Digital literacy proposed as required freshman course

A new class designed to enhance positive digital citizenship called Literacy in a Digital World may be added to Wilton High School’s list of courses next September as a freshman requirement.

The course is being proposed by Wilton High School Library Media Special Jacquelyn Whiting and the school district’s digital learning director, Fran Kompar — the latter of whom presented the proposal at the Board of Education’s Nov. 1 meeting.

Ever since she started working on the district’s digital learning plan “a couple years ago,” Kompar said, she has been “very, very committed” to “having transition courses at the sixth grade and ninth grade level.” For example, she said, a digital citizenship course was offered at Middlebrook last year to all sixth graders.

After seeing how “very successful” and “very important” that middle school course has been “to teachers, as well as students,” Kompar said, she and Whiting began co-authoring the Literacy in a Digital World course for the high school.

Kompar said the course is based on the findings of a 2016 Stanford University study, which found that “overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”

“Our ‘digital natives’ may be able to move between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting at the same time as posting selfies — but in fact, they really do not know how to actually analyze media and use it well,” said Kompar.

“Some of the things that came out of [the study] was that they mistook ads for news; they thought that just because results came up on the top of a Google list that they were better and more trustworthy; and they were duped — they were duped by phony photographs; they were duped by different types of stories out there, and they were duped by simple things like charts with lots and lots of data because the data looked like it was important, therefore they never asked where the data came from.”

It’s important for students to be “media literate,” said Kompar, which is why a course like Literacy in the Digital World is so important.

“How do we actually produce citizens that actually can be interconnected globally through technology? … We need to instruct it, and we need to instruct it by people who have the expertise in this area, which happen to be our library media specialists,” said Kompar.

Through the Literacy in a Digital World course, students would learn about various purposes of information dissemination, “examine the myriad ways in which information is received,” communicate ideas to a variety of audiences online, and develop “design-thinking skills” and apply them to real-world problems, according to the proposal.

They would also “explore how changing and expanding forms of media have been used by the creators of information to maximize audience reach and impact, always returning with a critical eye to the information flowing through their news channels and social media feeds.”

According to the proposal, the cost of the course would include $2,500 in developmental funds to have “at least two staff members” each spend five days in the summer of 2019 “developing specific units of study, lessons, and common assets.” Since the course would “make use of” the high school’s Ready Access BYOD (bring your own device) initiative, according to the proposal, equipment and supplies would have “limited associated expenses.”

The course proposal is available here.