Digital Literacy Isn’t Just for Students…

As technology adapts and students become increasingly “plugged in”, the importance of a curriculum that incorporates digital literacy has grown.

This is something we, as educators, are all aware of. I know that our department has a digital literacy presentation that we go over with all students at the beginning of the year, regardless of grade level or ability, because we understand how important it is for our kids to be able to navigate an increasingly technological world. Buzz words like fake news and tech native have been inserted into the curricular vernacular in the past few years so that teachers are teaching both tech fluency and course content simultaneously. At least, they should be.

In the past few months, Covid-19’s rapid spread has turned our world upside down. It has affected everything from financial transactions to social ones, and educational infrastructure has been caught up in the tumultuousness of it all. For the first time in, well, ever, we are having to ask our students nationwide to forget everything they know about traditional classroom learning. We are asking them to self-schedule, self-pace, navigate tech classrooms without continual face-to-face support, and still learn something in the process. For those of us who took online classes in college, we know how challenging it can be to learn in a remote environment, particularly since there is a problem with technological equity in this country.

But here’s the thing. Best teaching practices should have been preparing students for this sort of scenario. Issues like student-led assignments or projects, student autonomy, self-advocacy, and digital literacy should have prepared kids for this brave new world we are all living in. However, this is not the case for many. Millions of students across the country have begun trying to navigate an environment for which they are ill-prepared. And it’s not just the students. Teachers are just as ill-equipped to handle this transition.

There could be many reasons for this. I know my own personal fault in the classroom is that I often expect students to magically understand concepts that I feel are just basic common sense. This leads to gaps in my instruction, and I don’t always explicitly teach concepts that I should probably be covering. I am continually reminded that I absolutely cannot make assumptions about what my students do and do not know. And, being a second year teacher, I am consistently astounded with how uncomfortable many students are in a tech environment considering how much time they spend on their phones and social media.

I think one of the problems, though, is that many teachers just are not willing to move forward with this new generation. For every teacher that is experimenting in their classroom, there is at least one who is still relying on lecture and worksheets to get their students through the year. These are the classrooms that are instructor-centered, rather than focusing on the student, and they are the classrooms where many teachers feel most comfortable because they are the ones where the teacher has the most (illusion of) control. I say this not to shame any teacher (because really, there is enough teacher-shaming that goes on), but to bring awareness to how important it is that we push ourselves out of our comfort zone and try something new. And I include myself in this. Because even though I try to constantly bring fresh ideas and approaches into my classroom, I often neglect some of the really important foundational instruction.

Best teaching practices are constantly evolving because the world is constantly changing. Teenagers are not the same as they were even ten short years ago. So to rely on practices that served students in the Industrial Era is to handicap our kids. This has never been more evident than it is right now.

In order to prepare our students for the world they will be entering, we must be willing to adapt and evolve. We must focus on growth, not on grades, because that is the environment that most encourages critical thinking and ownership of learning. We must incorporate technology, even if we are wildly uncomfortable with it ourselves. We must be willing to learn.

For some reason, despite everything that says a stagnant teacher is an unsuccessful teacher, there are many educators out there who are immovable. We all know them—many of us work with at least one of them. Some of us are them. And they are the ones who are struggling most with this transition.

Covid-19 has brought changes to our country that are reminiscent of sci-fi and horror films. This is how many zombie apocalypses have begun, is it not? A mysterious new disease that spreads rapidly and has no cure…yep, pretty sure I’ve seen that storyline. And while this quarantine is not the result of a zombie uprising, it has still had a major impact on lives across the country. And, a lot of those changes are going to have reverberating consequences long after we get a handle on this disease.

I think this experience, more than anything that has come before, highlights the changes that need to take place in education. Rather than lamenting our deserted classrooms, we should be embracing this shove forward. Because as awful as the catalyst is, I do believe it’s a catalyst for change. I say this with the acknowledgement that the struggles faced during this transition go beyond being comfortable with technology. I understand that we have an equity issue, where many of our students do not have access to technology when not at school. I understand that childcare is a real problem for many families who will have to choose between a paycheck and staying home with their kids. I feel for the parents who now have to help teach a curriculum they may know nothing about. And my heart breaks for those students who rely on school services but may not have access to them at this time. And that’s not even covering students who are experiencing this illness first hand in some way. For the people going through these struggles and more, I see you.

But there are things we can do. And there is an opportunity for educational reform that has not existed prior to this moment. It is our responsibility as educators to bring our educational system from the Industrial Era to the Age of Technology. We must better prepare ourselves so that we can help our students navigate this new challenge.

Just know that there is no change without challenge, and that we have the opportunity to find some positive in this situation. Teachers have already responded to this world of quarantines and pandemic in amazing ways, and the nation has looked on, astounded. How many teacher appreciation memes and videos are circulating on social media to prove how impactful we educators are? How you handle this moment, and the example you set for your students and your communities, can make all the difference.

Take care of yourself. Take care of your families. And know that we’re all in this together.

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