The Digital Literacy Curriculum Gap

Are most teenagers inherently wired to seek out and use the internet for good?   Absolutely not.  Would I have harnessed the amazing connectivity and community-building power of the internet, had smart phones and tablets been prevalent while I was in high school in the late 1990s?  Probably not, especially if I didn’t have a teacher or mentor help explain the consequences–both good and bad–of my online activity.

One major flaw of the new Common Core standards is the digital literacy gap.


Most school curriculums, including the new Common Core standards, foolishly ignore the critical conversations and lessons about how and why we use technology.  Today, I conducted a lesson on digital footprints with one of my classes.  We googled names, found easy access to offensive student Twitter accounts full of foul language and racy pictures, and discussed what it means to have incongruent online and offline identities.  Most students hadn’t considered the issue at all.  They were engaged, and some even immediately accessed their social media accounts to change the privacy settings.

I’ve decided that each Monday I will step away from digital storytelling projects in order to challenge students’ notions about crap detection, attention, and participation, among other ideas, which are all tips from Howard Rheingold’s illuminating book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.

If we want students to utilize Twitter to curate information from experts on topics they are interested in, instead of simply trash talking and sharing mundane details of their daily lives, then we have to show them how.  If we want students to utilize Google Drive and other cloud-based services as one strategy to avoid forgetting flash drives and assignments at home, then we have to show them how to sign up and use various accounts.  If we complain about students writing with incorrect grammar, but don’t acknowledge the world of Textspeak and its influence, then we must conduct lessons on code switching.

In the rush to inundate our lives and schools with gadgets and 21st Century Technology, we are lacking the same urgency to teach critical digital media skills, mindsets, and ethical use.  As a result, there are too many students who are currently graduating, becoming embodiments of David Bowden’s words, and it’s not necessarily their fault.

But so often

We use this tool to ignore them

And the rest of those humans

For just as fire can be used for warmth or destruction

We misuse url’s, firewalling off the world with distractions

We search daily, but find nothing

Add friends, but loose community

Look for love but get pornography

Try to discover ourselves, but loose our identity

What do you think of “The Inner Net”?  Do you agree or disagree about the importance of critical discussion about technology in schools?  How would you assess your own use of technology?  Whose job, if anybody’s, should it be to teach critical digital literacy skills?  What do you wish you knew how to do?  What projects inspire, or have inspired you, to try out a new use of digital technology or communication?    


  1. Mrs. Ralf,
    I’m also at the point where assuming student skills and knowledge–especially regarding digital lit.–is a useless endeavor. What types of lessons do you use with younger students?

  2. Isn’t this the problem with education today? Those who create the Grand Objectives (CC) still see education as a list of neat boxes to tick. Taught it, did it, said it…they should know it. But then again how to we prepare students for a world that has not been created yet?

    As you state above. If we don’t teach students to do things, we can’t expect them to do it. I am continually frustrated by my older students’ lack of digital citizenship, but then I remember, no one spent time teaching them digital citizenship. Their teachers are immigrants themselves.

    I am trying daily to show, especially my younger students, the beauty of what the internet can do for them. I try not to assume anymore that they know. I have to teach it, review it, hold them accountable to it…just like the core content I teach.

  3. You have excellent questions, most of the answers are yet to be discovered – especially whose job it is/will be the teach critical digital literacy skills since many adults do not know yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s