars and web-based file storage. The release has brought with it productive conversations and several challenges with regards to teachers, students and parents learning how to use the technology, from simply logging into the Dashboards to using the tools effectively. As with all computer solutions, the technology is not flawless. There are intricacies to get used to and some users at all levels have experienced “technical difficulties” as they begin to familiarize themselves with the new tools. Furthermore, some users have expressed uncertainty on how to use these tools to enhance student learning. What this has done, however, is provided the opportunity for good conversations about why we are doing this.
As a Masters candidate in Ecological Education at SFU, I have first hand seen the importance of digital literacy through my coursework, even in a field that is decidedly focused away from technology. Yet we have participated in discussion boards, are working with Moodle and a majority of my research has been done online. Recently I heard that university educators are seeing a distinct trend in new students: those who are digitally literate and those who are not. Being a student myself, I can’t imagine attempting post secondary without being digitally literate. To ensure my students are successful, we need to start now.
As teachers have expressed frustration in learning to use the new technology, ties are made to the frustration our students feel when they don’t understand how these things work. It provides a chance for us to learn together as teachers take on a guiding role and can have student leaders support each other. Technology is ever changing, learning the current technology will only help in understanding what comes next. As professionals, teachers keep up to date through professional development in their teaching practice. Learning to use these tools is a part of that professional development in order to best prepare our students.
Most importantly is the opportunity it provides students to learn new skills and build on existing talents. Through the growing pains of learning new tools, students begin to see how problem solving works in action. Once they are working with the tools they offer a new venue for practicing their writing skills. Blogs in particular provide an opportunity for students to share their writing with their classmates, lets them give supportive feedback and exposes them to what is possible for writers their own age. Moreover, these tools provides teachers a format to teach students how to use social media in a structured format so that students do not enter the social media world alone, and unguided, if parents are not directly involved. This next year will be interesting as we begin to use these new tools in our classrooms and across the district. Of course there will be challenges, and at times, will be difficult; but as a recent pro-d presenter, Sean Smith, said “if you are not making mistakes, you are not learning.”