Final Paper

What Should be Taught in Schools

The digital era has progressed to a point where students cannot be functioning citizens without digital literacy. Digital literacy is important now because people interact and communicate with family and friends through the internet, students must leave a positive digital footprint for their possible future, many jobs require digital literacy including presenting, recording and analyzing data. Danah Boyd is a technology and social media scholar, who has taught at New York University and is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. She wrote a book called It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens about how society is failing youth by not preparing students for the technical world. Boyd’s argument in “Are Today’s Youth Digital Natives?”, a chapter from her book, is that young people are not being equipped with “critical digital literacy,” by focusing on the skills that are important that the youth need to know and why. The claim that I will to extend in her book, is about the youth becoming more media literate by: becoming technically literate, becoming aware of websites that use algorithm and what algorithms do, and understanding fake news.

A part of Boyd’s chapter is about the lack of standardized technical skills being taught or introduced to students, but I believe Boyd doesn’t speak enough on its importance. Boyd claims that the way social media is setup today doesn’t allow students to interact with the technology and coding because of new social media makes it easy and convenient to make a profile and to personalize it. There is no need to learn coding if everything you want is already an easy option offered by the social media company. Coding is the base of almost everything we do in modern technology like: the software of our computers and phones, in our apps on our phone, and all websites. Boyd notes that when Myspace was popular, users explored code to customize their profile and without this exploration many aren’t connecting with a large part of the digital world, coding. Since social media nowadays lacks this quirk, teens aren’t being introduced to the language of code, when knowing code is now more important than ever. Boyd says that technical skills are increasingly important, and teens don’t even have a basic understanding of how computers systems work, and if teens do want to learn additional problems are, “it takes time and effort as well as opportunities, networking, and training to become active participants in contributors .”(182 Boyd) So, it’s understandably difficult to create a basic standard curriculum, but it’s incredibly important and there is a lack of curriculum and students skills. Dian Schaffhauser, a freelance writer who writes about technology, supports Boyd’s claims by talking about the real dangers of the lack of technical skill. In her article, “When Students Can’t Compute.”, she wrote, “Online education promises learning opportunities for all, but too many community college students lack the tech skills–and the access–to take advantage of these resources.” The technical skills need to be taught to people for them to be able to access learning opportunities. High schools are not preparing teens for college or to be digitally literate citizens. Which is the reason why Boyd talks about technical skills in her book. Another source that extends Boyd’s argument is The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The CIPA is the only thing required by the federal government to be taught about the internet. This act forces schools to have two certificates making sure students are safe when using the internet. The certificates only are for the libraries and schools to show that they will censor children searches to be safe and more reliable. The extent of the teaching required by the 21st Century Act, which is under the CIPA, is schools must educate “minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and cyberbullying awareness and response.” This is a good start to beginning to teach students about being digital citizens, but it is nowhere close to being done. Children are learning about having good morals when it comes to the internet and learning about what is safe and legal to do while on the internet. This is a great Act for protecting our children, but this is the only curriculum required by the government to be taught to our children about technology. Boyd even recognizes the lack of good media literacy laws in her chapter. She wrote “Even though media literacy programs have been discussed and haphazardly implemented for decades, most people have little training in being critical in the content they are consuming.” This is a big problem because this is the maximum children must be taught. The CIPA doesn’t create well rounded students with knowledge in technology nor does it prepare students for jobs in the future. This is evidence that children are not being prepared for the real world and the massive amount of technology people are required to interact with.

Boyd claims technical skills are an essential part of becoming a digital citizen. She states, “Although it is not necessary to be technically literate to participate, those with limited technical literacy aren’t necessarily equipped to be powerful citizens of the digital world.”(183 Boyd) Many teenagers are jumping on the internet and learning the basics of social media but aren’t learning the basics of computers and technology. Lawmakers are now realizing the need for more digital literacy. A computer science bill, introduced by Assembly Member Tim Grayson, will be taking effect in California in July 2019 that requires standards for teaching coding and digital literacy. They describe “‘coding’ is the process of converting a program design into an accurate and detailed representation of that program in a suitable language.” This is a good start to teaching technology to students. There are many benefits to learning how to code that doesn’t have to do with being prepared for the technological based future. Though learning coding doesn’t make you a powerful citizen, it has many beneficial effects. Dan Crow, a writer from a newspaper, The Guardian, is focused on the effects of technology. In “Why Every Child Should Learn Code” Dan Crow extends what Boyd writes by explaining more positives of teaching people code. He is aware that not all jobs will require knowing code, but code teaches, “Computational thinking… it {coding} combines mathematics, logic and algorithms, and teaches you a new way to think about the world.” This shows the importance of teaching students coding that is just more than the saying that the future is computers. Students need to understand technology, which starts with coding, to become digital citizens. Boyd and Schaffhauser claim people need to be taught technical skills and when the only thing required to be taught is about being safe in chat rooms, there is a lot more things that students need to be taught. Another writer from The Muse also sees many benefits to learning code. Aja Frost is a writer who focuses on technology, career, and productivity. In her article called “4 Major Reasons You Need Coding Skills Even If You Don’t Want to Be an Engineer” her four major reasons to learn coding were: it will make people more self-sufficient at work, it will change how people think, it will improve people’s communication skills, it will increase your value in the job market, and it may make you promoted faster because of your increased value to the place you work at. Frost thinks that there are many benefits to learning coding that will make people stand out in any job market. She believes this because she had recently interviewed a marketer turned manager and she said her boss’s choice her for the job because coding allowed her to open up more options, take more projects, a help with reimagining the company’s website. Frost also believes having coding or being able to create a website on your skills on your resume will make you stand out and many employers look for people who will be able to have handy skills. So, coding is not only a good for students to learn for the educational benefits of making a more well-rounded student, it will make them more likely to be able to get a job even if their field isn’t coding. Coding and the other benefits mentioned by Dan Crow and Aja Frost will be taught in California thanks to a bill from Assembly Member Tim Grayson, but other states won’t be able to improve their youths conceptual thinking.

Another aspect of digital literacy has to do with algorithms and most people, including students, don’t understand what they are or how they work. Boyd believes that the lack of knowledge of algorithms results in people placing their trust in web engines and other things on the internet that may be biased. I think that people should know basics about algorithms like: what they are, how they are used, what websites use them, and why they are biased.  Boyd writes, “The results that a search engine produces may reveal biases in the underlying data, or they may highlight how the weights chosen by engineers prioritize certain content over others,”(185 Boyd). Boyd writes this in the context of people trusting the reliability of the order of Google’s results page. This source will further establish that Boyd’s claim that algorithms are biased, and more people should know about it. Data & Society is a research institute that is focused on the social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technologies. They published an algorithm briefing about how algorithms perpetuate racial bias and inequality to Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) in April 2018. The CPC is an organization within the Democratic congressional caucus in the United States Congress that works to advance progressive and liberal issues and positions. Data & Society published “Algorithmic Accountability: A Primer” and they stated, “It {Bias in algorithms}can be created through the social context where an algorithm is created, as a result of technical constraints, or by the way the algorithm is used in practice.” To have algorithm accountability, they recommend auditing by journalists or enforcing regulations. Bias in algorithms is not a maybe; algorithms are biased like humans because it is created by humans. The more checked the algorithm the better and more neutral it will be. It is important to know that algorithms are not trustworthy. It is also important to stop teaching children it is trustworthy. Google is a website that wants to generate money like most websites which makes it more bias then ones like Wikipedia that is only there for the betterment of people. In reality, Google is a for-profit company with the goal of acquiring the most profit. Therefore, their algorithms will reflect their objective and manipulate which websites get ranked higher. But Google is still considered to be a very trustworthy site that teachers recommend to their student perpetuating the cycle. This is because people are unaware of the algorithms and their bias. This concept extends Boyd’s argument by giving options for a solution and it shows that even though Google is biased that you can find good websites if you know how.  People should learn the difference, so they are not ignorant to the truth of algorithms and their biases.

Boyd doesn’t talk about non-factual websites and their influence on students, but it is an extremely important part of digital literacy at this time and by talking about some quick tips to teach students this will strengthen and make Boyd’s chapter more modern. Mike Caulfield is currently the director of blended learning, a combination of technology and traditional learning, at Washington State University Vancouver, and head of the Digital Polarization Initiative of the American Democracy Project, a pilot to change the way that online media literacy is taught. In Mike Caulfield’s “Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers”, Caulfield agrees with Boyd saying that, “the web gives us many such strategies, tactics, and tools, which, properly used, can get students closer to the truth of a statement or image within seconds. Unfortunately, we do not teach students these specific techniques.” Caulfield recommends four tips to fact-check: look to see if someone already fact checked this site or article, look at the article’s sources, see if the sources are trustworthy, and go through the process again. This gives people that have a lack of digital literacy skills a quick checklist to think about while reading and looking for trustworthy sources, especially for school. While other people would prefer to teach a more of a non-lateral approach by just looking at the article. Frank Baker, a Media Education Consultant, has done hundreds of workshops for teachers and students on media literacy. Some of his recommendations for how to identify fake news is: a title in all caps, an excess number of ads, and reading more than just the headline. He also gives some tips like check the sources and reverse engine source pictures which can be considered lateral thinking, but most of them are based on what you can see on the site. Not just scholars are realizing that teens need to know how to tell the difference between real and fake news, lawmakers are to. Assembly member Tim Grayson introduced a bill about digital literacy in California legislature. They wrote in the bill that “‘digital literacy’ means the skills associated with using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information.” This is important because it is now teaching young children not to trust everything they read on the internet. This also will lower the influences on people by making them more aware of fake news and how real it could look. Some people think this bill will do more harm than good. Sam Wineburg disagrees that checklists are the best way to be teaching students on how to fact check websites. Sam Wineburg is a professor at Stanford and his study was cited in California’s bill on digital literacy. He told the Washington Post in “Why California’s new media literacy law for schools could backfire” that, instead of giving kids checklists, let’s teach them to spend a minute consulting what the broader Web says about a site or an organization before diving into it.” Wineburg’s worry is valid but if the checklist is how to check a website “laterally” like he wants then he shouldn’t be worried. Caulfield’s list is a step by step on how to read a text laterally. Checking things laterally is good, but it’s time consuming especially if its fake news on Facebook when people are just going to read the headline and believe. I think having a mixture of both laterally and non-laterally should be taught along with when to use either method. I disagree with Sam Wineburg’s concern about teaching only one method. At this point, something being taught to our kids about digital literacy can only be good. In conclusion, people are trying to teach students how to identify fake news and that is a step in the right direction for teaching digital literacy.

My position is that it is crucial to be teaching our students proficient digital literacy skills to prepare them for our highly technical world. I believe that youth becoming more media literate in technical literacy, becoming aware of websites that use algorithms and what algorithms do, and understanding fake news is an extremely important part in teaching them how to become informed digital citizens. A large part of Boyd’s claim is that students are unprepared, and I furthered her argument with the topics that I believe will increase digital literacy.

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