Public Relations Today
By Guest Post • April 7, 2016

5 Ways To Develop Your Students’ Digital Literacy

This guest post comes from Michael Yarbrough, a former school teacher currently working as an ESL tutor. Michael says one of the best parts of his job is encouraging and supporting his students. You can connect with him on Twitter or Google+.


What do I mean by digital literacy? Well, I mean a student's ability to use the internet safely and effectively. Your students have their favorite web browser, search engines, and social media platforms, but do they know how to use those tools responsibly?

Do they understand how easy it is to plagiarize and how to avoid it? Do they grasp basic copyright laws and how those laws impact their work?

Do they know how to use online educational materials, how to stay safe on the internet, or what sources are considered trustworthy?

There's a lot to consider. I’ve developed five suggestions to enhance students’ digital literacy.

Benchmark a starting point

Before providing recommendations on smart internet usage, you must understand what your students already know and what they don’t. Try posing the following questions to your students to feel out a starting point:

  • What is plagiarism?

  • What is copyright infringement?

  • How do you properly cite sources and references?

  • What are a few examples of how you stay safe online?

  • What websites can be considered trustworthy? Untrustworthy?

Support student research skills

There are many ways we can attack digital literacy. I think one of the best things we can do is build student research and inquiry skills.

If students learn how to research properly, this will serve them throughout the rest of their lives.  I always tell my students to check information twice. We all know the power - and the questionable credibility of information from Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia articles that are well-referenced can lead you to original sources that are great.

There are also plenty of digital libraries for conducting research. As with any research tool, students will quickly find personal favorites. It's teaching students how to navigate these digital waters and judge an information source that is so important. 

Have the plagiarism talk

The plagiarism problem is as serious as ever, which means you must take time to educate students on it.

Cover different kinds of plagiarism, your school’s policy on it, what consequences students will face if they plagiarize, plagiarism detection tools, and how students should reference works they consulted while writing their papers.

A few words about the rules of proper citation. Citation rules depends on the style you choose – MLA, APA, Harvard, Chicago, Turabian, etc. Explain the differences between them and be clear about which one(s) you want students to use. 

Another option: suggest using citation generators (EasyBib, Citation Builder) to check that their citations are adequate.

Illustrate how to use social media for education

Social media platforms can be used for more than just sharing vacation photos. They can also be used for interacting and collaborating on academic work or learning new things. 

Explore ways that you and your students can create digital dialogues where you discuss assignments, organize projects, share useful materials, and more.

Always support online student safety

Being safe on the internet is a vital lesson for students. These are a few key rules I share with my students:

  • Always pay attention to what you click. Does a link look credible? How? Why?

  • And on that note, don’t sign in to any suspicious websites via your social media profiles.

  • Routinely change your passwords in social media and email; make your passwords complex.

  • Install security software and run updates to protect your computer from attacks.

  • Never give strangers access to your computer or phone.

These are things that have worked for me. I’d love for you to share your experience with digital literacy in the classroom using the comment area below. When we share our experiences, everyone benefits.


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