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Digital Literacy & the Importance of the 4 c’s of 21st century

Students Learing 4c's

By Erin Dowd

Kids are growing up with smart phones in their hands, developing their own apps, programming robots and creating online personas. Indeed, technology is prevalent in nearly every facet of children’s lives, including at school where they’re often using technology tools to enhance their learning.

But just because a child knows what buttons to push or has access to a world of knowledge at their fingertips doesn’t mean he or she knows what to do with that power, and power it surely is.

Digital literacy requires teachers to make the shift from passive technology use to thoughtful applications of technology, in order to create new content and process information at higher levels. One way educators can approach the challenge of teaching students to engage safely and responsibly with technology is to focus on the role of the 4C’s:

Critical Thinking – It’s easy to read an article or see a photo and take it for face value, but as social media and the recent spotlight on “fake news” has shown us, there is a danger to doing so. (See this recent study that shows students have a long way to go in terms of being able to discriminate what’s real and what’s fake.) Students need to know how to evaluate sources and make decisions about how to use the new information. This is crucial in an age where there is an overwhelming amount of information to sort through.

Creativity– Anyone can create digital content, but what determines quality? And how can you add authentic opportunities for students? Teachers can help students tap into their strengths and areas of interest while emphasizing original content and developing a quality product. To make it relevant and authentic, encourage students to publish their work using a variety of intuitive digital tools and elicit feedback in the process.

Communication– Teachers cannot shield their students from having an internet presence, but they can help students understand how to cultivate a positive and safe digital footprint. Communication not only happens face to face or over the phone; it also happens when deciding what to share and whom to share with online. In an era when schools are rapidly adopting a digital learning environment, communicating responsibly online is an essential 21st Century skill. Moreover, communicating with a broader audience, such as another classroom across the world, can be a tremendous motivator for students and help them find their voice.

Collaboration– Connecting with others from diverse backgrounds increases the ability to understand multiple perspectives. Learning from and with others all over the world is possible with digital tools like Twitter, Skype, Buncee and Padlet to name a few. Students can work beyond their classroom walls to find answers to real problems. By engaging in this type of collaboration, students are even more prepared to participate successfully in our global economy.

Level Up Village takes it one step further by teaching digital literacy in the context of the 4C’s – on a global stage. Here are a few examples:

Global Web Designers

  • Critical thinking – evaluating sources on climate change
  • Creativity – designing a web page
  • Communication – video messages exchange with a partner from another country
  • Collaboration- creating a website with their partner

( about the impact of this course on computer science students in New Orleans on the education blog Getting Smart)

Stdents solving through 4c of 21st cerntury

Students at The Chapin School in New York City applied CAD and 3D printing skills to water access issues in LUV’s Global Water Crisis course. Read an article by the school here.

Global Water Crisis

  • Critical thinking – evaluating water problems and thinking of possible solutions based on data collected from each class on water usage
  • Creativity designing a solution using TinkerCad
  • Communication – working with classmates and a partner from another country
  • Collaboration – working together to find the best solutions to the global water crisis in each other’s’ communities

(Read more about the valuable lessons this course taught fourth graders in New York City.)

Global Inventors

  • Critical thinking – evaluating the problem of access to electricity and finding practical solutions that can be 3D printed
  • Creativity – designing a creative solution to the global issue of access to electricity using Tinkercad or Sketchup
  • Communication – working with classmates and a partner from another country
  • Collaboration working together to find the best solution for a 3D design to create a solar powered light source

(Find out how students at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School were motivated by their 3d printing collaboration with partners in Nicaragua in this article on the NAIS blog)

Global Video Game Designers

  • Critical thinking – using trial and error of different code arrangements in Scratch to see what works
  • Creativity – creating unique video games and animations
  • Communication – working with classmates and a partner from another country
  • Collaboration sharing ideas and creating new games with classmates and partners

(See what students in Austin learned by collaborating on video games with partners in Pakistan in this article.)

Global Storybook Engineers

  • Critical thinking – using the steps of the Engineering Design Cycle to solve problems
  • Creativity – designing creative solutions to engineering challenges through the lens of storybook characters
  • Communication – working with classmates and a partner from another country
  • Collaboration sharing ideas and finding the best solutions to the design challenges

(Learn how Kent Place School taught important global citizenship skills through Global Storybook Engineers.)

Infusing the 4C’s into all applications of technology in the classroom allows teachers to validate what students are already interested in and provides relevant and personalized opportunities for them to grow and learn. It’s an excellent opportunity for teachers to learn with and from students. Ask them what their favorite digital tools are, why they like to use them, and most importantly how they can be used safely, responsibly and effectively. These tools can be leveraged within the classroom and take students outside of the classroom – even to another country. It doesn’t take much additional planning. Just start the conversation. And let your students lead the way.