Whether you are renewing a prescription, communicating with others, or working across nearly any key employment disciplines you care to name, it has never been more important for people to have the knowledge, skills and dispositions to navigate online spaces confidently and successfully. We call this ability ‘digital fluency’ and it encompasses an array of competencies and understandings that are needed for us have access to opportunities in our networked, digital societies today and in the future.
This outcome of being digitally fluent relates to issues of responsibility, equity and access. We all need to be able to fully participate in a digitally-enabled education system and in an increasingly digitised society. If we work with fluency in the way we use technologies, we are able to keep ourselves safe online and take full advantage of life chance opportunities such as being able to apply for work, manage our finances, or be part of our local community.
Digital fluency can also be considered as part of a broader set of competencies related to ‘21st Century’ learning. Being able to manipulate technologies so we can create and navigate information successfully is supported by our ability to work collaboratively, solve real-world problems creatively, pursue our own learning goals and so on.
What might it mean to be digitally fluent?
Broadly speaking, digital fluency is a combination of these three concepts:
- digital, or technical, proficiency:
- able to understand, make judgements about, select and use appropriate technologies and technological systems for different purposes; this might include knowing how to use technologies to protect one’s data, digital identity, and device security.
- digital literacy:
- in digital spaces, being able to read, create, critique and make judgements about the accuracy and worth of information being accessed;
- being fluent in critical thinking and problem-solving online;
- Use digital tools to collaborate and construct information across all relevant and significant contexts
- social competence, or dispositional knowledge:
- the ability to be able to relate to others and communicate with them effectively;
- able to manage one’s identity, information, relationships in ways that are appropriate, responsible, safe and sustainable.
What might this look like in practice? A useful example of a curriculum context in which we might deliberately foster the competencies of digital fluency can be seen in this example from Makauri School in which Year 6 created digital mementos to “preserve the stories of Makauri’s past students". This kind of story encompasses deliberate teaching of technical skills (making websites and QR codes), literacies (story-creation through multiple media; critical creation of new information) and social competence (the value of others’ stories, heritage and culture in the local community).
Developing digital fluency
The aim, then, of becoming digitally fluent is for people to be able to act as successful citizens in whatever contexts they choose for themselves. Our role as educators is to deliberately design pathways from early childhood through to tertiary and beyond that support these developing fluencies in ways that make sense to the learners. The recent report - Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection (OECD, 2015) - highlights the importance of bridging the digital divide, not leaving the development of digital fluency to chance.
The skills, understandings and competencies that comprise digital fluency are best considered as underpinning supports that weave throughout curricula. In many ways, here in New Zealand, the Key Competencies in the New Zealand Curriculum offer a helpful way to think about a framework for fostering digital fluency as part of learning. Similarly, the four principles of Te Whāriki can be considered through a digital fluency lens while the Te Marautanga o Aotearoa encourages communities to frame a graduate profile that might include digital fluency as an over-arching goal for ākonga.
We know that ‘adding on’ modules or skill-based ticklist to work though do not effectively offer ways to foster digital fluency. We also know learning how to effectively and safely manage technologies cannot be achieved solely through technical means (e.g. filtering) or prohibition (e.g. denying people access to technologies). Instead, a proactive approach to designing learning pathways, that balances preventative approaches with application of skills and understandings in meaningful contexts, is the preferable approach.
NetSafe and the Ministry of Education remind us that we need to offer “opportunities for students to be involved in decisions about the management of digital technology at the school [and develop] a pro-social culture of digital technology use” in school, alongside our communities [Source, Netsafe]
Where to begin?
One helpful framework for thinking about planning approaches to digital fluency development through learning can be found in the description of how key competencies integrate into effective curriculum design (NZC website).
Broadly, this reminds us that digital fluency approaches should:
- align to the principles of the New Zealand Curriculum, TMOA and Te Whāriki
- draw on a range of values that are inclusive and enable young people to become confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners
- be embedded in learning in each of the learning areas
- be supported by effective pedagogy.