The 2020-2021 school year was anything but normal. It challenged the existing assumptions that students are familiar with technology and digital literacy and possess fundamental electronic communication skills; however, remote schooling has proven this assumption to be a fallacy. Thus, the question remains: How can career educators and professionals better prepare students to adapt to the technological changes in these unprecedented times?
Creative Solutions to Students’ Post-Pandemic Digital Needs
One solution would be to review existing digital literacy standards to ensure that K-12 schools continue to offer required basic computer skills courses that match current technological needs with opportunities for practice as part of students’ career planning and exploration curriculum. This is in addition to the Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses offered at the secondary level since they are electives. Nor does it include the virtual courses designed for students to demonstrate basic pre-COVID-19 requirements for high school graduation, required in some states like Florida, since it is expected students already know how to operate computer hardware and software.
According to the Indeed Editorial Team (2021), basic computer skills refer to “students' ability to perform fundamental tasks on a computer which include understanding specific [hardware,] software, applications, programs, tools, and more” (p. 1). Implementing a post-pandemic basic computer skills course in K-12 will require an additional set of standards on top of the existing digital literacy standards outlined by the State Department of Education. It requires keeping the curriculum flexible, fluid, holistic, and reflective of the evolving digital skills needed in regards to current advancements and trends in all existing platforms. This change is a drive to develop a curriculum that recognizes that students need more than just the ability to operate a computer and software technically but one that comprises all digital literacy standards, which “includes a large variety of complex cognitive, motor, sociological, and emotional skills” (Osterman, 2012, p. 139).
Implementation of the Proposed Solutions
Expanding existing digital standards could be done by first “convening a community task force (or committee), consisting of professionals from community-based non-profits, libraries, school district, and non-profit organizations, the Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs, state agencies, and other organizations” (Saint Paul Community Literacy Consortium, 2018, p. 1). Once the committee is convened and new standards are created, these can provide the template that paves the way for schools to implement the new post-pandemic upgraded computer literacy skills for all students. Schools can add plans to increase access and upgrade existing computer knowledge and virtual communication skills needed in K-12 and beyond. The new digital literacy curriculum empowers students to apply the skills beyond the classroom to include their daily living, employment readiness, or transition to higher education (Saint Paul Community Literacy Consortium, 2018).
In addition to competency in basic computer skills, educating students on the use, purpose, and etiquette of existing technological communication tools (i.e., email applications, video conferencing, instant messaging) used in K-12 will help to increase effectiveness, efficiency of communication, and collaboration across platforms (Indeed Editorial Team, 2021). Not all middle and high school students know how to craft email using the correct format (informal or formal) or include attachments. Teaching students email etiquette, including helping them to learn the principles of expected communication etiquette when writing and answering email. They also highlight specific email etiquette that students should be taught, i.e., the tone, format, content, response time, and examples of poorly written emails (University Academic Success Program, 2019). There was a learning curve in the Spring of the 2020-21 school year during the closures, which was a consequence of the lack of digital literacy. Online classes had uninvited attendees and unintended behaviors in video conferences. Some remote learning students did not want to be in front of their webcam or were trying to multitask by attending appointments and running errands with their family while video conferencing. Other students did not have consistent or reliable internet access (if any) due to the existing digital divide. Realizing that video conferencing through Zoom, Teams, Google, etc., is increasingly becoming another vital post-pandemic medium of communication in all settings (work, home, school), expectations were outlined for students and staff in video conferences: webcam on for attendance and participation, sound muted upon entry, first and last name displayed, to list a few.
Other essential elements of digital literacy standards were also promoted. Recognizing the importance of students' ability to communicate effectively in online communication such as discussion groups and chatrooms, Osterman (2012) enjoined schools to add socioemotional literacy components to the existing digital literacy skills standards (p. 139). Creating opportunities for students to practice and receive feedback for learned skills were deemed as equally vital. Students practicing technological communication tools daily/weekly/monthly through differentiated age-appropriate lessons and individual conferencing with their teachers in a non-pressured environment, allowing for meaningful feedback, should be part of the proposed curriculum.
Upgrading existing digital literacy standards require the participation of all relevant stakeholders, which includes and begins with policymakers. Policymakers on all levels need to realize the importance of their investment in digital literacy and infrastructure. The dedication and investment allow educational institutions to stay on course by providing flexible delivery methods and digital platforms and create user-friendly modernized curricula for students and teachers (Aristovnik, 2020).
Career educators and professionals are tasked with recognizing and addressing students’ digital needs in a pandemic world. Empowering students to be digitally fluent in a post-pandemic world will require an expansion of existing K-12 digital literacy standards that are evidence-based, deliberative, and comprehensive. This will pave the way for schools to implement an inclusive plan with continuous fidelity to students of varying digital abilities. Thus, preparing and equipping students to perform in our evolving digital society at home and school, increases digital literacy applicable to their future in the work industry.
Aristovnik, A. (2020, August 28). How covid-19 pandemic affected higher education students' lives globally and in the United States: College of Business. https://www.unr.edu/business/international/blog/covid-19-affecting-students
Indeed Editorial Team. (2021, June 9). Basic computer skills: Definition and examples. Indeed Career Guide. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/basic-computer-skills-resume
Osterman, M. D. (2012). Digital literacy: Definition, theoretical framework, and competencies. In M. S. Plakhotnik, S. M. Nielsen, & D. M. Pane (Eds.), Proceedings of the 11th Annual College of Education & GSN Research Conference (pp. 135-141). Florida International University. https://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1213&context=sferc
Saint Paul Community Literacy Consortium. (2018). Basic computer digital literacy standards. https://www.spclc.org/programs/digital-literacy-standards
University Academic Success Program. (2019). Email etiquette. https://tutoring.asu.edu/sites/default/files/email_etiquette_v2.pdf
Tammy Alva, M.A., is a middle school counselor at Mulrennan Middle School with Hillsborough County Public Schools in Valrico, Florida. Tammy has over 17 years of experience in education. She began her professional career in education as a middle school Social Studies Teacher. Tammy holds an M.A. in Counselor Education, Graduate Certificate in Career Counseling, B.S. in Social Science Education, and B.A. in History, all from the University of South Florida. Tammy accepted a new job at a Technical College as a school counselor with Hillsborough County Public Schools and will be starting October 4th. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org