Today’s students have come of age in an era of digital media. Yet proficiency with YouTube and Facebook does not necessarily mean that your child is digitally literate—that he has the technological skills to meet the digital demands required to succeed in school and life.
What Is Digital Literacy?
The American Library Association defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”
The demand for digital know-how has increased dramatically in recent years. Students today routinely are expected to e-mail coursework, slideshows, documents, etc. to instructors and/or classmates, access syllabi and assignments online, work with peers virtually on group projects, and engage in class discussions via chat rooms, forums, or blogs. And those are just the basics.
To succeed in this digital environment, students must be able to retrieve information rapidly and accurately and consolidate learning into long-term memory quickly and proficiently, which is challenging for some with LD.
For those with weak working memory, as well as difficulties with rapid processing of information, including weaknesses in oral and text language, it is critically important to develop not only their traditional literacy skills, but also their digital literacy skills.
Electronic reading will likely be part of the mix. It provides students with access to digital tools that are not available in traditional reading formats. These include: highlighted, text-to-speech reading of text, embedded electronic dictionary and thesaurus, picture dictionary, study tools, writing tools such as word prediction and speech recognition, semantic mapping, electronic fact gathering and organization, automatic formatting of sources, and much more. Most important for students with LD, digital text and electronic reading programs provide critical access to textual materials that these students might otherwise not be able to access and understand.
Students with decoding (sounding out words) and/or language difficulties need to be exposed to increasingly difficult levels of text so that they do not get left behind due to their inability to read text appropriate to their grade level. Without digital media, this is not likely to happen.
In addition to electronic reading, students with LD should learn to access sites with videos and pictures that demonstrate and bring to life academic concepts. This is where their facility with YouTube can be helpful. On YouTube there are videos from National Geographic, How Things Are Made, The Science Guy (Bill Nye), and many more. Discovery Education has a plethora of videos that make abstract concepts concrete for students; memberships are available to school districts and to students at home. TeacherTube has videos as well, as does WatchKnowLearn.org, SnagFilms-Edshelf, and other sites.
The Writing Connection
Developing digital literacy also includes writing using digital tools such as plain word processing, electronic graphic organizers, writing on digital sites, speech-recognition software, spelling assistance (e.g., word prediction and talking spell checkers), posting to blogs, shared online and/or electronic documents, meeting in video chats and webinars while simultaneously creating documents, and much more.
It is critically important that we ensure that students—particularly those with learning and other disabilities—develop strong digital literacy skills so that they can fully participate in their education and be prepared for the careers that await them.
Students and parents can begin to investigate technology tools on their own. Bookshare.org provides digital text to qualifying students, along with reading tools to access this digital text.
If the student has an iPad, electronic reading programs are available for the iPad including Bookshare.org’s app and the Blio app. While these programs do not provide the language tools that computer-based electronic reading programs do, they are a place to begin while waiting for an AT evaluation to be completed. textHELP Read&Write Gold has web-based apps for the iPad with most, if not all, of the language and study tools that students with LD critically need when accessing digital text.
Shelley Lacey-Castelot is the Director of Literacy Solutions in Oxford and Norwalk, CT, and is an expert in the evaluation and use of AT for students with LD and ADHD.