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Digital fluency

What is digital fluency?

Digital literacy and digital fluency describe students' capability in using digital technologies to achieve desired learning outcomes.

  • Digital literacy – A digitally literate person knows how to use digital technologies and what to do with them.
  • Digital fluency – A digitally fluent person can decide when to use specific digital technologies to achieve their desired outcome. They can articulate why the tools they are using will provide their desired outcome.

A digitally fluent student:

  • knows where and how to find and access information quickly and accurately
  • can critique the relevance and accuracy of information being accessed
  • is an adept producer of digital content
  • can recognise and use the most effective methods of reaching their intended audience
  • understands and demonstrates how use digital technologies responsibly including – digital security (self-protection), copyright.

The essence of digital fluency is to make core critical thinking and information literacy skills relevant to the new challenges of the digital environment.

This is why digital fluency combines old techniques – those classic skills necessary for any critical engagement with information – with new and specific knowledge bases about how the internet works, and how, given how it works, it can inadvertently deceive or be deliberately used to deceive.

Miller and Bartlett, 2012

The importance of digital fluency

In the years ahead, digital fluency will become a prerequisite for obtaining jobs, participating meaningfully in society, and learning throughout a lifetime.

Resnick, 2002, p. 33 via White, 2013

In the 21st century, digital information is rapidly overtaking print as the principal means of communication. Digital fluency is a key focus for Ministry centrally-funded professional learning support (PLD Changes will lift student achievement, 23 Sept. 2015 ).

It is essential that digital fluency is fostered within the school curriculum and in the pedagogical practices of schools and teachers so students can thrive in the digital age.

More information »

Teaching and learning digital literacy skills – different ways of working with information and communicating – needs to be based on sound evidence and positive educational experiences.

White, 2013

Esther Casey explains what we can do as educators to support students build digital literacy and fluency. She explains students need to develop critical, collaborative, and creative skills in the work they do. This involves:

  • selecting and using the appropriate digital technology for their task
  • understanding how to re-use other people's knowledge and ideas in respectful ways
  • building on information to create their own new knowledge and ideas to share with others.

Digital fluency has three components:

  • net-savviness – a practical understanding of the way the internet works
  • critical evaluative techniques – the knowledge and use of basic checks, techniques and principles that can be applied to assess the trustworthiness and accuracy of information
  • diversity – the extent to which users’ online consumption is broad, varied and diverse

Miller and Bartlett, 2012

Ways to build digital fluency

Support students to critically analyse information

The internet is an important medium through which pupils’ acquire and use information. Support your learners to utilise this huge resource and critically analyse what they find.

Some key understandings students need are to:

  • understand how search engines operate
  • understand the difference in quality of information, for example between statistics and anecdotes
  • how to apply fact-checks or other source verification on the online information they consume
  • how to recognise bias or propaganda
  • the importance of visiting a wide variety of websites with different perspectives.

Flip learning

Flipped learning fosters digital fluency by giving students the opportunity to independently access relevant content and view it on their own terms. It allows them to take ownership of their learning and grow comfortable in a digital environment. 

Setting up online learning platforms like classroom blogs, wikis, websites, or applications such as Google Classroom, are great ways of maintaining flipped classrooms. By posting information and a video on tomorrow’s topic, students can review learning at home at their own pace. By the time they come to class, they will have a pre-consolidated knowledge-base to build on, ask questions, and share ideas with their peers.

More information »

Encourage collaboration through digital tools

Providing opportunities for students to collaborate online prepares them for 21st century working conditions.

Support students to identify which tools best suit their purposes for collaborating to:

  • plan
  • gather information
  • synthesise information
  • present information.

Encouraging students to collaborate on a shared Google document, for example, allows them to update and comment on each other’s work with an immediacy that matches face-to-face communication.

Where appropriate, encourage the use of Skype, Google Hangout, Facetime for collaboration with peers and experts on student led projects.

Reflection is a key component in a collaborative project – how well did the tools support their needs?

Students from Ruawai Primary School and their teacher talk about how they are developing key competencies through writing collaborations.

Scaffold online tasks

Set challenges for your students that allow them to discover, select, and use the best tool or platform for sharing their learning. For example, students tasked with designing and sharing a healthy, balanced meal need to research, create, and select an effective online platform to promote their learning. It is up to the students to find the best method of meeting the challenge. They may share their recipe on:

  • a blog
  • build a webpage around it
  • create a cooking show-style video and share it through a social media page, website, or blog.

Encourage students to troubleshoot on their own, look up tutorials, and find ways to solve problems independently. Only step in when necessary to question and guide students to find solutions. Empowering students is an effective way to support digital fluency development.

Hillcrest School teacher, Miel MacLean and students share how learning experiences, in a student-led inquiry into Māori kites, were enriched through using technologies and publishing via a collaborative wiki.

Encourage students to share their learning

Allow the web to become your students’ exhibition space for their learning. Encourage them to document their work, publish photos, edit a wikipedia entry, upload videos, and post content on blogs.

Web 2.0 tools provide a multitude of ways to reach wider audiences. When students have an authentic audience, it empowers them and gives their work extra meaning.

Support students to:

  • consider their audience's needs and expectations for the information they are presenting
  • explore how different media formats can be used to communicate a message
  • ensure their information/messages are clear, accurate, and easy to understand
  • reflect on how well their message is conveyed and understood by their intended audience with the tools they used.

Teacher, Nicki Fielder and students from Apiti School explain how they use digital tools to share their learning.

Foster digital citizenship among your students

Part of becoming digitally fluent is being able to recognise and avoid the risks and hazards of working in an online environment. Empower students with the skills they need to manage the risks in the digital environment. 

  • Devise and practise strategies to help students use digital tools safely and responsibly. 
  • Discuss strategies for protecting identities by avoiding malware and maintaining anonymity on the Internet.
  • Help students recognise copyright infringement and look for signs of inauthenticity in material that has been published on the web. 

Principal, Mary Cuming explains the process the Board, teachers, and students worked through to develop a digital citizenship agreement at Apiti School.

More information »

  • Building technology fluency: Preparing students for digital learners  – Beth Holland's Edutopia article offers more strategies on developing digital fluency in the classroom.
  • 21st century fluencies  – The global digital citizenship foundation website provides information and resources to support your understanding and teaching of five fluencies: information fluency, solution fluency, creativity fluency, collaboration fluency, and media fluency.
Developing key competencies through writing collaborations

Developing key competencies through writing collaborations

Students from Ruawai Primary School and their teacher talk about how they are developing key competencies through writing collaborations.

Connecting learning and the community

Connecting learning and the community

Teacher, Nicki Fielder and students from Apiti School explain the different social media tools they use to connect with parents and the wider community.

Developing digital literacies using Google Apps

Developing digital literacies using Google Apps

The principal of Ruawai Primary School, explains how Google Apps are used to develop digital literacies, creative thinking, and communication skills in a collaborative environment. 

Using blogs to communicate with the school community

Using blogs to communicate with the school community

James Rea, DP at Russell Street School, shares how students are using their library blog to post book reviews and character profiles.

Teacher inquiry: Using Google docs to improve learning outcomes

Teacher inquiry: Using Google docs to improve learning outcomes

Houghton Valley School, teacher and e-learning leader, Peter Holmstead inquired into using Google apps to improve learning outcomes.

Apiti School – Process for developing a digital citizenship agreement

Apiti School – Process for developing a digital citizenship agreement

Principal, Mary Cuming explains the process the Board, teachers, and students worked through to develop a digital citizenship agreement at Apiti School.

Digital citizenship and technology use

Digital citizenship and technology use

Deputy principal Miranda Makin describes how Albany Senior High School supports students to be digital citizens.

Student led inquiry supported by e-learning tools

Student led inquiry supported by e-learning tools

A student-led inquiry into Māori kites at Hillcrest School.

Using video conferencing to expand learning options

Using video conferencing to expand learning options

Southern Cross Campus student Shona Unasa takes economics via video conference.

Authentic learning experiences facilitated through a wiki

Authentic learning experiences facilitated through a wiki

French teacher Sarah Collett and two of her students, describe the usefulness of using a wiki to create and enhance authentic language learning experiences.

Year 5–6 Learning in an innovative learning environment

Year 5–6 learning in an innovative learning environment

Anita Head, team leader at Halswell School, explains how drawing on the individual strengths of her team allows them to provide a more refined programme for their students.

Teaching digital stories using tuakana-tana

Teaching digital stories using tuakana-teina

Irongate School has a focus on improving student literacy levels particularly for their large population of Māori and Pasifika students.

Improving student writing using blogs

Improving student writing using blogs

Wairakei School teacher and her student explain why blogging encourages students to produce better quality work because it is being seen and commented on by an authentic audience.

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Key resource

From literacy to fluency to citizenship: Digital citizenship in Education

NetSafe logo

In this paper, Netsafe presents a revised model of digital citizenship.

Digital citizenship combines the confident, fluent use of three key elements:

  • skills and strategies to access technology to communicate, connect, collaborate, and create
  • attitudes, underpinned by values that support personal integrity and positive connection with others
  • understanding and knowledge of the digital environments and contexts in which they are working, and how they integrate on and offline spaces.

Towards digital fluency

The Ministry of Education outline a range of initiatives for Digital Technologies in Education to ensure all New Zealand schools are equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure, teachers get the support and resources they need to be digitally fluent, and every student benefits from the advantages of digital technologies for learning.

ACER - Australian Council for Educational Research

Digital fluency: Skills necessary for learning in the digital age

This article examines the skills that will be required for the 21st century that will need to be embedded in educational curricula in order achieve them. It begins by considering how communicating between people has changed and current educational responses. A view of 21st century skills follows with an argument for some core subjects that will be necessary. Learning and teaching are then discussed leading to a view about what is needed in order to develop digital fluency in education, for now and the future.

Digital fluency: Towards young people's critical use of the internet

An article from the Journal of Information Literacy, 6(2), pp. 35-55 by Miller, C. & Bartlett, J. (2012). This article focuses on the effective use of the internet, distinguishing good information from bad. It presents two bodies of research examining the contemporary state of digital fluency in the UK. First, a literature review of recent publications containing evidence of the state of digital literacy in the UK. Second, a survey of 509 primary and secondary school teachers in England and Wales about their views on their pupils’ ability to critically engage with online information, and how this ability might be taught in school.

What is digital fluency?

A blog post by Karen Spencer elaborating on digital fluency and its pedagogical implications.

Digital fluency

A Slideshare presentation from Silvia Rosenthal explaining digital fluency – moving from being skilled and literate to fluent in the 21st century.

21st century fluencies

The global digital citizenship foundation website provides information and resources to support your understanding and teaching of five fluencies: information fluency, solution fluency, creativity fluency, collaboration fluency, and media fluency.

Building technology fluency: Preparing students to be digital learners

A blog post by Beth Holland describing what fluency is and some strategies for building technology fluency with your students.


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