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Digital Literacy: Reading and Writing in a Digital Age

College SIS Zürich

More and more often our students are searching for their answers online, either at the direct request of the teacher or because it’s the easiest solution.

Why think about the answer when in a few clicks Google can tell you? Does this make our students digitally literate? According to Wikipedia, digital literacy is the “ability to find, evaluate, and communicate information through typing and other media on various digital platforms”. Looking quickly at that definition, one could easily counter-argue my “digitally illiterate” point using my own example. I found the definition of digital literacy on Wikipedia, decided it must be trustworthy, and pasted it into this article, a standard practice for the majority of our students. That must mean I am digitally literate, right?


This is where I would disagree. I googled the query and chose the first thing to pop up, which happened to be Wikipedia. My reading of digital media was minimalistic. Wikipedia evaluated the source for me, paraphrasing what they took from the American Library Association. I simply copied and pasted it, so my engagement in the writing process was even less than in the reading. So how can I have shown digital literacy?

Now that we are using computers for many lessons and expect students to be able to do research and create presentations or type up their essays for class, what is stopping them from simply searching for the answers online? How do we prevent students from committing plagiarism or resorting to artificial intelligence (AI) to write their texts for them? How can you guarantee your students are digitally literate?


Go old school: stop using computers, pull out a pen and paper, and hope your students remember their personal handwriting would avoid plagiarism. But is this preparing the students for their future? Students need to learn to navigate the internet, find and evaluate trustworthy sources, and then share that information without losing their own voice amongst all their sources. The skills required to effectively do that take years to develop and need to be part of a vertically aligned part of the reading and writing curriculum from primary through to the final years of college.


The first step of digital literacy is to find and evaluate sources. This, of course, can only be done through reading. For many teachers, when they want students to find information online, they give them the link to the source. This is a great practice for the younger year levels, but as the students get older, we need to place more emphasis on helping students learn to identify trustworthy sources. In an age where the term “fake news” is constantly being thrown around and misinformation is presented as truth, the importance of the skill of evaluating and fact-checking sources has risen rapidly and we as teachers must ensure our students are well equipped for the task.


As the students get older, they need to learn how to access academic journal databases. Finding trustworthy sources and knowing how to evaluate whether a source is trustworthy has never been more important. The earlier and more often our students are exposed to these databases, the less they will struggle when it comes time to find academic articles for their Maturaarbeit and Extended Essay. 




Shane Peter, Head of Bilingual College