Helping Students Make Sense of Digital Content

Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

Helping Students Make Sense of Digital Content

Posted in Evolving Ed | June 10, 2020

Effective blended learning depends, in part, on digital literacy and comprehension. But finding high-quality digital content that meets the needs of all students is no easy feat. Researchers have found that one critical barrier is that students don't comprehend online text as deeply as printed materials. This lack of comprehension can stem from many reasons. People tend to read online text by skimming and scanning, quickly moving from one line or paragraph to the next. It’s easier to multitask online, people often click around from tab to tab. There are more distractions online with infinite opportunities behind every click. Eye fatigue can even interfere with concentration.  

Despite these barriers, we’re responsible for teaching students how to switch from print to digital content without sacrificing comprehension.  

Why should we use digital resources? 

High quality digital content can provide varied information and rich experiences for teaching and learning. Digital content can be used in a variety of ways to enhance student learning, providing students with opportunities to engage in higher-level thinking. Digital content is also used to develop problem-solving and collaboration skills.  

Why is it important for students to evaluate digital content? 

Literally anyone can put information online for any reason they want. Therefore, digital content, like blogs, wikis, websites, and social media, can easily contain misinformation. Digital literacy is about being able to identify high quality content in digital formats. A critical eye is needed to assess:  

  • Relevance - the information’s level of importance to a reading purpose or explicitly stated need for that information. 
  • Accuracy - the extent to which information contains factual and up-to-date details that can be verified by consulting alternative and/or primary sources. 
  • Reliability - the information’s level of trustworthiness based on information about the author and publishing body. 
  • Bias/perspective - the position or slant toward which the author frames the information. 

Incorporate pencil and paper.  

When you incorporate pencil and paper into reading digital content, it transforms the mere act of reading to an active reading strategy. Anytime we employ active reading strategies to digital texts there can be a positive impact. According to Dr. Helel Macpherson of the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, when we write things down, we have to coordinate verbal and fine motor systems. Typically, we don’t write verbatim, which means we have to create our own summaries and concepts, leading to deeper comprehension.  

Take advantage of digital annotation features. 

Move digital texts into a collaborative environment, like Google Docs or any program with built-in commenting, highlighting tools, and note taking abilities. Students will be able to track their thoughts and notes within the text, as well as collaborate with their peers to help each other make sense of the content.  

Teach students how to read digitally. 

Don’t dismiss the power of explicitly teaching students how to read digital text. Introduce a variety of digital content, highlighting the features of each type—just as you would with printed content. This could be interactive websites, audio, video, apps, and text. Then, model exactly how you think through the content as you read or consume it. Encourage students to ask themselves these questions:  

  • Is this content relevant to my needs and purpose? 
  • What is the purpose of this content? 
  • Who created the information, and what is this person’s level of expertise? 
  • When was the information last updated? 
  • Where can I go to check the accuracy of this information? 
  • Why did this person or group put this information on the internet? 
  • Does the website present only one side of the issue, or are multiple perspectives provided? 
  • How are information and/or images in this content shaped by the author’s stance? 
  • Is there anyone who might be offended or hurt by the information in this content? 
  • How can I connect these ideas to my own questions and interpretations? 

As we shift away from traditional instructional practices and toward more holistic blended learning, not only have textbooks been replaced as the primary source of information, but students now have access to myriad digital tools and resources at their fingertips. Let’s make sure students have the proper strategies to identify relevance, accuracy, reliability, and bias in the content they consume. 

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