Digital tools provide language teachers with a broader range of instruments to teach languages and culture. Introducing digital literacy into the language classroom allows teachers not only to implement innovative educational methodologies but also to provide learners with training that will empower them to think and learn in an increasingly technology-driven society.
What does it mean to be digitally literate?
Digital literacy at its core can be defined as a concept that encompasses all the knowledge and abilities needed to know how to navigate in a knowledge-based society, in which access to information is mediated by technological tools.
Digital literacy includes skills that we also find in traditional concepts of literacy, namely: the ability to read, write, process numerical data.
However, being literate in the digital age means being able to interact, decipher and manipulate multimedia content, using an array of skills that are both “cognitive and technical“.
“Digital literacy is the ability to strategically discern and integrate the use of technology to pursue personal, academic, and professional goals”
Knowing how to open a secure internet connection and use virtual learning environments with built-in privacy safeguards are among the most important tasks that everyone, and education professionals in particular given the high sensitivity of the data they work with, must master.
In short, as we at Sanako often advocate, cybersecurity should become one of the top priorities of modern educators.
Digital literacy and education: a relationship in the making
As digital solutions are about to become an integral part of teaching and school management, digital competencies are becoming a key element in teachers’ curriculum.
It is, therefore, no coincidence that institutions are trying to implement operational frameworks to guide the integration of technology in teaching and, more generally, in the daily life of educational institutions.
The European Commission, for example, has deemed it necessary to elaborate the European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators, driven by the necessity of “harnessing the potential of digital technologies to encourage innovation in education and training practices; improve access to lifelong learning; and impart the new (digital) skills and competencies needed for employment, personal development and social inclusion”.
The recognition of digital literacy as an essential life skill is not, in any case, a phenomenon limited to Europe alone. Already in 2011, the United Nations through UNESCO had drawn a picture of the relationship between digital literacy and opportunities for socio-economic improvement of citizens. According to UNESCO:
“Digital literacy improves employability because it is a gate skill, demanded by many employers when they first evaluate a job application. It also works as a catalyst because it enables the acquisition of other important life skills.”
However, training and professional updating courses for teachers remain quite rare. For teachers, digital unpreparedness is sometimes felt to be a source of concern, as revealed by a Microsoft-Computing at School survey.
General backwardness of school systems concerning digital training was also noted in a report by AT Kearney, which found that there was a significant gap in the digital skills of students and teachers. The analysis argued that “teachers and educators are falling behind in learning and applying the digital skills required to stay ahead of their students”, while pupils “are not just adopting new technology to use within learning, but they are actively manipulating and modifying standard uses for the digital tools to meet individualized learning needs”.
The benefit of building digital literacy within language classes
When it comes to language learning, the awareness and the attitude to use digital-based learning techniques can play a major role in enhancing the qualitative aspect of language teaching.
The incorporation of technological solutions and language education helps to develop original teaching methodologies that speak to individual learning needs.
As a 2020 study on the integration between technology and ESL teaching argued, a well-crafted use of language learning software might have a triple benefit on the pupil’s learning path:
“First, the technology can present text in a very highly structured way and can pace the introduction of new concepts and skills depending on the progress the pupil makes through the program. Second, they can provide aural feedback to the pupil in a timely fashion. Thirdly, the technology will continue to work patiently for as long as the pupil is prepared to keep trying.”
However, supporting students in strengthening their fluency, important as it is, is not the only advantage that derives from blending language education and digital-based solutions.
Teachers’ readiness to use technology tools to tailor personalized and interactive learning pathways is useful not only for the development of key language skills but also for critical reasoning and interpersonal abilities (Read also our post: “Why using technology in language teaching benefits the students, teachers, and the whole school?”)
As it has been pointed out, learning digital literacy is a driver for the so-called deep learning, a field that encompasses a complex set of individual and relational competencies such as communication, character, and citizenship.
In language teaching, however, digital literacy does not end with the technical mastery of a determined software.
The teacher who understands evolving technology will be able to guide students to the discovery of the “new contexts of language learning”, supporting them in understanding online environments and developing strategies to research and select resources (e.g. how to find useful resources for language study, assess their reliability, determine how to integrate them into the study path, etc.).
Digital literacy not only supports the teacher in her daily work but also provides students with the knowledge necessary for them to become digitally empowered.
In many countries, the quality and quantity of digital literacy training courses for educational professionals and students alike still leave much to be desired.
The good news is that education technology solutions are on the rise and they provide school institutions with user-friendly, scalable, software through which teachers can test their ability to create new teaching content.
Investing in a language learning software for a school does not mean simply buying a product. It means investing in the quality of the education provided. Digital awareness is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a means to help teachers expand their skills and toolset, enabling them to guide students in thriving in a digital-shaped world.