The term, digital literacy, was first defined within an educational context and stressed the fundamental skills (e.g., evaluation, searching) needed to navigate the uniqueness of the Internet (Gilster, 1997). Almost two decades later, researchers are still trying to come to a common definition to describe the technological skills and understandings students need to be active citizens in the 21st century (Marty et al., 2013). Digital literacy in the 20th century far surpassed traditional literacy (i.e., reading, writing, listening, and speaking), but the term was created in an era where Web 2.0 tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, did not even exist. Considering the vast technological advancements in the 21st century that are impacting the current education system, it is imperative that educators consider the cognitive, metacognitive, and social processes students need to successfully understand and manipulate technology (Green, Yu, & Copeland, 2014; Groff & Mouza, 2008; Meyers, Erickson, & Small, 2013).
Generally, a digitally literate student understands technology and possesses the skills to communicate and collaborate effectively through digital platforms (Agentin, Gui, Pagani, & Stanca, 2014). Furthermore, with the unlimited number of multimedia sources and collaborative online environments, it is suggested that students adopt a more critical use of the content available online (Agentin et al., 2014). Researchers agree that the skills students need to be digitally literate include the ability to access and navigate information on the Web, analyze and evaluate this information, compose and create new artifacts, engage in reflective thinking, and share knowledge or collaborate with others through the Web (Green et al., 2014; Hobbs, 2011; Instance & Kools, 2013; Meyers et al., 2013). Overall, with the challenge of understanding, manipulating, and critically thinking about information on the Internet, educators need to emphasize the need for students to be (Drake et al., 2013) digitally literate citizens in the 21st century.
The following provides a list of apps to foster digitally literate citizens in the 21st century. Some of the explanations below were taken from the Apple iTunes store description:
Digital Passport for Kids: Gr. 3-5
This app is an interactive game to teach students about passwords, cyberbullying, privacy, communication, creative credit, and search. If students complete all of the levels, they earn a digital passport at the end. Teachers can monitor students’ progress through a report card.
Digital Passport for Classroom: Gr. 3-5
This app is essentially the same app as above, but teachers are able to monitor students’ progress by setting up classrooms in the teacher dashboard.
Digital Compass: Gr. 6-9
Developed by the same company as Digital Passport, this app provides the same interactive games on more specific topics like cyberbullying, privacy, creative credit and copyright, information literacy, Internet safety, digital footprint and reputation, self-image and identity, relationships, and communication. Students step into the shoes of eight different characters to explore, experiment, make decisions, rationalize, take risks, judge conventions, assert individuality, express themselves, form relationships, and interact with peers. Teachers can monitor progress through percentage scores of story paths completed.
Privacy Pirates: Gr. 4
This app is an educational game where students answer questions regarding online privacy. As students complete the activities, they collect pieces of a treasure map of Internet Island! This app helps students distinguish between information that is appropriate to put online and information that should be kept private.
DigitalCitizen: Gr. 4-12
This app encompasses engaging videos, interactive games, and a quiz to enhance students’ understanding of online safety, the ethical use of digital resources, and cyberbullying.
Overall, the above apps are some of the best resources I have seen for mobile devices to isI highly recommend starting any online activities with an introduction to digital citizenship. However, the most valuable learning will take place when students begin to apply their knowledge and conceptualize their understanding of being a digitally literate citizen. I recommend trying to embed some form of social media within your lessons. This can be as simple as creating a class Twitter account or taking things one step further and creating a classroom Edmodo account.
I recently stumbled upon a fantastic app for blogging, Easyblog App, which I have incorporated into my own Master of Education research study. The grade 5s in my study are now using the Easyblog app to apply their understanding and knowledge of digital literacy. It is very secure and the app acts like a hub for your students’ blogs. Once logged into the Easyblog app, students can select their blog and write text, post videos, upload pictures, or record audio to explain pictures. The app is multi-modal and every students’ blog can be password protected. There is an option for students to view other blogs, but not edit them. By viewing other blogs, students can further practice their digital citizenship by leaving constructive and appropriate feedback based on other students’ posts. The app is by far one of the best social media platforms for students I have seen in awhile. There are so many differentiation features like audio support to read text on every page and multi-modal texts. Below is a link to the iTunes page and a picture of the app. It is free for teachers!