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REL Northeast & Islands Supports US Virgin Islands Discussion of Digital Literacy for Career Readiness

Posted by Jill Bowdon on December 21, 2016

What is digital literacy? The term might bring coding or software to mind, but digital literacy is much more than knowing or understanding any specific computer program. In fact, digital literacy is the ability to use technology as a tool to create, explore, innovate, and communicate. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), digitally literate students can perform the following tasks, among others:

  • Find and evaluate information by navigating the Internet and performing Web searches.
  • Communicate and collaborate with others using email, phone or video conferencing, social media, and cloud computing.
  • Develop and distribute content using new media forms.
  • Solve problems and make decisions.

Across the country, educators are recognizing that digital literacy skills are increasingly essential when it comes to participating in society and finding employment. And the view in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) is no different. This past year, REL Northeast & Islands researchers were invited to work with the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) and the US Virgin Island College and Career Readiness Research Alliance (USVI Alliance) to explore what digital literacy skills are needed in the USVI and how they can be taught in schools.

This work began in February 2016, when my REL colleague, Jill Walston, and I held a meeting with the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Directors from VIDE, who explained that learning about digital literacy needs in Virgin Islands workplaces was a high priority for them. They said they needed this information to inform curriculum and programming decisions aimed at ensuring that students become ready for careers within the island jurisdiction.

To gauge digital literacy needs, we interviewed representatives of prominent USVI employers, business professors at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and other members of the USVI business community.

Jill and I, along with Cora Goldston and USVI Alliance Facilitator Sandra Espada-Santos, shared what we learned with the USVI Alliance and then conducted half-day meetings in St. Thomas (November 9, 2016) and St. Croix (November 10, 2016) to facilitate discussions about the digital literacy needs (as expressed by the interviewees) and strategies for improving digital literacy education. Participants included members of the USVI Alliance, CTE directors, key VIDE and USVI Board of Education staff, and selected community, business, and university representatives, including some study interviewees. Participants also talked about how they can work together to promote digital literacy skill development that aligns with local employer needs and future business opportunities.

The meetings resulted in several proposed action steps to promote digital literacy, including the following:

  • Expand and improve systems to connect secondary schools with UVI and businesses. For example, some participants suggested forming an advisory board of UVI and business representatives to advise VIDE on digital literacy needs and curriculum alignment. Participants also suggested developing more formal communication channels between business and education staff.
  • Incorporate the use of digital literacy skills into pre-existing reading, math, science, and social studies curricula. Develop digital literacy standards that are vertically sequenced from preschool through 12th grade and include both basic computing/software use as well as more cognitively demanding skills, such as digital creation.
  • Educate students on how to use social media and the internet to communicate with others safely and appropriately. Students will use these forms of communication, and schools should not miss the opportunity to provide formal instruction on skills that can translate to the professional world of communicating and collaborating online.
  • Provide professional development for teachers on how to incorporate digital literacy into their classrooms. Professional development can help teachers overcome the barrier of feeling uncomfortable or inexperienced with digital tools. Train teachers in digital skills, and also train them to access and use existing online resources, including virtual communities, to advance students’ digital skills.
  • Expand the resources available to help students develop digital literacy. For example, participants recommended that libraries extend their hours, since most of USVI’s personal computing centers are located in libraries. Some participants also recommended that UVI students and technology companies volunteer at computer labs to tutor students.
  • Provide students with opportunities to gain authentic career experience. For example, participants recommended that business professionals and UVI staff make presentations in K–12 schools about digital literacy and career success. Participants also suggested increasing internship, job shadowing, and virtual career exploration opportunities.

Looking ahead, the USVI leaders we worked with plan to use these action steps to inform future collaboration among K–12 education, university, and business. These stakeholders are excited to work together to expand digital literacy education and better prepare USVI students for meaningful careers.

Learn more about REL Northeast & Islands’ research alliances.

Cora Goldston, Communications Associate at American Institutes for Research, also contributed to this post.

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