Inside the Classroom

Teaching Digital Literacy to Our Students

This summer the New Media Consortium (NMC) held its Summer Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Students who attended talked about the misconception that they have expert technological skills. They’ve been pushing back on generational generalizations about their tech-savviness, saying that some of these high expectations and assumptions regarding their digital skills have hindered them academically.

Donald Leu, the Director of The New Literacies Lab at the University of Connecticut, says, “[Students are] sophisticated with texting, with social networking, with video—YouTube especially—and with gaming, but where they are woefully, dreadfully, inadequately prepared is with reading online information and using it to learn new ideas.” Alexandra Pickett, the Director of New York State University’s Center for Online Teaching Excellence, echoes this impression, noting that many of her students know how to use online platforms for fun, but have no idea how to leverage them for academic and professional purposes.

Different studies also support these notions. Among 13-year-olds, one study found that merely 4% of them could evaluate a website’s credibility and another study found that less than 8% of them know how to write a proper email with a subject line, appropriate greeting, and correct recipient.

Digital literacy skills come in all shapes and sizes—from knowing how to use technology in general to knowing how to use it efficiently and appropriately. And a major contributing factor to this range in skills is whether or not a family can afford digital devices and internet service at home. In 2016, 10.4 million students gained high-speed internet access, but 11.6 million are still without the minimum connectivity required for digital learning.

Students want us to know they aren’t as tech-savvy as many assume.

At the NMC Conference, students on a panel shared their experiences with technology (and lack thereof), as well as suggestions for helping schools set up students for success.

A college senior said, “We are not very tech savvy coming into college. Other than playing games and basic Microsoft® Office, there are many things we don’t know.”

Another college student said she lost points on every essay she submitted for a whole semester because she didn’t know how to properly use Microsoft® Word. She’s a first-generation college student and never had access to Microsoft® Word at home because she couldn’t pay for it. When asked why she didn’t seek help from her school, she said she was deeply embarrassed about not living up to “tech-native” expectations. She thinks schools should offer free access to some of these common software programs, as many students and families don’t have the funds to purchase them.

Overall, students say that it’s important to challenge the assumption that they’re all digital natives. This begins with educating teachers about the technological diversity in their classroom and helping students learn without shame. One college student suggests hosting workshops at the high school level to help students explore different online platforms and programs, such as Google Docs, can help them be successful in college and beyond.

Read more about the digital skills gap and why it’s so important to teach digital literacy early on.

Online courseware electives such as “Online Learning and Digital Citizenship” can help students become successful online learners and responsible digital citizens.

About the Author


Ashleigh Lutz

Ashleigh graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She spent over three years in higher education developing resources and helping students succeed in online courses. During her tenure at Edgenuity, Ashleigh was eager to support Where Learning Clicks and the team’s commitment to helping teachers and students meet important goals and explore their passions. In addition to writing, a few of Ashleigh’s favorite things include rock climbing, chocolate, and cats.