We regularly use digital texts in the classroom. From Smartboards, to iPads to Chromebooks, and desktop computers, we routinely incorporate technology in instruction and it is typically a collaborative process with our students. As educators continue to unpack the layers and meanings of 21st Century Skills and all that this entails to prepare students for success in a global environment, this requires a broader understanding and definition of texts. Such broadening results in viewing literacies as a shifting, evolving, and dynamic force that extends beyond print to digital.
For teachers one of the major challenges of fully embracing this conception is access to technology. Another is fear. Fear of relinquishing control over how and what information is received in the digitally mediated lives of our students, and fear for our students’ safety as we continue to develop an understanding and raise questions about digital citizenship. While we also grapple with these issues, we see the value of making everyday use of technology in the classroom. Our students enter the classroom more and more technologically savvy, and when they have access to the tools and methods that interest and motivate them, they’re excited to learn. Additionally, it results in more fluid power relationships between students and teachers. This makes our classrooms energetic spaces where new possibilities emerge each day. This is not to say that we don’t experience challenges! However, the issues we grapple with inspire long problem-solving sessions (thanks Panera Bread Company!) where we voice our frustrations and concerns and then ask, “How can we fix this?”
Access to technology is a real frustration that many teachers face. Continuing to raise this issue in informal and formal settings with colleagues, administrators, and parents, can be helpful for brainstorming solutions. The PTSA, foundations, and grants can be instrumental in helping teachers find funding to help increase the amount of computers in classrooms and school computer labs. Chromebooks, compared to iPads, are better on the budget as you can purchase two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad. These books can provide students with Internet access and to Google Docs in order to work collaboratively with peers and teachers.
Another challenge in this digital age is helping students to assess the validity of the digital texts they encounter. In addition to learning to read print-based texts critically, students need such guidance with digital texts. We teach students that all texts are angled and therefore should be questioned and critiqued. We provide our students with six tips to help them determine if a website is credible. We’ve synthesized a number of recommendations we’ve researched regarding website credibility to 6 checks for our students. When our students are determining whether a website is a good source we ask them to look for:
- domain name (.org, .com, .edu, .gov)
- site design
- writing style
Of paramount importance to us is keeping our students safe and helping them develop a sense of digital ethics by using technology responsibly. To this end, we have found these instructional methods successful:
- Working in groups is effective for younger students and is easier to monitor.
- Have students navigate online with a specific purpose. Provide graphic organizers and a focus for online work.
- Create digital bins. These “living folders” contain links to digital resources gathered specifically for students’ use. They can be collaborative folders or teacher-created depending on the age and experience of your students and the purpose for instruction. (Look for our next post on digital bins shortly.)
- Have ongoing discussions about digital citizenship and digital responsibility and set clear, firm consequences for behavior that does not meet the expectations you establish with your students.
While there are definite challenges to helping our students to both navigate digital texts and become responsible digital citizens, it is important for teachers and schools to engage in ongoing discussions with students and parents as we continue to determine best practices in this digital age.