What is Digital Literacy in Schools and Why is it Important?

Defining Digital Literacy in the K-12 Classroom

We are more connected than ever and as we move closer to a digital-first world, schools are embracing digital tools and technology in the classroom for their positive impact on student learning. Just as it is important that students have a solid foundation in reading and writing, it is equally important that students of today are digitally literate. So, what is digital literacy in school and why is it important?

Digital literacy is defined by the American Library Association as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills”. Put another way, being digitally literate means that you can use technology to find information, evaluate that information, create new information and can communicate that information effectively.

This is a broad definition so we’ll dive a little deeper by discussing examples and ways to help promote digital literacy in the classroom.

What are Some Elements of Digital Literacy?

When we think of the word “literacy”, especially when used together with “school” or “education”, we often link it with the student’s ability to read, write and comprehend information. When we add the word “digital”, it gets a little more complicated. Knowing how to use email addresses, how to protect your privacy online, what to share and not to share on social media, and how to access content on the internet are all part of digital literacy.

digital literacy cells

Developing critical thinking skills is one of the main goals of digital literacy as students will need to know what to do when they are confronted with different formats of information. Reading a news article on a website can be a good example of how one can apply critical thinking. Unlike a news article in a printed newspaper, online articles are formatted to present additional information, such as related videos and images on the article page and links in the text to content the reader might find useful. Knowing how to sift through, evaluate and use this information will not only help students delve deeper into the subject they are learning, but it will also help develop the student’s understanding of quality information resources and help them steer clear of misinformation.

Another key focus of digital literacy is communication. Thanks to the digital world we now live in, there are new ways for us to communicate. From social media platforms to sending and receiving emails, knowing how to communicate virtually has become just as important as knowing how to communicate in person. Knowing what to share online and, more importantly, what not to share online, is a skillset that will help students become better digital citizens.

Learning how to use technology to collaborate helps students with other important digital literacy skills. Collaboration helps by encouraging effective teamwork, open discussion, development of ideas, and time management. It helps students create content that showcases their work on a given project but also allows them to see how others work so they can have more exposure to different ways of doing things.

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Digital literacy also helps students develop critical thinking skills by teach them how to evaluate and scrutinize information they come across. Is the website you are visiting trustworthy? Is the author a subject matter expert? Are the “facts” of the article cited or is it opinion? Helping students develop these skills early in life can help avoid many of the negative aspects of the information age.

How do you promote digital literacy in the classroom?

As more and more students use the internet as their top source of information, both for in school and out of school activities, the focus on digital literacy and digital citizenship has never been more improtant. Keeping a student up to par on digital literacy from elementary school through high school will help prepare them for the digital-first world of the 21st centry.

Teaching digital literacy is different from teaching traditional literacy. Introducing digital literacy is more about exploring and experimenting with different mediums than repeating the alphabet and using sight words. Here are some tips we’ve put together to help promote digital literacy in the classrom:

  1. Find a video that is relevant to a lesson being taught and share it with the class. A hyperlink can be added to a lesson and students will learn how to enhance their learning with multiple mediums.
  2. Have students ask questions via a chat feature. This helps students learn how to properly communicate with teachers and fellow students. A teacher can provide feedback instantly via chat and other students can see how the interactions are handled by all parties.
  3. Have students summarize a topic in under 280 characters. This helps them learn how to effectively communicate via micro-blogging platforms like Twitter.

    Speaking of Twitter. Have more ideas of ways to help promote digital literacy in the classroom? Visit is on Twitter and share your suggestions.

  4. Have students convert a topic into an infographic. This helps with both the creation of digital content and also reinforces comprehension of the material.
  5. Have students collaborate and contribute to class notes via a shared online document. This helps students learn to work as a team to evaluate others people’s work in a respectful way. It also reinforces the ability to access online data.
  6. Have a team of students create a digital short on a chapter of a book the class is reading. This helps with creativity, problem solving, and team building.
  7. Have the students produce a podcast on that week’s lessons. They can do a roundtable where they discuss different things that happened during the lessons, what was tricky and what was easier. This helps reinforce their learning, helps them to communicate effectively and also helps teachers with feedback on how their teaching is impacting students.
  8. On field trips, have students vlog their activity to share in a presentation or on social media. Have them tag the venue and write a short summary of their experience. This helps them with citing sources and helps them work on their presentation skills.

These are just a few ways to help promote digital literacy into today’s classrooms. With the increase of e-learning and number of devices now available to students, digital literacy has never been more important to embrace. To find out more about digital literacy and how technology is shaping the future of education, join us for the Future of Education Technology® Conference. For more details, visis us at FETC.org