<span class='p-name'>Digital Literacy: Developing Critical Thinking</span>

Digital Literacy: Developing Critical Thinking

I’m honored to join my colleagues and friends, Drs. Elena Forzani and Troy Hicks as speakers at the 2021 Wisconsin Literacy Research Symposium.

This year’s theme is Digital Literacy: Developing Critical Thinking.

The past year has revealed the many ways in which digital literacy poses opportunities and challenges. Literacy educators must navigate the multiple ways in which students are experiencing literacy within and around increasing technology, the Internet, and social media. In my session, I hope to push our thinking on what counts as we empower our students to be critical thinkers when the Internet is the dominant text of our generation.

My slide deck

In this session, I’ll outline my thoughts about consuming, curating, and creating digital content. You can read more about this in the NCTE Definition of Digital Literacy, as well as this recent pub in TechTrends.

You can review my slides here, or embedded below.

Focus Questions

I’ll speak with participants for 30 minutes, and then they will head off to breakout sessions to discuss the following prompts:

  • In what ways do you consume, online, digital, and/or multimodal content?
  • In what ways do you curate online, digital, and/or multimodal content?
  • In what ways do you create online, digital, and/or multimodal content?
  • What does this mean for teaching, learning, and assessment in your classroom?

Please note, although we’re focusing on pushing students as critical thinkers in these sessions, I’d rather focus on empowering educators and supporting them as they engage in these practices….before moving on to students.

Panelist Questions

I’ll sit on a panel with Drs. Forzani and Hicks later in the day, and we’ll hopefully be asked the following questions. I’m using this space to brainstorm a bit and collect my thoughts.

What are some of the immediate and long-term challenges you see with regards to digital literacy for the K-12 classroom and how would you propose we go about meeting those challenges?

I have two major concerns with the current state of digital literacy in the K-12 classroom.

First, I don’t believe this is what we wanted from the web. As these technologies started to impact our society a little over a decade ago, we had lofty dreams and aspirations. I don’t think these are the digital, social spaces we want for ourselves…or our students.

Second, I think we have a lot to learn about the web, and the one constant is change. The challenge is that we (many literacy educators and researchers) have moved on to other areas and lost a bit of focus on what we could and should be doing.

To address these concerns, I think educators and researchers need to be a lot more vocal. We need to find opportunities to educate, empower, and advocate for the web we want and need. We need to make these discussions a lot more approachable and accessible for all.

If you were to have the opportunity to speak to stakeholders (policymakers, administrators, teachers, families, students, etc.) regarding digital literacy, what would you say to them?  

I may be a bit naive and ignore real power in our systems, but I would talk directly to our students. Most of the really interesting things that I’m seeing involve youth stepping up and speaking out. They’re skillfully using digital texts and tools to push their agenda. I may not make any friends with this statement…but I don’t believe adults know how to use digital, social spaces.

Increasingly we’re seeing youth skillfully use digital practices to push their agenda, and narrative. Take some time and Google the Parkland Kids…Greta and the Climate Kids…TikTok teens…K-pop Stans…and plenty other spaces and places.

My message to the youth would be…keep it up. We need to learn from you.

How do you see digital literacy reshaping how we define literacy in the K-12 classroom and in our homes?  What disparities do you see, if any?

I think we need to acknowledge that most of our lives have been disrupted and we’ve been forced into digital-only connections as a result of the coronavirus. Before our lives were altered, we engaged in a debate about screentime and youth. Now that it appears we’re slowly moving on from the global pandemic, I think many educational systems are looking forward to getting back to normal. I think this is a mistake as well.

I think we need to use the pandemic as an opportunity to reset our thinking and expectations about digital practices in our lives.

What areas of digital literacy need further research?

I think we need to spend a great deal of time investigating the implications of big data, surveillance capitalism, and our identities as we use not only social networking tools, but also instructional tools in our classrooms.

We need a lot of research, and development of curricular materials focused on privacy, security, encryption, data safety, and taking care of our digital hygiene.

I also think research is needed to look at intersectionality and technology. Intersectionality is a way of thinking that takes into consideration the perspectives and experiences of individuals from underrepresented groups and marginalized populations. An intersectional approach recognizes that one’s social location ― often shaped by race, class, gender, and other dimensions of who we are ― creates multiple, interconnected identifies and distinct experiences. Employing an intersectional framework acknowledges that there are social systems in place that create barriers and challenges for some individuals, while simultaneously providing privilege and power for others.

What would be the one thing you would have teachers/researchers take away regarding digital literacy?  ​​

We cannot lose high touch when we move to high tech.

Take time for the things that make us human.

Supplemental Readings

The following supplemental readings were shared with participants.


Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

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