Digital Literacy

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Curious About How Conspiracy Theories Get Spread Online?

The latest online attacks against the teen survivors of the Parkland shooting is a good case study on how this happens and how quickly it occurs. An article in The Washington Post entitled We studied thousands of anonymous posts about the Parkland attack – and found a conspiracy in the making outlines the part that anonymous social media forums play in the process. It’s a primer on how misinformation is created on purpose, endures endlessly, and the havoc that it plays in lives of those who are targeted.

When Are Kids Instagram Ready?

Want to be the one to introduce the ins and outs of social media to your kids? Follow the adventures of one parent in doing so in a Well Family post on the New York Times site. And think about the advice the author offers about how to how to have a “social media talk” (akin to the “birds and the bees talk”) with your kids, as well as, ideas for when to create a usage “contract,” monitor use, and remain open to learning from kids about global connectivity.

Media Literacy and Great Video Essays

Kids are often given the option of creating a video in lieu of some kind of written assignment like an essay. However, even with a rubric to guide them on what should (or shouldn’t) be in the video, it can be hard to know what a really good video essay should include as well as look and sound like.  Fortunately, there are some great examples on YouTube. Here is a list of channels and videos. Check out how these video essays use narration, juxtaposing video footage, images, audio, and text to make the same kind of arguments that a writer would do in a traditional essay.

Codeswitching – Picking the Right Style of Writing for the Situation

Kids today have to learn to write differently for different situations – basically learn how to “code switch.” That’s the premise of a blog entry written by a seventh grade English teacher on the MiddleWeb site who feels that both parents and teachers need to understand the different contexts (school, eventually work and personal) where kids do or will communicate and help them explore those differences so they can make the right choices for each contextual situation. Without actually examining “code switching,” and practicing what is and isn’t acceptable in each situation, kids are robbed of the opportunity to understand completely why and when they need to make the switch from informal to more formal language or vice versa, a skill that they will need as they progress in their educational career. A common sense suggestion, perhaps, but as kids’ digital lives become so tightly intermingled with reality, it is very important to not only point out the differences between formal and informal writing, but make a case for each kind of writing and practice and even translate it – a bit like learning a foreign language.

Getting Your Kids to Put “Picting” To Good Use

Social Media, Apps, Homework, Digital Savvy, Digital Literacy

Images increasingly are taking the place of words on social media. This is a trend known as "picting," writes educator Chrissy Romano-Arrabito in an article for middle school teachers, but a good resource for parents as well. Romano-Arrabito reminds adults that new studies tell us that 90% of K-12 classroom time in the U.S. is spent with text-based materials, and 10% with image-based materials; but outside the classroom, 90% is spent with image-based materials and 10% with text-based materials. So what does that mean? In a cliché, “a pictures is worth a thousand words” Picting has arrived and to be literate kids will need to know how to create and manipulate images and video in very sophisticated ways to reach their peers – the adults of the future - and understand their world.

What can you do to help your kids use social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and other apps in productive ways? Romano-Arrabito suggests things like using Instagram to do a mini book report or chronicle a school project. Snapchat is an easy way for kids to video themselves speaking and test themselves on new vocabulary in a foreign language. YouTube is a great way to do a creative book report by creating a commercial for a book. Her article is full of other digitally literate ideas for helping kids use technology in creative and sophisticated ways.

Coding For Everybody

Whether you think your child is going to go in coding career direction or not, it is essential for today’s young people in understanding why technology can do what it does, what it does well and not so well, and why it is so difficult for it to do other things as an extension of their digital literacy. To that end, you might want to take a look at the games in the article Coding Across the Curriculum featured on the Edutopia site. While written for teachers, the article cites a variety of games and apps for all ages that parents can employ just as easily and even suggests things like having kids “build an animation in Scratch [a web-based coding language for building animations and games] for their next book report—a modern, digital update for the shoebox diorama. “

Teachers Want More Tech Training

Forty-one percent of educators say students learn faster with technology, but 78% say teachers need more training to use those tools in the classroom, according to a survey from SAM Labs. The survey found that 65% of teachers say technology use has improved student performance in math, while 56% report seeing improvements in reading and writing. Twenty four percent said that they think their students know more about technology than they do. That last percentage can be a problem as kids find schools and teachers “behind the times” and then feel they can circumvent educators by cheating or bullying.

Turning Your Kids Into Web Detectives

While kids are great at signing up for and using social media, chances are they are not very good at evaluating and vetting the news and other information that appears in their online feed. So what are some fact-checking resources your kids (and you!) can use to verify or debunk the information they find online? Some of you may have heard of sites like,, and The first two are mostly interested in truth in politics. Snopes is famous as a site to check out internet rumors. One you may not be familiar with is, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the influence of money in U.S. politics and is probably aimed more at older students and adults. The last isn’t a site that performs the fact checking, but instead is a tool that lets you fact-check things you find online. The internet “Archive Way back Machine” lets you see how a website looked and what it said, at different points in the past. That can be very valuable to see how, for example, the US government treated different topics under different administrations or at different times under the same administration. Want to see The New York Times’ home page, on just about any day since 1996? It’s there as well as Google’s homepage from 1998. The site can be a little distracting though, so make sure kids know what they are looking for specifically before they dive in.

Does Digital Literacy Require Open Social Media?

Teachers and principals are increasingly advocating that schools unblock social media sites in the interest of teaching digital literacy. Derek McCoy, a North Carolina middle-school principal, says restrictions should be lifted despite risks because people learn from mistakes and "cannot be governed by fear." Many educators feel that learning how to behave online responsibly and safely, a concept known as digital citizenship, requires access to social media tools in schools.

If you are wondering how pervasive the blocking of social media is in schools, you should know that currently in New York City, if an educator wants to use YouTube or other blocked sites in the classroom, they have to fill out a form, get approval from the principal, and send the request to the city’s Department of Education. The process may seem arduous but actually is rather lax when compared to other districts, where the entire district must agree to block or unblock a website across all its schools.

Do you know how social sites are handled at your school? If sites are unblocked there is a danger of more cyberbullying and other bad actions by students. However, many educators would like to be more in control of when social media can used. As many teachers point out, students use these sites freely at home and in other settings, and the only way they are going to learn to use them responsibly is to use them.

Kids and Social Media Contracts

The Children’s Commissioner for England and an English law firm have teamed together to release guides, sorted by age group, for the lengthy and jargon-filled terms and conditions of social media sites. The Commissioner has criticized Instagram for its 17-page, 5,000-word terms and conditions. While some critics have replied that there are reasons that the term sheets are quite long, as very difficult concepts have to be explained, most people would still like to have those terms explained in everyday language rather than legalese especially when trying to explain these terms to their children. While the terms of use on many social media sites are different in England than the US, parents may find these guides useful for their overall discussion about the need to read and understand these terms when signing up for a new service and knowing what a person’s rights – young or old -are under these contracts.

Bill Proposed to End Anonymity for Political Social Ads

New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky has proposed a bill that would mandate any political ads shown on Facebook or other social sites to name the person or organization that purchased them. "Not another political ad should run on social media without voters knowing exactly who paid for it," he says. This follows the release Facebook made to congressional investigators of over 3,000 ads bought by a Russian entity to interfere in U.S. politics and the 2016 presidential election. Twitter has pledged to follow suit. The revelation about the source of those ads, and the lack of transparency in who posts them, certainly adds another issue to cover for parents in any discussion of digital literacy.

Kids Also Need Data Literacy

If you see a number or statistic included in a news story, do you find you are more likely to believe that the information is true? Librarians have found many people consider numerical data or graphics to be more compelling when reading news. Now, many libraries are advocating the teaching of data literacy – the ability to understand, generate, and use data. This skill covers everything from being able to sort through the results of a survey to being able to understand the meaning of a complicated graph or chart. It also includes the ability to critically evaluate data and visualizations.

If you want to discuss data literacy with your children, check out tools such as MentimeterSocrative, and Poll Everywhere, which allow you to collect responses on the spot and generate visualizations that represent the information graphically.

Easy-to-use infographic tools such as Infogram and Piktochart can be used for projects that involve advocating opinions or conclusions based on data and other storytelling. These tools make creating a compelling infographic straightforward through a combination of intuitive features and online tutorials. The more you know about how data is collected, illustrated and interpreted, the better prepared you and your kids will be to question data and interpretations attached to news stories and scientific presentations.

Making Kids “Internet Awesome”

Parents have a new tool from Google to help children learn about online safety and digital citizenry. Google's recently announced their "Be Internet Awesome" program that revolves around five core Internet principles. The tool includes educational resources and an online game called Interland, which features four lands through which young gamers come up against phishers, hackers, bullies, and over-sharers — those who reveal too much information about themselves online.

Google and partners also created a bunch of resources for teachers and a video series for parents, called the Be Internet Awesome Challenge, which is designed to make “talking about online safety fun and accessible”. Be Internet Awesome is the latest in a series of initiatives by Google to promote the Internet as a safe and positive place for everyone. In April, Google-owned YouTube launched Internet Citizens, a series of workshops aimed at educating teens in the United Kingdom on how to combat issues like fake news, echo chambers, and offensive speech.

Instagram, Snapchat and the Mental Health of Teens

A survey done in the UK by #StatusofMind, part of the Young Health Movement and Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), indicates that overuse of the more image driven apps such as Instagram and Snapchat may be affecting the mental health of young people. While YouTube came out as having the most positive impact of all the well-known social media, Instagram and Snapchat came out in the study of 1,479 teens and young adults as fostering feelings of inadequacy and anxiety among youths who engage often with them. Experts commenting on the study reminded both professionals working in the field of teen mental health and parents that “it is important that we have checks and balances in place to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

Living Life Without Filters

“If Beyoncé thinks her body needs to be edited, what on Earth does mine need?” writes teenager Sarah Kendrick in a commentary on the KQED site (a National Public Radio/ Public Broadcasting System affiliate). As Kendrick points out, it takes courage to buck the pressures of social media and post real, unaltered, “unPhotoshopped” images of oneself online. She goes on to challenge other teens to ditch image-editing tools and embrace the beauty of their imperfect, natural selves.

“Picting” May be the New Literacy

"Picting" – the usage of image-based materials - is the new literacy for today's students, assert professors Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway in a recent blog post. In the post they examine how social media's reliance on images and the amount of time youths spend on social media is changing literacy and that it is something that parents, teachers and even employers need to pay attention to. Students spend much more of their time outside of school using and communicating with pictures than text. Popular social media applications for youth, such as SnapChat and Instagram, are primarily photo-based, so this begs the question: will pictures really come to be worth a thousand words?

Additional Resources in the Battle Against Fake News

As the battle against fake news continues, several websites have been created that allow you to verify sources of news articles. One article you may want to check out that includes an extensive list of fake news sites is Snopes' Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors. A great source to bookmark is, which allows you to post the URL of any article and it will quickly tell you if the article comes from a fake or biased news website. Also helpful are and Following them on Twitter and Facebook will yield a steady stream of informative posts. Teachers are also trying to deal with the problem of fake news, so it is a good idea for parents to discuss with their children who may be using the Internet for research on current events.