Walk through any shopping centre and you will see children as young as 2 years old interacting with some form of digital technology. Children are using iPads or iPhones to interact with material, whether it be watching videos or playing games, before they are old enough to construct a sentence. These children are forming what Marc Prensky calls the ‘digital native’ generation. It is easy to assume that all young people are digitally native, however, it this can be dependent upon a number of individual circumstances such as class, race, gender and nationality (Hague & Payton, 2010).

With the introduction of these digital tools, we are seeing that everything is becoming connected. People, places and information are able to be interconnected through the use of these digital tools. These interconnections that are made help to enhance the reach and value of not just the information but also our relationships, creating opportunities for learning, working and collaborating (Smith, 2013). Our learning environments are also becoming connected. The connected learning environment is one that demonstrates integration, personalisation, interconnectedness and authentic learning experiences (Smith, 2013).

Throughout my research on connected learning I came across a number of images that help to summarise the main concepts behind the idea. One that I thought summed up the process of connected learning quite nicely is below. It shows how an individual is centered amongst all the different sectors of their life – especially looking at academics, interests and peer culture.

Credit: Connected Learning Research Network and Digital Media & Learning Research Hub. Used without modification

Another great, slightly more informal, image I found to do with connected learning shows how schools currently compartmentalise all subjects when infact they are all related to each other in some way, with connections being able to be made across all areas of the curriculum.

Credit: Traci Gardner. Used without modification

In order to ensure that our students are able to deal with these increasing interconnections in the world around them, they need to be able to develop skills that belong under the umbrella of ‘digital literacy’. It is said that to be digitally literate you possess the skills to not only access a broad range of resources, but also to be able to critically engage with and analyse the information and to be able to communicate and represent knowledge in different contexts to different audiences (Hague & Payton, 2010).

A great YouTube video that discusses digital literacy in a succinct way can be seen below. The video looks at how there are many different forms of literacy that our students will face and providing them with the skills that fall below digital literacy will prepare them for our rapidly changing future.

Digital literacy and connected learning go hand in hand as students are using the wide range of digital tools available to them to explore these connections. The use of Web 2.0 tools allow students to collaborate and create interactions beyond the classroom as well as providing students with opportunities to create and critique knowledge (Starkey, 2011). A focus on digital literacy in the classroom can help students to expand their use of technology for creativity, self-expression, communication and collaboration as well as allowing them to develop their understanding of the complexities behind the digital tools they are using (Hague& Payton, 2010).

When developing students digital literacy it is important not to focus simply on how the digital tools are used in the curriculum. Considering how digital literacy supports subject knowledge can help teachers to make sure that the use of technology in the classroom enhances the development of the curriculum rather than simply becoming an ‘add-on’ (Hague & Payton, 2010).

Digital literacy can be seen as a series of interconnecting dimensions. These dimensions include developing skills in communication and collaboration, critical thinking and evaluation as well as cultural and social understanding. By developing digital literacy in specific subjects we can support our students and help them to become effective, competent, critical students of that particular subject in the digital age (Hague & Payton, 2010).

Credit: Hague, C. & Payton, S. (2010). Used without modification.

Starkey (2011) describes the ultimate goal of teachers developing the digital literacy skills of their students is for them to be able to share knowledge through a Web 2.0 learning environment. Due to the functionality of these particular tools, this sharing of knowledge may lead to students critiquing each other and an assessment of the value of the knowledge found can be explored. A pedagogical approach that includes collaboration and interaction beyond the classroom would be necessary for developing a flexible curriculum in a Web 2.0 environment for students to develop these digital literacy skills.

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Secondary Science Teacher

Recently married HS Sci/Bio teacher, active member of #aussieED, passionate Wests Tigers fan, aspiring photographer... http://www.aussieed.com

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