31st March 2015 will remain firmly in my mind as the day when Martha Lane Fox gave a very timely, impassioned Dimbleby lecture pointing out the importance of digital technology in the lives of young people. She implored the audience to join her in a campaign to make Britain ‘brilliant at the internet’. You can read more about this talk here and sign the petition to the prime minister too. Yes, young people today are well-versed in many digital tools and it is tempting to think of them as 'digital natives' (Prensky, 2001). However, is being a digital native necessarily a good thing? Maybe our youngsters today know how to Snapchat and keep in touch with their friends on Facebook, but does that mean they are well-versed in using digital tools that are going to enhance their education and put them in the strong position in the workplace?
If I was tasked with creating a programme for students to be ready for the digital life they will encounter when they leave school, there would be some clear steps to take. Essentially, the programme will be showing students how to build their Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and will introduce them to the many tools and skills they need to learn in the 21st century. This takes into account the changing face of learning if not in our schools, certainly at University level.
1. Teach them how to Google. Students need to know how to make the most of any search engine and to understand what is a reliable source and what should be taken with a pinch of salt. It really is not as easy as typing in a few words and clicking on the first link available. There is more to it than that. Students need to know how to find a variety of information, how to store it so that it can be easily accessed and how to think critically about the information they find. There are numerous ways to deliver a programme that will ensure students get this. The A Google A Day programme seems like a good place to start. Creating a programme that requires students to evaluate the resources they find online would get them to engage fully in the process and understand the issues at hand.
2. Teach students how to use what they find responsibly. Understanding Creative Commons is very important and will ensure that students are not potentially putting themselves in a tricky position. Getting students to use content and give appropriate credit for it would be a natural step to take. This would be followed by guiding students to create their own content and applying a license to their material at a suitable level.
3. Teach students how to present their work using digital tools. This may seem simple, but it is a vital lesson. PowerPoint presentations are often poorly put together and lose an audience quickly. There are other tools available that mean that the content and the delivery of the content takes centre stage as opposed to words and phrases that dance across the screen and make an audience feel queasy. Visual impact is very important, and often students need to be taught this. Make students aware of the other tools available to deliver presentations. My personal favourites at the moment are Haiku Deck for its simplicity and Google Slides - again because of its simplicity, but also because of the ease of collaboration within the tool.
4. Teach students how to build their Personal Learning Network. Of course, over time, their PLN will change as they have different needs and interests; nonetheless, they will need to know how to go about setting up their PLN and what tools they can use to embrace this challenge. Introducing students to a tool such as Pearltrees which not only enables them to collate information relating to their subject areas from online sources, but also to share this content and find others with similar interests and thus have access to a wider (and perhaps more expert) field of knowledge.
5. Teach students how to create content online which will form part of their learning process. In addition, a good digital footprint will stand them in good stead as they head off for their first jobs. The benefit of expressing themselves via blogs are two-fold. Firstly, students have the opportunity to learn how to blog and secondly they are being pushed to think about their studies and create content that enhances their learning and take it a step further.
6. Teach students how to collaborate using online tools. Google Slides, as already mentioned, is an excellent tool that enables students to work together on one presentation in real time. Collaboration such as this is not limited solely to Google Slides. Such good practice can take place in documents, spreadsheets, mind mapping tools and blogs.
7. Teach students how to save links, articles and quotes. In other words, teach students the benefits of social bookmarking. As students move up the educational ladder the need to search, share, organise and store what they find online becomes increasingly important. There are numerous social bookmarking sites that do the job well and allow students to manage their bookmarks effectively with keywords and tags. In addition many social bookmarking sites allow students to work collaboratively and share their findings, adding thoughts and notes wherever relevant.
8. At the end of this whole process, I would expect students to provide a visual representation of their PLE which would show which tools they have accessed and learnt about during the programme. Given the variety of tools available I would expect there to be some interesting PLE mind maps and diagrams which would reflect the diversity of both tools and student needs.
There are just eight steps here, but this could easily be expanded to 10 or even more. Indeed, this list should change depending on the age and needs of the student. Nonetheless, it is a good starting place and aims to tackle Martha Lane Fox’s request to make Britain ‘brilliant at the internet’. I think our students deserve it.
How would you make your pupils brilliant at the internet? Let us know below.