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The importance of digital literacy in the classroom

Digital literacy
To cope with the pandemic and prevent the spread of COVID-19, schools and colleges were forced to close for months. Traditional face-to-face teaching had to be quickly replaced by digital or remote learning, using platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom or Skype. When it came to creating exercises and ways of testing students at home, tools such as Padlet or Kahoot! proved to be simple and dynamic. However, some experience or technical knowledge about how these tools work was still necessary for them to be truly useful. The pandemic showed us that teachers need to have resources and skills not only in the physical classroom, but also in the digital world.

In this article we will discuss the importance of digital literacy in the world of education. After all, although being computer literate is one of the key skills that students should acquire during their school career, many teachers lack the necessary training to include digital tools in their lessons to complement and modernise the traditional style of teaching which has been prevalent in classrooms for decades. To learn more about the different types of remote learning and teaching, check out our other articles.

Teacher training

To become a teacher in England, you must have an undergraduate degree, and then gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). You can get your QTS by doing an Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programme which could be based in a school or university and takes a year to complete. After completing this course, assuming you meet the standards, you will be awarded QTS and become a newly qualified teacher (NQT) ready to undertake your induction year in teaching.

You can also choose to do a teacher training course to get QTS with a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE). A PGCE also takes a year to complete and combines school placements with studying the theory behind teaching and learning. You can study different types of PGCE, specialising in either primary, secondary or adult/further education.

Competences within the classroom

In line with contemporary theory regarding teaching, the role of the teacher has shifted from being a punitive and authoritative figure to being a guide in the process of learning and development of pupils. In this sense teachers are more of a mediator, facilitating the transmission and acquisition of knowledge. That is why, in addition to being a specialist in what they teach, teachers now have to master communication and be confident with ICT (Information and Communication Technology). With all the digital advances over recent decades, it's become impossible to ignore the technological tools at our disposal which are capable of presenting innovative solutions to problems such as, remote learning.

However, ICT tools shouldn't be seen simply as a quick and convenient solution to a problem, but ideally should be treated as another communication tool capable of transmitting ideas and knowledge in a creative way adapted to the needs of today's learners.

Digital natives

Technology on a global scale is now impossible to ignore, and it would be wrong to refuse to incorporate new teaching techniques based on the use of digital teaching tools simply because traditionally classes or subjects have been taught in a different way. Younger generations are already digital natives, technology is not a complement but an integral part of their daily lives and therefore inseparable from the way they receive information and learn things.

Of course, keeping up with the changing digital world is an added challenge on top of the many other tasks and challenges teachers face in the classroom and beyond. Although their teacher training may cover some technologies, the constant changeability of the internet requires constant updating through continuing professional development (CPD).

Some teachers who may find the amount of time and effort involved in implementing these technologies in the classroom not worth the effort, may reject these ideas and opt for the comfort of traditional models. For this reason schools shouldn't just rely on teachers to develop their capabilities themselves, nor should they rely on IT departments for this CPD; instead they should be investing in their own tech department to foster these skills and capacities.

Digital teaching

As we saw with the pandemic, there are sometimes unexpected circumstances which force an accelerated change of course in society. In the case of COVID-19, it was revealed that many teachers were not prepared and digitally literate enough to be able to offer their students a competent and quality alternative to face-to-face classroom teaching. It's obviously not ideal to wait for a tragedy or a circumstance like the lockdown to make changes in the way subjects are taught, and to diversify teaching in ways that motivate learners and adapt to their contemporary way of life.

There are many ways to introduce digital skills in the classroom, and it is usually more of a problem for teachers than for students, who are often naturally fluent in the language. From analysing Whatsapp messages taking into account elements specific to this type of instant communication (such as emojis, GIFs, audio messages, etc.) to dividing the class into groups in Zoom, creating smaller digital classrooms in which to exchange ideas and discuss what has been learnt. From the interactive Jamboards of Google Meet to the dynamic and gamified Kahoot! exams. Right now, the options are endless and it is up to each teacher to be able to integrate them in a competent and relevant way so that the educational experience of their students is richer and more varied year after year.
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