The Growing Need for Digital Literacy

It’s no secret that the bulk of research is now being done online, both in and outside of the classroom. Whether you’re a student, instructor or researcher, there’s no faster or easier way to get the information you want than to head to the web. But just because the internet has improved access to information doesn’t mean it has filtered the quality of that information. While the web may put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, it also opens up a new world of misinformation, falsehoods and outright lies.

Though the term “fake news” has been in the public eye a great deal this past year, the phenomenon isn’t just limited to news. For any type of information one seeks out online, they can find both legitimate sources written by experts, or dubious sources with questionable information.

This, in turn, makes digital literacy one of the most important skills that any student can be taught.

According to the American Library Association, digital literacy is “The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

But, while schools have been rapidly stepping up their efforts to teach technical skills, many students have been lagging behind on the cognitive skills that power the use of that technology. A major challenge for students currently is evaluating information and the sources they come from.

The ability to not just find information online, but to evaluate the quality of the information and then communicate it effectively to others is an invaluable skill and one that is crucial not just for education, but for society as a whole.

That makes the absence of digital literacy from classrooms all the more glaring. While students are taught how to use the internet and how to cite sources they find online, they aren’t consistently taught about how to think critically about the information they are receiving.

Furthermore, digital literacy isn’t just about students doing better on their assignments or accessing better information online, it’s also about keeping them safe on the web.

Many of the people who post misinformation online don’t do it simply for laughs, but instead for the purpose of exploiting others. Whether it’s attempted scams, hacking, identity theft or worse, knowing how to question the information you find on the internet is the first step to keeping oneself safe online.

As such, critical evaluation of information found on the web is a process that can and should be taught. Skeptical online users are more likely to find accurate, credible information, less likely to disseminate bad information and far less likely to fall for scams or other traps online.

Teaching students how to use technology is just the first step. Digital literacy as a whole utilizes technology as a tool and teaches a process for validating information that students can use in all parts of their digital lives. The time to begin teaching digital literacy is now.

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This post was contributed by Jonathan Bailey, a foremost expert in plagiarism. He has spent over 16 years fighting plagiarism professionally and currently blogs on Plagiarism Today, where he raises awareness about the importance of digital literacy and the societal effects of plagiarism.