Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Sept. 13, 2013

Connecting the Digital Literacy Conversation

Program Administrator, Family Online Safety Institute

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Glen Warren, who currently serves as vice president of government relations for the California School Library Association. Glen is an advocate for information and digital literacy with over fourteen years of leadership experience in education technology. He'll also be speaking on November 7, 2013 about these issues at the FOSI 2013 Annual Conference. 

With increased access to information online, digital literacy has become a crucial component to teaching young adults how to responsibly interact with what they find on the Internet. For the past several years, Glen Warren has been making strides with digital literacy education in California schools. In 2010, he co-wrote the California Model School Library Standards, which addressed digital literacy learning outcomes for K-12 students. These standards were adopted by the California State Board of Education, and are now used in classrooms throughout California. 

As a part of these standards, Glen outlined the five core components of digital literacy, and put them into an easy-to-remember acronym that now serves as a lens for California educators to evaluate online courses, regardless of the subject. Glen’s AEIOU of digital literacy includes how to access, evaluate, integrate, originate, and use information, specifically in a manner that is ethical, legal, and safe. 

Glen and other members of the California School Library Association took a multi-stakeholder approach when defining these standards, and invited teachers, librarians, parents, children, university faculty, lawyers, law enforcement, and even representatives from the television and creative arts industries to contribute. “There’s too much risk in making the definition of digital literacy unapproachable,” said Glen. 

Digital Literacy is Inclusive, Not Exclusive 

For Glen, teaching digital literacy requires a holistic approach. It’s a conversation that has to be inclusive, not exclusive, and parents, whether they know it or not, are already a part of their child’s digital literacy education. But it’s not enough to just have parents be informed, they need to be active. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. 

In addition to his already extensive list of work, Glen volunteers as a parent-speaker for schools. Surprisingly, some of his talks on digital literacy in the past haven’t been well attended. Why are parents sitting out such an important conversation? Glen sees this happening for two reasons: 

  1. Some educators who are tasked with teaching digital literacy are done so simply because they are good with technology, not because they have actual training. Equipping teachers with proper digital literacy skills is needed to better engage parents and students. 
  2. Digital literacy is being taught in isolation, which in Glen’s experience holds little value for parents. Instead, it needs to be presented in a more relevant context. For example, at the end of last school year, Glen held an event for parents on digital literacy, but presented it in conjunction with summer resources to help students not lose their edge. He was hoping for 20 attendees, but instead got 225. By connecting digital literacy to a more relatable topic, he was able to successfully reach parents. 

“Consider your context when teaching digital literacy,” said Glen, “and then figure out who the most important stakeholders are in that context, and make sure they’re invited to the table.” This multi-stakeholder approach is core to Glen’s philosophy. 

Where Have All the Librarians Gone? 

Glen has always been passionate about technology in the classroom, and the opportunities it provides for personalized learning. But it wasn’t until he fell into a position as a teacher-librarian that he realized their role in digital literacy education, and how they’ve been left out of the conversation. 

As part of his teacher-librarian job, he was required to get a second master’s degree, this time in library science. He quickly learned that librarians, as skilled practitioners of information literacy, were also some of the most knowledgeable teachers of digital literacy. However, due to common misperceptions, librarians are often not considered as leaders in the digital space. For Glen, this couldn’t be more wrong. 

“Librarians are the lead educators on information literacy, of which digital literacy is a subset,” said Glen. “They’ve been working on it since before the Internet even existed.” 

Another reason Glen believes librarians have been left out of the conversation is that for the past fifteen years, the emphasis in education has been on standards and outcome. These are important things, said Glen, but when they become the only thing that matter, it takes power away from the individual learner. But now with unlimited information online, and the ability for students to pursue specific interests, there’s a new awareness and need for digital literacy. It’s a shift that’s helping people realize how important public, university, and teacher-librarians are to digital learning. 

“The ability to think critically and creatively about information,” said Glen, “whether you're accessing it with a computer or a book, transcends technology.”

Cover image courtesy of Flickr