Digital literacy

In recent years, it would seem that every educational web site you visit refers to, if only in passing, the term 'digital literacy', but what does it actually mean and why has it become so imperative that we all, especially professional educators, become digitally literate to enable us to live and work effectively in the early 21st century?

One definition of digital literacy is “the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology.” It refers to a person's understanding and ability to make an informed decision on which digital tool to use for a specific everyday task and their respective skill in using that tool to produce a successful outcome.

In the mid 19th century, it was realised how important it was that children should be able to read and write in order to raise their intellect, employability and hence their potential personal economic well-being. In later years, this allowed the development of a national workforce that had the ability to become highly trained and skilled in their respective fields. This resulted in the UK becoming a dominant commercial and industrial force in the world and consequentially improved the nation's wealth.

Late in the 20th century, a new literacy began to command our attention; a literacy that could not be ignored by anyone who wanted to embrace new opportunities - digital literacy.

As technology advances at an unrelenting pace and impacts every aspect of our working life and leisure time, the expectations we place on each other with regard to our individual abilities to interact with technology - our own digital literacy, continues to rise and this also applies to our personal abilities to understand and rapidly learn how to use any new piece of software or hardware. It's intriguing that the common perception of young people feeling exasperated by, what they see as, the general low digital literacy of older generations maybe true with regard to a certain functionality of say, a mobile phone or the intricacies of getting to the next level on a specific game; however, as any ICT teacher will tell you, their apparent vast digital knowledge vapourises when they need to construct a spreadsheet or design a database. It is only because, as children or adolescents, they are able to spend a great deal of time playing games or searching every nook and cranny of their respective phone's operating system, that they acquire so much knowledge, whereas adults have to deal with the mundanity of careers and home life and therefore don't have the time.

As adults, and especially as education professionals, we must not only have extensive (and constantly improving) technological knowledge and skills, but also possess a broader digital literacy as a consequence of the perpetually developing digital abilities of students. Ten years ago it would have been unheard of for a teacher, or senior member of staff, to have to deal with a 'cyber-bullying' incident or, due to the phenomena of 'collecting friends' on a global scale through social-networking sites, having to be vigilant of the possibility of children unknowingly falling victim to a 'troll' or an online predatory paedophile. In this day and age, however, the digital literacies of school staff not only have to include how to source information on the web or present text in an infographic, but are also required to have knowledge and an awareness of the wider social (and sometimes darker) aspects of technology.

Nowadays, we place much greater expectations on the quality and professionalism of products, documents and files that we use and receive - how surprised would you be if you received a hand written letter from your bank, even if it contained reasonably good hand writing? There is also a great deal of emphasis on the originality of documents. Historically, teachers relied on their own judgement and intuition to spot if students had colluded on a piece of homework; however, in 2013, the digital literacies of teachers should encompass the capability to use plagiarism software to check the authenticity of students work to ensure that they have not just lifted material from the web.

For more information about digital literacy, download your free 'What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Digital Literacy' report from E-safety Support

Written by Steve Gresty on September 04, 2013 10:21

Advice from Naace about the Ofsted e-safety briefing

In the latest news from Naace, their CEO, Mark Chambers has stated that "The whole issue of use of technology in a school is rightly a matter on which the Head and Governors must exercise leadership. This is not only a matter of helping children stay safe. We can see from schools gaining the ICT Mark and 3rd Millennium Learning Award just how much a school's educational offering to its pupils is improved when the school takes full advantage of what technology offers. It is great to see Ofsted acknowledging the 'unimaginable opportunities' for learning now available to learners in schools who embrace technology enhanced learning.”

Naace also comment that some schools are dealing with e-safety successfully by engaging their young people in the e-safety process and they ensure school systems are not 'locked down', so that pupils can gain experience of how to stay safe online when not in school.

This highlights the Ofsted e-safety recommendation to "manage the transition from locked down systems to more managed systems to help pupils understand how to manage risk; to provide them with richer learning experiences; and to bridge the gap between systems at school and the more open systems outside school."

At E-safety Support we are committed to helping schools to create a comprehensive school policy on e-safety, which will help to keep pupils and staff safe online. Find out more about the E-safety Support school resources available now.

‘Naace is the professional association for those who are concerned with advancing education through the appropriate use of technology. The Association includes teachers, advisers, inspectors and other technology leaders in its membership. Naace exists to:

  • create a forum for its Members to engage in debate about the role and use of technology within education;

  • advise organisations concerned with the development of hardware, software and technology learning resources which support technology in education;

  • provide up-to-date information, support and professional development to Members on new and changing aspects of technology;

  • act as a focus for advice to government and others concerned with the development and review of national strategies for technology in education.

Naace’s work is supported by the technology industry and the Association is grateful to E-safety Support for its support. Naace does not endorse particular products, but joins with its Sponsoring Partners as a group in helping to promote effective use of technology in education.’

Written by Safeguarding Essentials on August 23, 2013 09:07

Game-based Learning

“The difference between mere doing and learning, or between mere entertainment and learning, is not a difference in terms of activity. It is not that one is mindless and the other thoughtful, that one is hard and the other easy, or that one is fun and the other arduous. It is that learning – whatever form it takes- changes who we are by changing our ability to participate, to belong, to negotiate meaning. (Wenger 1998)

In recent years there has been a considerable increase in interest surrounding the use of computer games for learning, mainly as a consequence of their ubiquitous nature among school-age students - ask any typical class ‘who plays computer games?’ and you’ll be unlikely to have any student without their hand up. Indeed, in a BBC research study carried out in 2005 it was found that 78% of 16-19 year-olds play computer games and 87% of 8-11s and 88% of 12-15s played games on a games console at home in the UK.

Without a doubt, the attention and focus that games can command from students must be the envy of any teacher, couple this with their incredible power to motivate young people and instil in them a strong desire to progress and improve and the question that has to be asked is “what if we could somehow capture and use the thirst to learn that games manifest within their players, in our classrooms?”

It is with the aspiration to tap into this high-level of engagement that educational computer games are now finding their way into teachers’ resource kits; however, what are the skills and attributes that students can learn from game-based learning?

Observed and anecdotal research has demonstrated that engagement in computer games provides far more developmental benefits than just refined hand to eye coordination, offering genuine progression in spatial awareness; resource organisation; team-working and communication; literacy improvement and a variety of problem solving skills as well as encouraging players to reflect on their on-going performance within the gaming environment.

Research also suggests that playing computer games can encourage students to deepen and broaden their learning experiences by developing their awareness and interest in other external subject content. In their article entitled ‘Public Pedagogy through Video Games’ (2009) Gee and Hayes describe the experiences of a young girl called ‘Jade’ who, developed her ‘Photoshop’ skills by designing ‘virtual’ clothes, for characters within the video game ‘The Sims’, which gave her advanced graphic design skills and by selling the clothes through an online store, also encouraged her to gain commercial knowledge and awareness too.

So, if games can offer so much to education why isn’t there a rush to adopt the beneficial aspects of gaming in formal schooling? Well, here lies the problem! Research has clearly shown that the advantages of game-based learning are primarily situated outside of traditional pedagogy, the learning process and achievements manifesting themselves as incidental consequences of an activity rather than the main learning objective. This process is termed ‘informal learning’ and incorporating it into traditional school-based pedagogy has been shown to be fraught with difficulties due to:

• Games not being an easy fit into school culture, curricula and practices,
• A reluctance, within traditional communities of practice within schools, to embrace fundamental changes to teaching and learning practice as a consequence of the historically strong and deep links to long-established pedagogy,
• A lack of knowledge of the learning potential of games within teaching communities, indeed a lack of knowledge of games, period!

As a result of these points, a large number of attempts to incorporate games into the school curriculum have been unsuccessful, in spite of valiant efforts by innovative teachers and the gaming business due to the games that are solely created with the intention to educate failing dismally to engage their audience, the perception that genuinely engaging games don’t offer sufficient academic value and their inability to correlate well with the school curriculum

That said, there are those, however, who continue to believe that games can be introduced into a rigid, curriculum-lead school environment.

‘Serious Games’ are games that have commercial gameplay and game environment but have genuine academic content fundamentally designed into them. An example of this type of educational game is ‘The Small Business Game’, developed by the same company who retail the previously mentioned ‘The Sims’ range of games. In this game, participants run a football retail shop and the focus is on the learning of students whilst maintaining the ‘feel’ of a commercial game that students will be more familiar with.

Another method that has been employed to introduce games into the curriculum is the use of game-making software as the curriculum. ‘Thinking Worlds’ is a good example of this, whereby games design becomes a subject with formal curricular accreditation. An additional example is ‘Missionmaker’ from ‘Immersive Education’ a game design environment that is endorsed by one of the top three UK awarding bodies.

It would therefore seem that games can play a role within the academic setting; however, it also appears that there is a long and complex path to tread to progress game-based learning from just another teaching resource to being a fundamental conduit to inspirational, engaging and motivational learning. As a final thought, there is a steadily increasing number of educationalists who believe that the benefits and opportunities offered by game-based learning is signalling a tipping point whereby the victorian model of education that has endured to the present day, must finally move aside to allow the creation of a system that has new technologies, such as games, at its very core and that can stimulate 21st century students with genuinely exciting and inspiring learning.

If you have any comments or teaching tips on game-based learning, please contact E-safety Support using the form below

Written by Steve Gresty on August 21, 2013 08:01


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