What is digital literacy?
A lot of what we hear about young people and the internet is focused on e-safety. But digital literacy is about a lot more than that. Digital literacy involves being able to navigate the digital world - making the most of the many opportunities it provides for accessing information, creating connections, having a say, being part of communities and developing skills and knowledge for now and for the future.
Developing young people's digital literacy needs professionals to engage with the online world - supporting young people to move beyond narrow use of a few social networking websites or apps - to discover the full potential of the internet as a global information resource. It also involves the development of critical skills - enabling internet users to choose what information to engage with. One key part of digital literacy is to know when to multi-task, when to focus, when to be connected, and when to disconnect.
But don't young people understand the internet better than us?
Many young people might be more confident in picking up new digital tools and exploring them. But that does not mean all young people have that confidence, nor does it mean that those who are using digital tools really understand them.
Many young people spend most of their online time on just a few websites, missing out on opportunities to use the web to find information and communities that could be useful for their learning, hobbies or careers.
Helping all young people to take advantage of communication technologies is key to tackling digital divides. And you don't need to be a digital expert to do digital literacy - often you just need to think about the digital aspect of what you already do.
Do I need to run a dedicated youth session about digital media?
You could, but there are many opportunities to start a conversation about the digital world with young people. A group work session on identity could encourage young people to consider online identity and how we all present different identities in different spaces. A session on sexual health might discuss how people get information online, and how to sift the good information from the bad.
Before a residential you might create a group agreement about people sharing photos online: do they need to ask permission first? Can people ask for photos to be removed from Facebook? Should people tag each other, or only tag themselves? There are a whole range of opportunities to discuss young people's use of digital media without going near a computer.
How can I use digital media in my youth work?
Look for opportunities to make use of digital tools in your projects, and take the opportunity to explore the digital world together with young people.
For example, setting up a Facebook page to promote your project, and working with young people to manage it can deepen your shared understanding of how Facebook works (as well as potentially bringing new people into your project). Creating a video about the local area using mobile phone cameras, uploading it to the web, and sharing it with local councillors helps develop young people's skills to use social media to advocate for change.
The Social Media Checklist for Youth Projects (see boxout) highlights how you can use digital content creation as an opportunity to think about issues such as accessibility, online identity and participation in digital communities.
Exploring technology together can also involve exploring its absence: spending a day with all digital devices switched off is a good way to think about an individual's use of technology.
Tim Davies is the founder of Youth Work Online
- The Youth Work Online community includes lots of shared learning on digital literacy. From 14 March to 8 April the first Youth Work Online Month of Action will see events and activities for practitioners and managers exploring digital skills, including a free open-space conference on digital era work with young people: www.youthworkonline.org.uk
- The Social Media Check List shows you where to start with digital media projects: www.scribd.com/doc/23713355/ Social-Media-Checklist-for-Youth-Projects