According to HR experts, when it comes to the preparedness of school leavers and students for the 21st-century workplace, digital literacy is so important that it should be part of general literacy education, along with numeric and language literacy. So, early exposure to digital knowledge, critical thinking, and online social engagement is crucial if schools want to make sure their pupils have the skills needed to live, work, and thrive in our digital society.
But, just as important, as well as preparing students for tomorrow, digital literacy can also help to keep them safe and protected today.
Keeping your students safe online with digital literacy
While our online world is providing unprecedented learning and collaboration opportunities, without careful management, it can also put children increased levels of risk. For example, technology can make students vulnerable to criminals and bullies, and leave them open to misinformation and manipulation. Against such threats, it can be difficult for teachers to know what is needed to make sure their students are protected and safe from harm.
The uncomfortable truth is, even if your school adheres to data protection, health and safety, and other critical legislation, without a more specific focus on digital literacy across the curriculum, it could be leaving students – and educators – vulnerable.
The following tips will help your school to keep pupils safe online:
Policies and processes
- Review your Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)
- Carry out regular training to ensure that everyone is aware of the online safety rules and expectations
- Establish robust reporting measures and processes to respond to any incidents.
- Engage with teachers to find out what they need to teach digital literacy (e.g. guides, case studies, videos, training, regular drop-in sessions, etc.). Ensuring buy-in is vital to your school’s overall success
- Identify a member of staff for to take the lead when it comes to providing digital literacy governance
- Create a digital literacy focus group to help drive and inspire change while increasing awareness of digital literacy across your school
- Conduct a digital literacy audit to find out who in your school is already teaching digital literacy as part of their lessons
- Make sure students are aware of reporting measures they can use if anything makes them uncomfortable, or if they have concerns for themselves or another pupil.
- Make sure teachers are acutely aware of issues such as online grooming, sexual exploitation, cyberbullying, and sexting
- Teach students about online safety. The NSPCC has collated lesson plans and online guidance to help teachers with this
- Adopt a curriculum led approach. Digital literacy doesn’t exist in isolation, and the best way to teach digital literacy is to figure out what that means to a particular discipline
- Teaching digital literacy requires an ethical dimension, so make sure pupils understand what it means to behave well online, and how to act in environments where the public and private worlds are blurred
- Digital literacy is about more than keeping pupils safe; it’s also about getting them to challenge what they see online. So, if you are going to do more than pay lip service to the importance of digital literacy, you should also examine topics such as ‘fake news,’ covert online advertising, and body image within lessons.
- Create ‘modern’ classrooms. Collaborative learning, student-led learning, and flipped classrooms are gaining popularity (and are supported by the rise of edtech). By helping teachers to instil deep learning, such evidence-based pedagogy promotes digital literacy
- Use digital teaching tools to help teachers embrace digital literacy.
While today’s students are being labelled as “digital natives”, when it comes to safety they are often no more literate than their parents. So, while we wait for a new digital literacy curriculum to be implemented, schools must do everything they can to help pupils to stay safe and thrive.