Digital Literacy: What It Is & Why It’s Important for Kids

Digital Literacy: What It Is & Why It’s Important for Kids

What is Digital Literacy?

According to the UNICEF Office of Global Insight and Policy, digital literacy “refers to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that allow children to flourish and thrive in an increasingly global digital world.” Digital literacy is the skills needed to understand and use digital information and technology effectively. 

Digital literacy involves finding and evaluating information online, using digital tools and platforms, and communicating in digital environments. It also covers important topics like privacy, security, and ethical behavior.

Dr. Hiller Spires, a professor of literacy and technology at North Carolina State University, has divided digital literacy into 3 primary pillars. 

  1. Finding & Consuming
  2. Creating Content
  3. Sharing & Communicating

Finding & Consuming

This pillar refers to the navigation and digesting of digital information. It’s more than just reading content online; it’s the ability to quickly find the exact information you’re looking for and decide if it's trustworthy. 

Digital literacy involves engaging with diverse forms of digital content, including texts, images, videos, and hyperlinks. For instance, online reading involves interacting with features like hyperlinks, videos, and interactive graphics, which shape the reading experience and require readers to make decisions about navigation and engagement. 

Additionally, digital literacy encompasses the skill of searching for content in online spaces, using search engines effectively, and critically assessing the reliability of sources. 

Creating Content

The second pillar of digital literacy involves understanding how to communicate effectively and respectfully online. Content creation can refer to designing graphics, making videos, or coding games, but it can also include writing emails, comments, and posting on social media. 

In some form, everyone who interacts on the internet participates in content creation. It is essential to understand the nuances of expressing oneself respectfully in digital spaces, from email etiquette to effectively communicating on social media platforms for personal and professional purposes. 

This aspect of digital literacy is seen as a form of social power, allowing individuals to share messages and engage in creative processes with experimentation and risk-taking.

Sharing & Communicating

Communication is foundational to the Internet. The third pillar of digital literacy is understanding the risks associated with sharing personal information online, such as the potential for hackers and scammers to exploit individuals. 

Everyone, especially young learners, needs guidance on what information to avoid sharing to protect themselves from online manipulation and fraud. Children need to understand that their online actions, like cyberbullying, can impact others' well-being and contribute to a positive digital environment. 

Content shared online is never outside the scope of the real world and can have lasting consequences. Students need to exercise a healthy amount of caution when traversing digital spaces and learn what appropriate internet behavior is. Encouraging responsible digital behavior is key to creating a safe and positive online community.


K-12 Digital Citizenship

Conversations around what digital literacy looks like for K12 students are moving “towards a more comprehensive understanding of what it should mean to be digitally literate today.”

This holistic digital citizenship perspective emphasizes various behaviors, practices, and identities beyond mere technical proficiency. Projects like Global Kids Online and DigiLitEY emphasize the importance of operational, cultural, and critical elements in children's digital literacy, encouraging active participation and content creation. 

However, as UNICEF points out, “Even though children are seemingly adept at using digital tools, this does not mean they are digitally literate.“ It’s important to ensure our students are not just utilizing digital resources but learning how to navigate the digital landscape safely and responsibly. 

Encouraging Digital Literacy

Educators play a crucial role in equipping students with the essential skills to responsibly navigate the vast and complex online world. As technology continues to shape nearly every aspect of our lives, teachers must guide students in developing digital literacy.

Students who are digitally literate are more likely to: 

  • Fact check information
  • Identify reputable sources and conduct research 
  • Participate in online communication
  • Cite sources and copyrighted material
  • Discern biases from word choice and sentence structure
  • Find and identify images and videos

Teaching digital literacy instills a deep understanding of digital citizenship, online safety, and ethical behavior. The University of San Diego explores what it means to teach digital citizenship successfully with five sections.

Emphasize Critical Thinking

Strong critical thinking skills are key for promoting responsible online behavior and nurturing good digital citizenship. This helps students improve their capacity to assess information resources and become skilled at spotting bias, understanding different viewpoints, and recognizing underlying motives in online content. 

This empowers students to navigate the vast online landscape confidently, ensuring they depend on credible and reliable sources to shape their opinions and make informed choices.

Avoid Plagiarism

While learning to find reliable resources is important, teaching students how to use and cite these sources correctly is equally essential. As students navigate various research tasks during their academic journey, they must become proficient in employing proper citation methods. 

This includes mastering formats like bibliographies, formatting styles, and accurately citing online sources to uphold academic integrity and avoid plagiarism.

Manage Your Online Identity

The content shared on social media platforms holds considerable weight in the contemporary digital landscape. What’s posted online can shape students' future endeavors, such as college applications and career opportunities. 

By maintaining a positive and respectful online presence, individuals can enhance their credibility, build meaningful connections, and establish a reputation for integrity and authenticity. 

Maneuver Through Digital Distractions

Students are bombarded with various digital platforms, social media channels, and entertainment websites competing for their attention. Navigating this challenge can be tricky, but embracing the diversity of the internet can be beneficial.

Encouraging students to explore various online resources and activities cultivates a more holistic understanding of the digital landscape while mitigating the risk of becoming overly reliant on any single platform or source of information.

Understand Online Safety

Educating students about online safety is crucial in today's expansive online environment. While parental controls offer a basic level of protection, students must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure their safety. 

Parents and educators should teach their students about the potential risks of the internet and practical strategies for protection. Everyone plays a vital role in empowering students to navigate the digital world confidently and responsibly.

How Brains & Motion Can Help

You don’t have to do it alone! Brains & Motion Education's programs offer a unique opportunity to instill digital literacy skills in students. Through engaging activities and interactive projects, children are exposed to various aspects of digital literacy in a fun and educational environment. 

Whether learning about online safety, exploring digital content creation, or honing critical thinking skills, BAM! Provides students with hands-on experiences that promote responsible digital citizenship. 

By integrating digital literacy into our curriculum, we empower students to navigate the digital world with confidence and skill, preparing them for success in an increasingly digital society.

Find a summer camp near you to help prepare your student for the 21st century!

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