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How to Help Your Students Build Digital Fluency

Model balanced media use by infusing tech into class routines.

Jamie Knowles | February 13, 2018

One of the many decisions we make as teachers is how to approach technology in a balanced way. The digital world is our students' world, and tech has the potential to engage and inspire them. But we also want to avoid contributing to digital distraction.

One approach to finding this balance is to thoughtfully integrate tech into the culture of our class. By infusing it into the routines and practices that we and our students regularly engage in, students develop digital fluency: a broad set of skills related to tech use.

Digital fluency goes beyond knowing how to use any particular app or device. It's a general mindset and know-how that helps students use technology to achieve their own interests and goals, whatever those may be. This helps students also learn media balance, because the more they see technology as a tool to achieving other things, the more they see it as just that -- a tool -- and not as something to be used uncritically.

So what does this actually look like in the classroom? Here are a few specific ways to infuse tech into your classroom culture.

Dig deeper into your school's learning management system (LMS). 

While many schools train teachers to take attendance, enter grades, or even post assignments on an LMS (like Canvas or Schoology), they may not train them on using its other functions. For example, many LMSes have a communication tool that allows regular, accessible communication with students and families. The more you use it, the more it becomes the "bulletin board" for your class. Many LMSes also include a place to post and share lessons and curriculum. Sharing with colleagues, students, parents, and other members of the community help you both collaborate effectively and strengthen the culture of your classroom.

Incorporate devices into your lesson planning.

Using tech can enhance many aspects of direct instruction and independent practice and can either be done whole-class or in stations. This frees you up to circulate and give one-on-one support or pull a small group. For example, instead of giving a presentation in class and having students take notes, publish the presentation on Google Docs and include directions for students to take notes. Then they can go through it at their own pace. Another idea is to have students take a practice quiz using your LMS or another assessment app while you circulate.

Use a classroom-management app.

While the eventual goal is for students to be intrinsically motivated to treat each other well and be productive collaborators, those behaviors must often start with daily practice. One way to get students practicing the behaviors for a positive classroom culture is to use a classroom-management app. Consider this an enhancement to the tried-and-true strategy of positive narration, where verbal feedback focuses on students who are exhibiting the behaviors you want to see. Using this type of app allows you, with the tap of your phone, to award points for participation in discussion, active listening, showing empathy, or whatever categories you create. Points can be awarded to individuals, groups, or -- my personal favorite -- the whole class. Using an app also gives the added benefit of real-time accumulation of points, so students get immediate feedback on their participation and behavior. You can also tie rewards to the accumulation of points as a class, so that students encourage each other to exhibit positive behavior.