July 27, 2022

Virtual Reality: The Next Big Thing in Digital Literacy [With Examples]

Kai XR

Have you heard all the buzz about digital literacy? It's a hot topic when it comes to 21st-century skills. As an extended-reality (XR) platform, Kai XR is focused on bridging the gap between technology and classrooms. We recognize the importance of discussing digital literacy and sharing examples that can help students build the future they want to see. 

In today's world, digital literacy doesn't just mean being tech-savvy and knowing how to use your devices. It also means using digital tools appropriately and effectively as a thoughtful human being. It's becoming essential in today's world, and with the steady advancement of technology, students and educators must keep up with the ever-changing landscape of communication and information sharing.

Unfortunately, students around the world face challenges in developing digital literacy. According to UNICEF, there is a multitude of challenges that can limit digital literacy among children:

  • Social environment  - A child needs access to technology to develop these skills, but many are faced with low-quality technological infrastructure.
  • Family context - Parents and families must also be digitally savvy to help them develop digital literacy, but many did not have the same access to technology as their children.
  • Schools - School is one of the easiest places to access technology, but underfunded schools cannot keep up with the latest technologies. 
  • Private sector - Private technology companies are responsible for keeping children safe when using their devices. 

As educators, we can play a critical role in developing digital literacy in children. With the right resources and access to technology in the classroom, educators are in the best position to help students make safer choices in the digital world and use digital resources effectively. 

So, let's take a closer look at digital literacy and why it should be taught in every classroom. 

In this article, we'll discuss: 

  1. Digital literacy: what it is and why it's important
  2. Digital tools for the classroom
  3. How extended reality can help 

What Is Digital Literacy in Education? 

Digital literacy is often used to describe a specific type of knowledge one needs to use various technologies successfully. While the definition sounds broad, put simply, it's the ability to think critically, solve problems, and gain a deeper understanding of the world around them with the use of information technology. Ideally, these skills would be used to make positive contributions to our ever-changing world. Individuals with digital literacy can effectively research, communicate and participate in the digital world. 

Digital literacy isn't typically associated with education, but that's starting to change. A 2020 augmented and virtual reality survey report found that survey respondents named education the second most likely sector to be disrupted by immersive technologies in the near future. AR and VR are just scratching the surface of emerging technologies. 

The increased availability and use of digital information and communication technology have raised teachers' awareness of this growing need for education. Where many traditionally think of topics like history and art in education, digital literacy has impacted how all subjects are taught.  

Let's look at one example. Traditional language arts education teaches you how to read and write using pen and paper in the analog or traditional sense. Digital literacy focuses on the many assets digital technology brings to the table, such as digital representations of penmanship, word processing, and the internet. 

Paul Gilster introduced the concept of digital literacy as we know it today in his 1997 book Digital Literacy. He stated that digital literacy was more about mastering ideas than keystrokes, meaning it's better to know how to use the technology for specific outcomes instead of learning how to operate it. While technical skills are required, practical usage is truly where literacy lies. 

Since Gilster introduced the idea, there have been numerous researchers and organizations attempting to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how digital literacy interfaces with other literacy concepts such as: 

  1. information literacy
  2. library literacy
  3. media literacy
  4. computer literacy

Once digital literacy became recognized as a fundamental skill needed in the modern world, it became a required part of school instruction. Integrating technology into the classroom has become a standard practice across subjects. As a result, students now have more access to information and tools to create and collaborate. 

We'll get into more specific examples of digital literacy soon. But first, let's discuss why it's become such a critical skill for students to learn. 

Dark purple gradient background collaged with white zig zags and triangles. In center, two students' backs face the camera as they talk and look at the laptop on their shared desk.

Why Is Digital Literacy Important? 

We rely on technology more than ever – it's go­ing to affect us in ways we have not quite previ­ously seen. 

People today are faced with more information than ever before. We have hundreds of TV channels and millions of websites to choose from. Our social media feeds are constantly updated with new, sensational news articles. Never before has there been so much available for us to read and watch. 

But, because of this, it can be challenging to sort through the clutter and find what is interesting and worth our time. Digital literacy is critical in picking through this mass of information and finding useful information that meets our needs. It's about finding the best matches out of all the possibilities that are out there on the internet.

Additionally, high-paying careers are becoming more and more centered around the use of technology. From manufacturing to marketing, the implementation of new technologies is constantly changing at the speed of light. To be successful in the modern workforce, students will need to develop the skills required to operate this technology and use it to solve problems in their workplace. 

One great example is in the infrastructure inspection industry. Until recently, building and bridge inspections were conducted over a long period by tediously scanning areas of the structure with tools and your own two eyes. Now, many infrastructure owners are moving toward drone and artificial intelligence technologies to keep employees safe and expedite the process. Those in the inspection industry now have to pivot toward understanding how to operate drones and use software platforms to review and analyze the data collected by the drone. As a result, demand for these digital skills will continue to rise.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 16% of adults 16-65 are not digitally literate. Furthermore, their study found that digitally illiterate adults have a lower labor force participation rate and tend to work in lower-skilled jobs. In addition, the digital literacy gap is amplified in lower-income and BIPOC communities, with the Hispanic population experiencing the highest rates of digital illiteracy. 

Digital literacy is about empowering people with skills like critical thinking and problem solving for the ever-complex, networked environment we now live in.

Examples of Digital Literacy 

So what tangible ways can digital literacy empower students in the world around them? Let's get into a few technical and practical digital literacy examples. 

Technical digital literacy skills include: 

  • Basic computer knowledge such as understanding software programs like Microsoft Word or Excel
  • Ability to navigate websites and social media platforms effectively
  • Using search engines
  • Developing complex passwords for security 

Practical digital literacy skills include: 

  • Finding trustworthy news sources online
  • Understanding the concept of digital citizenship – knowing what information is appropriate to share, knowing how to protect personal information online, understanding what constitutes cyberbullying 
  • Understanding privacy settings 
  • Adapting quickly to new technologies

New Digital Technologies for Digital Literacy 

There are a lot of remarkable new digital technologies being introduced to classrooms all the time, but it can be hard to keep track of what's available. Some will be successful, and some will fail, but all of them are worth exploring. Let's discuss four of the new technologies that could have an impact on digital literacy in the years to come:

  1. Internet of Things
  2. Mobile Devices
  3. AI and Machine Learning
  4. Extended-reality (AR/VR)

1. The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things refers to devices connected to the internet through sensors or other means. Some examples include home appliances like refrigerators that track their usage patterns, smartphones that track their location or use GPS data, and smart thermostats that adjust the temperature based on user preferences and other factors such as weather conditions outside.

For educators, IoT-related topics such as programming, hardware, networking, and artificial intelligence can become part of core computing curriculums. In addition, empowering students with the ability to develop and operate complex systems where technology and humans interact will be a valuable skill in the future. 

2. Mobile Devices

In the last decade or two, mobile devices have become a powerful and essential part of our lives. From phones to tablets and laptops, we use these devices daily for work, play, and communication with other people worldwide.

Smartphones in education can be tricky because students can become distracted from the current lesson by other apps or notifications. However, they can also be incredibly helpful. For example, students who have trouble focusing could use an app to play white noise while working. They can also access micro-learning opportunities (like learning another language with DuoLingo). 

3. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already here, making our lives easier in many ways. For example, Google Assistant can quickly answer any question about anything, while Amazon Alexa can control your home devices and answer questions. Of course, these tools don't always get everything right, but they're improving every day — and they will continue to improve as they learn more about us and the world around us.

In May 2022, MIT hosted the Day of AI, bringing an artificial intelligence curriculum to thousands of students. Students gained an understanding of AI topics like facial recognition and deep fakes, algorithmic bias in datasets, and responsible design of social media platforms. These are critical topics centered around ethical standards for very powerful technology. 

4. Extended-reality (XR)

Extended reality is an umbrella term encompassing technologies like s virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). We believe that XR, AR, and VR are the future of education

Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR, respectively) are technologies that build on virtual environments. They can be used with games, simulations, and visualizations. Advanced mixed reality (MR) tools allow users to interact with real-world objects by incorporating contextual information that blends naturally with their environment as they touch and engage with physical surroundings. These tools interact using sensors and actuators connected to computers or smartphones.

The potential of augmented, mixed, and virtual reality just can't be overstated — cross-disciplinary experts have already demonstrated how these emerging technologies are improving learning outcomes at scale. This kind of technology presents an appealing option for students to use their digital literacy skills in an immersive and engaging way. Virtual reality for teaching has become more and more popular as a result. 

So how can you put these technologies to work in the classroom? 

Dark purple gradient background. Collage of graphics for a few of Kai XR's virtual field trips. On right, child smiles and looks up while wearing a virtual reality headset that says "Kai XR".

XR Ideas for Digital Literacy in the Classroom 

When it comes to examples of digital literacy lessons in the classroom, we're choosing to focus on opportunities to incorporate cross-reality into programs and schools. That's because it's one of the most accessible and affordable options. You can find ideas below!

Take a Virtual Field Trip

Virtual field trips can open up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to learning. For example, you can easily transport your classroom to the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument for a social studies lesson or visit the CRISPR lab in Berkeley to learn about DNA and gene editing. Convenience is only one of the many benefits of virtual field trips. They can enhance students' learning, keep them engaged, and allow collaboration and connection between students, classrooms, and even different schools. 

By partnering with a platform like Kai XR, educators can access an extensive library of virtual field trips they can use throughout the year. Households can also partner with Kai XR to create a calendar of virtual field trips for families learning at home. Through our technology, students can explore the following places and concepts: 

  • Washington D.C.
  • NASA Training Center
  • Egypt
  • Zoos
  • Museums
  • And more 

Explore the Metaverse

The metaverse has been a concept for a long time, but it wasn't until recently that metaverse companies started popping up everywhere. 

What's the metaverse, you ask? The modern definition includes the following elements: 

  • The metaverse is made up of multiple virtual worlds connected with each other
  • Anyone can build the metaverse
  • The metaverse will enable people to communicate with each other in new ways
  • The metaverse can be accessed with many different kinds of technologies

One of those technologies is XR! The metaverse can connect learners globally and invite students to engage in new creative environments. Lessons could be anything from history, science, or art, to coding, writing, and music. Metaverse games can get students excited about learning again, and Roblox is a great example. This metaverse ecosystem is a great immersive tool for STEAM education because it incorporates physics and engineering topics and encourages critical thinking. 

Build a Virtual Makerspace 

A makerspace is yet another great way to use XR in the classroom. While some makerspaces are physical locations, you can also set up a virtual makerspace for your students. A virtual makerspace is a collaborative space built online to connect people, tools, resources, and ideas.

They're great for building new relationships and communities, giving students access to tools they might not have at home, and providing a place where students can learn from each other. Here are some great makerspace ideas for middle schools

Kai XR recognizes the impact that the makerspace can have on students' digital literacy levels. That's why in July, we launched a VR makerspace where educators, students, and parents can access various digital tools to supplement classroom curriculums. In the makerspace, you can interact with different virtual settings and use various tools to create and add to the environment. 

Bring Digital Literacy into Your Classroom 

Virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality are all phrases that might sound futuristic. Still, for today's students, they could be some of the most in-demand career skills when they enter the workforce. It's our responsibility to equip students with the digital literacy skills they will need to succeed in today's workforce. 

With the help of our inclusive, high-quality platform, every student will be able to find a virtual experience that interests them. It's one of the many ways to support digital literacy in your classroom. 

Are you ready to discover how Kai XR can transform your classroom? You can start by learning more about what we offer programs and schools or schedule your demo to get started. 

In the meantime, check out our other posts:

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