Digital Literacy

In the spring of 2014, the school I was in embarked on a brave and noble course; to put a laptop in the hands of every student.

Not a school laptop, their own laptop.

We had a broad diversity of students from significantly different socio-economic backgrounds, and while some were happy to bring a laptop from home, financial supports were identified and brought in for those who couldn’t.

I was involved in this project, and I have to say I was proud to be.  We got it right, and kids that otherwise would simply never have had access to a mobile device, got one. Not just in class for a particular activity but to keep.  They could use it during lunches, before and after school and at night.

There was a lot of work too to make the teachers ready for the change.  How would your lesson planning change if you knew every student had access to a computer?  I worked with the school technicians closely too.  We had to ask ‘what will it mean for our network and wifi when the number of active devices trebles or quadruples overnight?’.  All fascinating challenges, all were engaged with thoroughly and effectively.

All but one.

The next year, when the students actually started turning up with their new devices there was a buzz of excitement.  It was incredible seeing some of the activities and learning opportunities that the staff had concocted and were eager to begin.

And it seemed to be going more-or-less smoothly for the first few months.

There was the occasional issue of students forgetting their laptop, or forgetting to charge it.  Kids will be kids.  No big deal.

But it was a big deal.

It was a big deal that I admit I didn’t even clock, until one fine winter’s morning, four months into term, the technician called me down, to tell me they had found the problem with the student’s laptop, a problem I had asked them to address earlier in the week.

The student didn’t know her login.

I laughed. I assumed they were joking.  I think it dawned on me, mid-sentence when I said “Of course she knows her login, she’s been logging into her laptop for four months!”. But she hadn’t been.  The student didn’t know what her login was, or indeed what it meant to ‘log in’.  She didn’t know her password, and she didn’t know how to find out.

This was one of a few students who had been forgetting her laptop.  And forgetting to charge it. And having technical difficulties with it, and having it in the shop for repairs.

Every teacher has seen this kind of behaviour before, of course.

Forgetting books, and copy books, forgetting pens, and when all else fails, upsetting the teacher or the lesson enough to get thrown out of it, and all the many, many ways low literacy students learn to ‘get away’ with having low literacy.

I spent the next year trying to setup a ‘crash course’ for the next years incoming students; to cover all the basics they would need to use their digital device.  I started asking other teachers.  And parents.  And counsillors. And it turns out there’s an awful lot of things we expect young people to just know when it comes to the digital world that they often don’t ever get explicitly taught.

Log in. Email. Upload. Download. Share. Copy. Paste. Click. Save. Load. Website. Wifi. Link. Send.

This; wondering what does it mean to be online, and what are the basic skills and information needed to participate in the digital world, was the beginning of an increasingly large percentage of my attention, that can be called Digital Literacy.

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