Friday, August 2, 2013

Digital Literacy in the Classroom

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been a hot topic in the field of education and is at the center of much debate as to whether or not every state in the U.S. should adopt the same set of standards. I recently learned something about the CCSS that seemed a little troublesome to me in regards to the level of expectations of the standards. For example, the CCSS shifts the content at each grade level down two grades. To give you an example, the content for 12th grade math in the old standards is the content for 10th grade math in the CCSS, which means that students will be expected to master what was previously the 12th grade math content in the 10th grade. In a country where educational systems are being criticized for students not performing at their expected grade levels, people are adopting standards which will increase the expectations of the students thereby increasing the difficulty of the content. Maybe I'm just confused or my perspective is off, but I feel like the CCSS is moving backwards in addressing an education that is equitable for all students.

Another interesting topic to consider is the development of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. This is an assessment designed to measure student proficiency based on the CCSS. I took a look at some of the sample problems on their website ( and from what I saw, this is going to be a very challenging test for students. Of course, I don't have much knowledge regarding the level of competence per each grade level, but it took me a little more time than I thought when figuring out how to solve some of the math problems and I majored in mathematics. The even more troubling thing is when I attempted to solve one of the English sample problems, I managed to get one correct out of four questions. Just when we thought our future jobs as educators couldn't get any more challenging...

One of the major problems that this new assessment presents is that it is a computer-based assessment. Why does this present a problem you ask? Well, believe it or not, there are still many people in this country who are what we consider to be "digitally illiterate". In other words, they are not proficient at typing, are unfamiliar with how to operate computers, and are unable to navigate through programs and applications. In a 5th grade math sample problem from the assessment, it not only required an answer to the problem, but it also asked the student to type the reasoning behind the answer. I didn't learn how to type until I was in middle school so how can people expect a student in the 5th grade to be proficient at typing? How long would it take an average 5th grade to type the answer to this question?

Some of my peers in my class suggested some ideas in order to address this issue of digital literacy without teaching directly to the test. My fellow math majors and I decided to try to put an emphasis on writing out full sentences of answers including reasoning when solving problems. We also decided that we might provide students with additional practice outside of the classroom that required the use of computers and maybe involved typing. The most interesting idea I heard came from the English group. They suggested a day where students would not be allowed to talk to each other with their own voices, but instead they would have a class where they only conversed through a chatroom using computers. This seemed like an amazing idea that could be applied to all of the disciplines. Imagine a math class where students could only explain their answers and their reasoning by typing out the answers. This would force them to be able to express their answers in a clear and concise where so all students would understand. The incorporation of ideas like these are key to providing a creative learning environment that will help students learn and also help students in improving their digital literacy.