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Advancing digital literacy in the US

There is little consensus on the definition of “digital literacy.” One participant on a panel about it here at a Safer Internet Day conference in Moscow threw everything into the definition – media literacy, online safety, computer literacy, etc. Wikipedia basically defines it as “the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology,” suggesting those skills constitute digital citizenship (see this). Definitions hardly matter as long as the elements are in place, but when digital-literacy education is only about information, not expression and behavior, it doesn’t improve anyone’s Internet safety in today’s user-driven social media environment.

Several digital literacy projects that do address current safety issues and marked Safer Internet Day today are worth mentioning. I’ve been a participant in two, so I’m biased but even so think they express advanced digital-literacy thinking:

ConnectSafely.org, which I run with Larry Magid, was a partner with Google, Common Sense Media, and the National Consumers League in developing ThinkB4U.com. As Google describes it, “together we are tackling some of the biggest learning curves thrown at the average user in a fun and interactive way.” With video snapshots of a stereotypical North American family’s digital ups and down – scenarios that users can choose to complete for positive or negative outcomes and pick up on important digital life lessons – parents, educators, and students are encouraged to think before they share, click, multi-task, post, chat, respond, and buy online and on mobile phones.

A whole coalition of international companies and nonprofits led by TrendMicro launched this year’s award-winning “What’s Your Story” video contest for the third year running. What’s digitally literate about this is that it’s learning by doing for student video producers. There’s a $10,000 grand prize for the winning entry. “Trend Micro is introducing new categories in the U.S. and Canada that challenge anyone 13 and older, including teachers with their classrooms, to create videos that offer thoughtful and compelling solutions to… 1) Take action against bullying: How would you help a friend being bullied online? 2) Keep a good rep online: What’s the right way to share? And 3) Be cell smart: How can someone new to cell phones use it wisely?

Marking the day here in Moscow with us is a third digital literacy project that was founded in 2003 by Daniel Kent when he was in middle school: NetLiteracy.org. He recently wrote in the Huffington Post, “On October 12, 2011, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski first announced Connect to Compete, a national program to promote broadband adoption and digital literacy. It’s a big step in the right direction. The Chairman then continued: ‘Building on a big idea developed in the National Broadband Plan, we’re proposing to work with America’s schools and public libraries to launch a Digital Literacy Corps to help promote and teach digital literacy.’” Net Literacy aims to be the kernel of that program. Based in Indiana, the all-student-volunteer digital-literacy nonprofit organization claims to have benefitted 150,000 people older than them (senior citizens) and younger than them by teaching them about the Net and digital technology. Its student participants teach, provide teachers with tech support, and refurbish computers for school and community computer labs. All this sounds like a very viable National Digital Literacy Corps kernel to me!

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