Helping Students to Build Digital Literacy Skills

We have access to billions of resources in less than a second. With all of this power through technology, as educators, we must be able to sort through the information and develop our own digital literacy skills in our work. But more importantly, we must help our students to learn to navigate all of the information that they are receiving. 

Years ago, we had to rely on methods of research using card catalogs, books, newspapers, and other periodicals, because we did not have the technology available that we do today. However, now, doing a quick Google search can yield up to billions of results within a fraction of a second. With instant access to resources like news articles, images, videos and other formats, it is important for students to learn to sort the information, validate its reliability and process it during learning. As educators, we must create opportunities and spaces for students to develop data and digital literacy skills.

Being able to process data is essential to our work as educators. We rely on data to better provide for our students, meet their individual needs and interests, and use it to determine our next steps. We rely on digital tools to provide us with information as well as in our observations in our classroom. Regardless of where the information comes from, we have to be able to process it and understand what it means for us, for our students, and for life.  Data and digital literacy are essential skills for everyone and through learning experiences and the use of digital tools, we can continue to build these skills together in our classrooms. 

Opportunities to build data and digital literacy skills

Data literacy is being able to take all of the information that we have available to us and process it. When we have data, there is a process that becomes somewhat automated, the more that we work with data and learn how to sort through the information. First we  consume the information and begin to analyze it. We can use the data to better understand something or use it to solve a problem and then we apply the data in other ways. Having the skill set to navigate and sort all of the information is important for our students to develop. Finding activities and tools for students that are more meaningful and connected to real-world experiences will help them to better understand how to use data.

In my STEAM course with eighth graders, we discuss digital citizenship and digital literacy. There are many resources available that give students the chance to look at news, headlines, photos and more and evaluate the reliability of what they are viewing. One example, Checkology is a great resource to help students to evaluate materials and then create opportunities for us to discuss their experiences and build our skills together. There are also headlines and news stories available for students to learn about information literacy at their own pace.  We use these two resources as well as some teaching methods as a way to develop digital literacy skills as well as evaluating data and information that is provided within these spaces.

As a Spanish teacher, I want to provide meaningful learning opportunities that will help students to build their language skills while also becoming more globally aware as they develop the essential skills to prepare for the future. With methods like project-based learning (PBL), my students have the opportunity to build language skills while becoming curious for learning as they explore real-world issues. Choosing a topic to focus on, requires students to be independent in their work, conduct research, sort information, and evaluate how to best share what they have learned. PBL also promotes the development of essential SEL (social-emotional learning skills), in particular, social awareness as they learn about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

As students become familiar with the process of PBL, at times they struggle with finding and then selecting the best resources to explore. It is also initially challenging to sort through the information and then determine how to share their learning. I recently learned about GatherIQ, which helps students develop their understanding of “data for good.” Through this tool, students explore the 17 United Nations Global Goals by watching videos, responding to polls, taking quizzes, and learning about real-world problems. A few data stories available include the Mesoamerican ReefFood Insecurity in the US and Beyond and Gender Equity Around the World: Four Factors. Each of the data stories have quizzes which help students to develop critical thinking skills as they process the data. 

Giving students the chance to learn through a STEM or STEAM curriculum, also helps students learn to experiment and better process data through authentic and unique learning experiences. Whether completing STEM challenges, learning about emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality or artificial intelligence, students need to conduct research, experiment on their own and process all of the information they receive. There are design challenges that we can bring into our classrooms that require students to prepare by conducting research, experimenting, evaluating, setting new goals, and processing all of the learning that happens. 

Data literacy matters

As we prepare students for the future, becoming data literate helps them develop many essential 21st century skills.  Whether through PBL or STEM activities, or research done in class individually or with peers, students will develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills,  learn to communicate their ideas more effectively, and build essential SEL skills such as responsible decision making.

About the Author: 

Rachelle Dene is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network.   She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of six books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World and her newest book “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us.” Her new book, Your World Language Classroom will be available in October 2021.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at


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