As 2019 approaches, it is impossible to understate the importance of being able to use and understand digital technology. From entry-level jobs to executive-level positions, almost everyone is required to interact with some form of digital technology in their day-to-day lives. Outside of the workplace, people email with their children’s teachers, make doctor’s appointments online, and use software to file their taxes. However, for English language learners, limited English proficiency can compound digital illiteracy. In Fairfax County alone, 40% of residents speak a language other than English at home, and 7% of households are linguistically isolated. LCNV recognizes digital literacy as a part of whole language acquisition. “Students who do not become proficient in these skills risk isolation from their communities and the broader world,” states LCNV instructor Susannah O’Donnell. For LCNV’s students, utilizing technology inside and outside of the classroom ensures that they can participate more fully and equitably in the community.
For LCNV instructor Sue Jacob, digital literacy is incorporated even before students enter the classroom. “I use ‘Remind,’ a mobile app,” states Jacob. “The students could text me if they were unable to come to class, and I was able to remind students if a project was due or if class was canceled. Some students hadn't texted anyone before. It's so easy to do, they can use this skill all of the time now.” For instructor Ellen Clore-Patron, mobile technology ensures that learners continue practicing English, even in linguistically isolated situations. “Some students are isolated and use their English infrequently. Using their phones for pronunciation and hearing a different voice is really good for developing their listening and speaking skills.” Clore-Patron also requires learners to contact her through the “Remind” app if they will be late or absent, just as if they were in a work environment, setting up learners for further career success. She also says, “Several of my students are ready to enter the workforce and will likely search for jobs online, send résumés as email attachments, and enter application data via computers or their smartphones. Practicing these skills is essential to success in the job hunt and acquisition of job skills.”
Technology plays a significant role inside the LCNV classroom, too. Walk into an LCNV classroom, and you may see students typing on computers, using online search engines to understand new words, or practicing their English with a mobile app. For Susannah O’Donnell, “we [take] advantage of the computer lab next door to our classroom at the James Lee Community Center. In each case, we have given students an assignment in which they must navigate to a website and search for certain information that is relevant to the topic we have been studying.” For example, learners navigate LCNV’s online SNAPSHOT guide to find information about community resources, or search the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website to find out more about citizenship. O’Donnell notes that these activities can also be adapted as take-home assignments for learners to practice on their home computers, at the library, or on their cell phones. These assignments are completed quickly by students, who are excited to combine technology with their English practice. “I find that the students are really eager to improve their digital literacy,” says Ellen Clore-Patron. “How can we ignore that interest and excitement?”
When asked about how other teachers can get started incorporating technology into their classrooms, Sue Jacob advises, “Start teaching the technology tools that you find the most helpful in your own life. I use Google so often that it was easy to incorporate it in my lesson plans, the same with the online dictionary. In addition, the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia has already identified many apps and educational websites that are perfect for our students.” Jacob adds, “It's okay to make a mistake. There is value in showing my students that sometimes I make a mistake on the SMART Board or that I pull up the wrong video. Demonstrate that accessing the information is valuable enough to try again and that trying new tools is part of life.”
If you are interested in introducing digital literacy into your instruction, LCNV’s Faculty Support Manager Xavier Muñoz suggests “starting small and working together. LCNV can connect you with other teachers trying similar things. Technology is always changing; you don’t need to be the sole expert in the room. Often times, students are each other’s best teachers. Let yourself be a learner alongside them.”
"We are proud that our teachers strive to incorporate technology in both teaching and learning," says Dr. Carole Bausell, Director of Academic and Student Affairs. “Embracing 21st Century Skills in our classrooms gives students the tools they need to participate fully in community life and prepare for the workforce.”*
*Digital literacy skills, in combination with basic academic skills, critical thinking, and self-management skills, fall under the federal definition of workforce preparation activities in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).