‘Post-truth’, ‘fake news’ era requires digital literacy

‘Post-truth’, ‘fake news’ era requires digital literacyAll of us need the skills to filter information, to separate fact from fiction Some rights reserved

There is an increasing need for learners to develop digital literacy competence in the post-truth, fake news era, and school librarians can help.

Importance of digital literacy

Recent events show that digital literacy is more important than ever.

This year Oxford Dictionaries announced 'post-truth' as the International Word of the Year. There are concerns the so-called ‘fake news crisis’ that emerged from Brexit and the American Presidential election could now spread across global politics. While a recently published study by Stanford University (pdf, 3.47MB) revealed that 'overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.'

As consumers, users, sharers, and creators of digital content it is vital that all learners develop strong digital literacy skills and competencies — for both immediate educational needs and their developing roles as citizens.

Digital citizenship in schools

In increasingly digitised educational settings, learners need to attain the mastery required to make sense of the current digital information landscape. The ability to source quality information, to critique and evaluate that information, and to use it in meaningful ways are now a determinant for educational success.

Learners also require the knowledge and social dispositions to behave in ethical, legal, and responsible ways in the digital space. Netsafe recently published a whitepaper with a model and principles for digital citizenship in schools. There is a clear focus on 'digital literacy skills', 'knowledge of digital environment', and 'attitudes and values online' as key foundations for developing digital citizenship. Netsafe proposes that developing digital citizens is the result of proactive education — it does not happen by chance.

How to develop digital literacy in schools?

Digital literacy can be incorporated into teaching and learning in a number of ways — from being the domain of one syndicate or department, to being integrated across the whole curriculum and school. It is not recommended that it be taught in stand-alone lessons, as it requires the repeated practice and use of skills that develop over time. Isolated learning will be forgotten.

The librarian as information specialist

The school librarian, as an information specialist with an understanding of teaching and learning across the school, can be a lead in promoting and supporting the development of digital literacy within a school. This can range from ensuring good practice selecting the library’s digital resources, to collaborating with teachers to develop taxonomies of digital literacy and/or digital literacy lessons and activities.

Whatever the approach, it is useful to break down ‘digital literacy’ into some component parts and skills that can be explicitly taught and learnt. For example, some things to consider include:

  • Finding digital content: focusing on developing searching skills across a range of search engines, directing students towards validated, expert sources — like our resources for learning  and EPIC.
  • Evaluating digital content: using strategies like the CRAAP test to evaluate the quality of digital sources, or using ‘opposing viewpoints in context’ within EPIC to critically compare/contrast sources and perspectives.
  • Using digital content: learners can be guided how to effectively use digital content as a part of an inquiry, and develop skills as content curators to use and share digital resources effectively and responsibly.

What to do now?

From new entrants to Year 13, all learners can develop digital literacy. This is an exciting challenge for educators. Looking ahead to 2017, some timely questions to consider are:

  • What is currently being done in your school to develop digital literacy and citizenship?
  • What could be done to increase all learners’ digital literacy capabilities?

Further information

For further information and inspiration, you may want to have a look at:

Image: Truth or Consequences by einalem on Flickr

By Samuel Beyer

Samuel is the Senior Specialist (Online Learning) for Services to Schools.

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