Education on What’s Really Important
Digital literacy and writing has become increasingly important throughout the pass two decades in several different aspects in the modern world such as in business, government, social settings, etc. The place in society where digital literacy and writing is the most important, however, is in education. There are two main parts to the important connection of digital writing and education. The first part is more obvious; the digital platform is an incredible resource that students and educators can use in order to have a wide array of information at their fingertips. It also provides a connection unlike any other that links the world together and even further unifies a classroom. Modern education teaches the modern student how to be a productive audience member for whatever the Internet might hold. The education system must teach the modern student how to read digital writing.
The second important connection is that today’s education system should not only teach a student to be an active audience member and reader, but also teach them how to be an active and effective writer in the digital world. The idea of digital writing is taught similarly to classic writing in some ways, but vastly different in others. While it is still important to include the classic basis of writing, such as proper grammar and useful vocabulary, educators must now include pieces such as changing writing forms based on the online platform, how to include multimodal aspects, and how to be aware of the privacy of online writing (or lack there of).
Many students in the American Educational system are taught how to research topics on the Internet in order to include them in an essay or research project. They are taught to scan through and only use “reliable” sites such as sites that end in .gov, .org, or .edu. In addition to this, students are taught how to properly source and give credit to whomever provided the information they are using. While both of these skills are important, there needs to be further steps taken to help students be successful in their reading of digital writing and use of the digital world in general.
It’s important for students to hone the skill of sifting through relevant information on the web. This shouldn’t stop at finding websites deemed “appropriate” based on the ending of their web address, but also finding sources that don’t necessarily fit the classic, educational frame. There are millions of resources existing in the cyber world that offer useful and reliable information in the forms of blogs (and vlogs) that don’t resemble an educational site. These blogs can offer personal experiences, first hand knowledge, or even just a conglomeration of information on a specific subject, as if someone else already did all the research. The skill that students need to learn and practice is recognizing when these alternative sources are reliable and thorough enough to pull from. It’s not as easy as telling students to search different subjects: “millennial students are technology-savvy, rely on search engines to find information, are interested in multimedia, have a short attention span, and multitask on everything. Needless to say, having access to so many different modes of social connection and communication may serve to over-stimulate students” (Paige).
To overcome this overstimulation and create effective online reading habits, students should be educated on how to focus their research.
There’s many ways to help students focus their research. Even simple lessons on search engines can improve the information their taking in ten fold. Many times, as mentioned above, students are taught to simply search a topic and use “reliable” sources indicated by the end of their web address. Education on specific search engines that will return only scholarly articles, what exactly to plug into a search engine to receive relevant results, or how to easily disregard sources that are irrelevant without even clicking on them will better serve the student populous than simply allowing them to research blindly with vague instructions.
Outside of scholarly research, educators should have the responsibility of guiding students through Internet usage that they are faced with daily in the modern world. Teachers should start to explain to children from a very young age, how to be aware of what they are possibly be reading on the web. Much of what is present and available to the general population can be extremely persuasive yet extremely misinformed: “Anonymity encourages experiments in self and gender identities, but it also problematizes notions of authorship and ownership and encourages ‘flaming’ the hostile expression of strong emotions” (Zappen). Since anyone can post their ideas and thoughts on the web, it is crucial for the modern citizen to be able to filter through what is real versus what is opinion. Even if something is opinion, being able to understand whether or not that opinion is well supported by outside information and not simply pulled out of thin air.
Whether it’s for educational research or just processing posts thrown up on the web daily, it is imperative that students of any age have the ability to read and comprehend the content presented to them.
Just as it is imperative for students to be conscious of what they are reading on the web, it is so important for them to understand how to present themselves well through writing. In addition to this, there needs to be an understanding of how large of an impact their digital writing could have on their entire lives. The world is changing and the Internet and its connectivity are catalyzing most of this change. The present and future generations of our world need to know how to have a positive presence in the online community if they want to keep up with these changes; therefore, they need to be taught how to properly represent themselves online.
Being able to write well digitally opens up doors everywhere. It allows for ideas to be heard and connections to be made that would have otherwise been impossible: “Digital writing is more than just a skill; it is a means of interfacing with ideas and with the world, a mode of thinking and expressing in all grades and disciplines” (National Writing Project). Digital writing is crucial for not only success in academia and careers, but also for development of the mind. Digital writing provides such a service to students and citizens everywhere, that it would be a crime to deprive them of this privilege due to a school system’s inability to improve upon their decades old, educational plans: “Educators, community members, and policymakers must work together to promote technology development in schools to create learning environments that support digital literacy” (National Writing Project).
Educating students how to write digitally, however, is not enough. Students also need to be educated on where their writing is being seen and what the expectation of privacy is. While the Internet is a great source for connection, it doesn’t allow for any kind of barrier. What is posted on the Internet, stays on the Internet and is accessible to anyone with an wifi connection and a device: “reach permits communication among multiple participants in an array of media and thus the development of communities of interest on a global scale; however, it does not include the benefits of gatekeeping” (Zappen). Students need to know that not only can they post their ideas on a worldwide platform, but also that they can never take those ideas back. It’s important for them to know not only how to write well on the web that allows them to become part of a bigger audience and speaker complex, but to do so in a way that has only positive impacts on their lives.
All in All
The approach to this kind of education should be encouraging and positive rather than an approach that induces fear. There should be less blocking of “non-educational” and “distracting” websites, and more lessons on how to use said websites to improve upon educational goals: “supervision of computer use is far better for educational purposes than simply shutting down useful websites
By attaining digital literacy skills, students are given tools that allow them to better themselves and their chances of succeeding on several different levels: “fortunately… students who graduate with an understanding of historicized technological shifts and who are encouraged to recognize their experiences as part of a larger and longer framework of media change, are well-positioned to push the boundaries of their own scholarship and to become sophisticated readers and writers of the web” (Rajchel). Weaving general digital knowledge with an emphasis on reading and writing into the educational system will not only improve students’ academia, but their futures as well.
My Experience and My Take
Even though I took this writing class to fill a distribution requirement, I am so happy that this is the writing class I ended up in. Though being able to write well in general is maybe the most important skill a person can obtain, being able to write well digitally is quite possibly becoming even more crucial in this day and age. Writing digitally allows a writer to reach potentially a larger audience than they would by publishing a physical piece. Not to mention a person can publish immediately through their own accord rather than relying on (and perhaps getting rejected from) several different publishing agencies.
Being able to present one’s self well on the web through writing in addition to being able to thoughtfully process the immense amounts of information presented on a daily basis is an essential skill; so, it is shocking to me that I wasn’t given any kind of an education to do either of these things until my sophomore year of college. In high school, and in my other college classes up until this point, I was taught how to research for essays and projects in a very specific way. I learned how to find only scholarly sources to support my argument. When it came to writing online, I wasn’t taught much other than to fear the permanence of anything posted. While this is a legitimate concern to keep in mind, it shouldn’t deter me, or other students, from posting my thoughts.
I believe that classes as young as elementary students should be educated and well versed in the online world. Before entering college, students should know how to productively search the web for sources that are both explicitly scholarly and not explicitly
scholarly. They should be able to read through a source and deduce whether it was reliable. Additionally, outside of academics, students should be able to read a post and form their own opinion of it based on whether or not it was well written and well supported. This will help them further their own opinions and join the discussion.
Social media should not be seen as merely a distraction, though it often can be as such. It provides connections and communities that would not be formed otherwise. Instead of teaching kids how to avoid these platforms especially in class, they should be taught how to use them effectively. This means gaining new ideas and new perceptions that were deeply thought about as well as adding the conversation that is happening: perhaps building on ideas or giving someone else building blocks for their own ideas. We need to teach students how to actively listen and speak in the cyber world. That’s how new ideas come about and that’s how the world is bettered.
- “What is Digital Writing and Why Does it Matter?” National Writing Project. NWP, 25 October 2010. Web. 20 October. 2015. <http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/3310>
- Abe, Paige and Jordan, Nickolas A. “Integrating Social Media Into the Classroom Curriculum.” About Campus. ACPA, April 2013. Web. October 20. 2015. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/abc.21107/epdf>
- Rajchel, Jen. “Consider the Audience” Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning. N.p., N.d. Web. 20 October. 2015 <http://epress.trincoll.edu/webwriting/chapter/rajchel/>
- Walthausen, Abigail. “Schools Should Be Teaching Kids How To Use the Internet Well.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic. 14 February. 2014. Web. 20 October. 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/02/schools-should-be-teaching-kids-how-to-use-the-internet-well/283807/>
- Zappen, James P. “Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory.” Technical Communication Quarterly. N.p. 2005. Web. 20 October. 2015. <http://homepages.rpi.edu/~zappenj/Vita/DigitalRhetoric2005.pdf>