Twenty-odd years ago, the extent of an elementary schooler’s digital skills was making it through the Oregon Trail on their classroom computer without dying of dysentery.
Today, the digital skills K-12 students need to succeed both in school and after graduation have become much more complex. As classroom technology has shifted from typing classes and simple learning games (remember Math Blaster?) to tablets and online class blogs, the range of essential student skills goes far beyond those halcyon days of simple reading, writing, and arithmetic.
How to grow and succeed
Spelling, multiplication tables, and topic sentences are all still extremely valuable skills for students to learn. But digital skills, those skills specific to using digital technology, may now be just as important for creating successful students for beyond graduation.
While these skills may seem simple to those of us who were adults during the tech boom of the last few decades, for those students growing up surrounded by new and exciting technology, these skills might not be so obvious.
But make no mistake: Digital skills are absolutely critical for helping students learn, problem solve, create, grow, and succeed. And they’re needed everywhere, not just inside classrooms but for many pursuits outside them, including:
- completing homework assignments and projects;
- applying for colleges and summer jobs;
- communicating with peers via social media; and
- exploring creative outlets like writing and designing.
Next page: From creativity to tech speak
What are the digital skills 21st-century students absolutely must know? One valuable marker: the current standards set by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The organization’s standards (currently being revised for 2016) are designed to “describe the skills and knowledge [students] need to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly global and digital society.”
To make these skills easy for educators to think about, the ISTE groups them into 6 main focus areas.
- Creativity and Innovation: Students should learn how to use technology to think creatively and build new ideas. Writing a personal blog, building engaging science reports using programs like Adobe Creative Suite, or starting a podcast are just three examples of how new tools can help students express their original thoughts.
- Communication and Collaboration: Students should use digital tools to share information and ideas clearly—not only with their peers in the classroom but with peers from different cultural backgrounds. How would a student write a proper email to a peer in Great Britain or Japan? How can students who live far away from one another practice for group presentations?
- Research and Information Fluency: From performing experiments to evaluating data, students should be able to use digital tools and multimedia resources (like Excel, Wikipedia, and the digital archives of publications) in a rigorous manner. This includes knowing what sources to rely on (and what sources to dodge) and how to appropriately cite them.
- Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making: Students should use digital technology to help them think, decide, and solve. What does an authentic problem look like? How should data from digital sources be used to make decisions? How can diverse perspectives sometimes lead not just to one answer but many?
- Digital Citizenship: Students should have skills to help them navigate the critical (yet tangled) intersection of technology, culture, society, law, and ethics. These particular digital skills are about cultivating a safe, responsible, civic-minded use of technology in which the student, not the tools, takes responsibility.
- Technology Operations and Concepts: Technological terms, systems, applications, operations, concepts; what are they, and how do they work? Students not only have to live and learn in a highly technological world, they should have the skills to talk about, and keep pace with, developments and new tools as they emerge.
Pre-K to graduation
ISTE has also outlined profiles of what skills K-12 students should master by a specific grade. These profiles are designed to guide educators and administrators at each stage.
- Grades Pre-K to 2 (or ages 4 to 8): Illustrate stories with multimedia tools. Use digital resources to find information on a historical event. Navigate through websites and electronic books.
- Grades 3 to 5 (or ages 8 to 11): Conduct a science experiment with digital instruments. Apply digital tools to test a hypothesis. Create a piece of artwork with digital technology.
- Grades 6 to 8 (or ages 11 to 14): Create animations or videos with multimedia software. Participate in an online learning community. Use data-collecting tools like mapping systems.
- Grades 9 to 12 (or ages 14 to 18): Develop a digital learning game. Design a website. Configure and troubleshoot computer hardware, software, and network systems.
Access (and practice) makes perfect
Of course, the most important digital skill students need for success: access to the Internet.
According to ITSE: “It’s important to remember that … success in meeting the [above] indicators is predicated on students having regular access to a variety of technological tools.”
Giving students the opportunity to connect online outside the classroom, whether doing a research project at the kitchen table or getting a head start on assignments while taking the bus home, is a great way to ensure they successfully develop their digital skills for the future.
After all, a digital skill is like any other skill. You get better through constant practice.