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There’s no doubt kids today are immersed in digital technology like never before. Look around, and it seems almost every child has a tablet, smartphone, laptop or other techno gizmo they’re glued to. And that can be disconcerting for parents and educators. Because while these ‚Äúdigital natives‚Äù are admittedly tech-savvy users who Snapchat on a dime and play Minecraft in a mesmerized state for hours on end, it’s not clear whether they’re building the skills needed to thrive in the real, albeit increasingly digitized, world around them.

That’s where digital literacy comes in. Digital literacy is much more than mere tech savvy. It is the foundation for how to comprehend, create, collaborate, evaluate, understand and succeed in the modern digital landscape. Digital literacy is also about striking a balance and guiding young people in becoming enlightened, responsible digital citizens.

Bringing digital literacy into the classroom is vital for our students. For starters, collaborative activities like video creation, immersive learning games, coding, podcasting and more can help to bring traditional (read: boring) school subjects vividly to life, assist in reaching students where they are, and help to better prepare them for college and career in their very near futures. Yet, schools nationwide and in Mississippi face sizable challenges to implementing digital literacy in their classrooms.

One particular challenge is the digital divide, that gap in access between the technology-haves and have-nots that still persists in many schools despite the digital explosion. In fact, Mississippi recently received an “F” on a report card measuring such in-classroom essentials as broadband Internet access, device availability and whether teachers have met certain digital literacy standards.

All of this leads, conveniently, to the title of my mass communication master’s thesis, recently sent off by Jackson State University to be officially registered and bound:

Digitally Divided in Jackson: Are students getting the digital literacy skills they need to succeed?

This research subject hits close to home personally. Last fall, I had a 9th grader at a local public school which implemented a freshman laptop initiative, and another Minecraft-obsessed 6th grader at a nearby private/parochial school.

This research study explored, through in-depth interviews with 9th-grade public and private school teachers, whether students are being shown how to employ technology to think, create and collaborate across our increasingly digital landscape.

Mina & Perry on IPads

Overall, the goal of the research was to gain insight into:

—How teachers define and perceive technology use and digital literacy in their classrooms.

—Whether digital literacy is being implemented in local classrooms, and if so, how and to what level?

—What are the differences between public and private schools in terms of digital literacy and technology use?

—What more do teachers believe can be done, if necessary, to better prepare students for success?

I invite you to read on to see whether and how public and private school educators in Jackson are prepping our students for success in school, college, career and life—no matter if they happen to be amazingly Minecraft-obsessed or not.

I’ll be publishing a series of articles on this in the coming weeks. Please sign up for our MWB Innovation Series to receive more updates.
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