Digital Literacy For Parents

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Last Saturday I joined an amazing group of educators and parents for a one-day conference that focuses on how students are learning in the 21st Century. The “Parent Academy” is an annual event organized by the Whittier City School District. This year they asked me to be their keynote speaker.  I am honored–because I am a parent, because this is my community, and because I am excited to share the work I do.

Below is my speech accompanied with slides and links that I use to talk with parents about the importance of digital literacy and how to better understand and support our 21st century students.

Photo by Regina Valencia. Whittier Community Photography Exhibit, December 2016.

Good morning! I’m so grateful to be here with you today as a fellow parent, trying to navigate teaching and learning in a technology-driven and networked world.

I’m Sonia Chaidez, I work at Whittier College as an Instructional Media Designer where I help faculty integrate meaningful technology use to help students learn to build their digital literacies.  I teach using digital storytelling projects as a way to help merge creativity and technology use but also to think larger about the content students are learning.  

I have a blog where I write about community-based learning projects, education technology and how we learn through stories, and sometimes I throw in a post about being a working mother and self care.  More importantly, I am the mother of two children who widely use the Internet for researching, gaming, and communication.

cc: Alan Light –

I started my career working as a researcher and script editor for a show on science and technology in the late 1990s. We were interested to see what the future would look like and what inventions and gadgets would be part of our everyday lives.

cc: GogDog –

I remember doing a story on a backpack with a rocket—kind of like the Disney movie called, The Rocketeer.  How could we avoid traffic with a jet-propelled backpack without sitting in the parking lot called the 405 freeway.  

Then there was a story I did on wearable technology. This Smart clothing that could learn us and perhaps tell us how active we were during the day (point at Fitbit)- sound familiar? Are any of you wearing a fitness tracker?

 There were many ideas about what the future would look like.  

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On the daily, we interact with gadgets and computers in many different ways. We are consumers of devices and the services they provide but we should also think about how to be smart consumers of the smart devices we carry in our pockets and how the apps we download everyday are learning what we like and what we do.  

These mysterious algorithms known as mathematical equations done by computers aggregate, they add up our data and make calculations based on ads we’ve clicked on or news story headlines.

Have you ever Googled something and these ads pop up on the side of your screen? Yeah, the machine is learning and is suggesting or rather luring things for you to buy and to read—and this can be both sneaky and tricky.

As we enter 2017 and look at technology trends, we need to pay attention to how we are interacting with digital technologies so that we can be engaged parents to help our children navigate the world wide web and learn in a senseful way.

We want to equip our students with skills and tools so that they can thrive in this fast changing, information economy where knowledge is the currency.

cc: Shakespearesmonkey –

My talk today is on digital literacy–the ability to essentially exist and navigate in digital or virtual environments.  While there are pitfalls, we also want to look at the benefits of knowing how these digital environments work.  This is important because the roles our children will take in the coming years will depend on this. It will shape their personal identities.  And, in some cases it may blur the lines of the physical self and the virtual self.

We’ll also look at social media and networks.  These are spaces not only used for communication and social interaction but colleges, universities and employers do active recruiting on these sites.

We’ll chat about digital footprints and why it’s important to know that everything we do online today has a lasting shadow that could affect opportunities in the future.  I’ll be speaking today mostly in English but I do speak Spanish and you can ask me any questions in either language at the end of our talk.

Now, I have a question for you as parents; what career would you like to see your child pursue and why?  Let’s a take a couple of minutes to have a conversation at our tables/chairs about this.  Introduce yourselves , you’ll be spending a good part of the day together and chat a little bit about some careers you think would be good for your child or children.  

I’ll come back in just a bit.


Okay, let’s come back. What are some careers you you’d like to see your children pursue?

(parents from the audience mentioned:  an astronaut or a career with NASA, a scientist who can discover something new, a zoologist since their child loves animals, and a mathematician since their child loves working with numbers.)

These are great!  We want the best for our children.  That’s why we’re all here today!

cc: Laurence Vagner –

In every single career that our children will choose, they will need to have digital literacy skills.  We’ll come back to that.  Our children are 21st century learners.

21st century learning is about being a problem solver, a critical thinker, and an effective communicator and collaborator.

My job is to prepare students to enter the workforce but I also want them to build life-long learning skills.

A couple of years ago, Thomas Friedman who writes on globalization and technology for the New York Times wrote an article about what tech industry leaders look for in their future workforce and they listed skills that might surprise you.  

Sure, if you want to apply for a job as a computer coder or you want a job in robotics then you need know how to code.

This is described as “hard skills” or a person’s technical skill set and ability to perform a specific task –but overall employers in the technology sector listed soft skills known as “people skills” or “social skills” where individuals can work well with others by listening, understanding, and a willingness to keep learning.

Among these soft skills are collaboration and adaptability and the ability to keep learning because of the constant innovation and changing of technology.

This is important!

A generation ago, information technology and digital media were skills you learned if you wanted to go into those specific career fields.  Today, they are a core competency necessary to succeed in most all careers.

We need to nurture students’ ability and confidence to excel both online and offline in a world where digital media is everywhere and part of our everyday lives.

The communication infrastructure or, the building blocks that makes this- is built so that many of the resources we need to move ahead are tied to having access to the Internet and a knowledge of navigating web pages that will ask you for identifying information.

I have another question for you all—
What kinds of resources can you think about that are dependent or make it necessary for you to have Internet access to locate online?

Take a moment to think about this…

What are some of the resources you thought about that are dependent on internet use and going online?
How about:

  • Looking for a job
  • Applying for a job
  • Applying for college and financial aid
  • Where to find resources and information–about your city, about your health provider, about…
  • What about shopping? E-commerce? Did you hear about many of the brick and mortar stores closing after this past holiday season because a majority of goods are bought online?

So, it is important to have a set of digital knowledge skills to function in the society we live in.  

Our students are known as “digital natives” meaning they have grown up with the Internet.

The parents of “digital natives”, us, we are known as “digital immigrants” because we have been moved to learn how to navigate electronic resources in our adulthood.

We are all in this together–we are all learning!

We are asking our students to have 21st century skills or digital literacy skills not just to succeed, but to be active participants in this new world order.


So what does digital literacy mean?
Literacy in the traditional sense means the ability to read, write, speak and listen.
The digital is a broad term. In some ways it is still being defined.
Here are some definitions that we work with:

(These are from the National Council of Teachers of English)

There are many tools and techniques that educators use to teach digital literacy.
I’m going to briefly talk about one:



How many of you know what Wikipedia is?  
How many of you have used it or use it to get information?
Wikipedia is crowd-sourced, meaning anyone can create an editing account and add information to this database.
Do you remember the giant books broken into letter of the alphabet that you could use at your local library or school or if you were lucky enough maybe you had a set in your home–called Encyclopedias?  

Wikipedia is the 21st century version where the information contained in this online encyclopedia is dynamic–meaning it is constantly being added to and updated which makes it a valuable tool for people searching for information.

Now, sometimes students are discouraged from using Wikipedia because they are warned that information could be false–since it’s crowd-sourced and anyone can post, the information could be bias or just plain fake.

But this is also what makes Wikipedia a great tool to teach information and digital literacy.

When we read Wikipedia entries there are usually a set of sources and footnotes at the bottom of the entries.  

There is also a team of people working behind the scenes to flag or bring to the attention of the reader that sources are needed—- meaning be careful—

do your own research before you make your conclusion.  
But a good way of teaching students who want to use Wikipedia is to have them look at the sources that are listed.  
This gives them a place to start when they are doing their own research.  
They can then determine if the information is true or needs updating to reflect current changes.

Wikipedia is used worldwide and sometimes, depending on the the language you are reading it in, the information can be different.   

The Encyclopedia Britannica that I had access to as a kid, stopped being current in 1993.  The sets of books would cost thousands of dollars to acquire and unfortunately, by the time they would reach printing, some of the information was outdated.

At Whittier College we hold Wikipedia edit-a-thons where we teach students how to be critical consumers of the information they are reading on Wikipedia meaning we want them to verify the information and if facts are lacking we ask them to be active participants in our information infrastructure by creating accounts, finding facts with sources and contributing to Wikipedia.  

This is also an excellent way to search for topics that are not represented and add them for the world to learn about.  

This process demystifies or clarifies the way digital platforms are created and students have a better understanding of how Wikipedia can be a good source of information rather that just being told to stay out, don’t use it!  

The reality is that many, many students use Wikipedia because if you do a Google search on almost any topic (we all do this!) the Wikipedia entry will likely come up as the first choice.

As with many things when teaching youth, if we tell them to simply not do something without explanation, it’s not preparing them and this is when the pitfalls of technology can happen.

Let’s talk a bit more about Digital Citizenship and Social Media-

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Of the digital literacy skills I think this is the one that’s been neglected the most.

Our children, our students should start learning digital citizenship as early as possible, ideally when they start actively using games, social media or any digital device.  Digital citizenship is about using the Internet in a smart way.

The students I work with use the Internet for research, to get ideas, and to gather multimedia like pictures, video and music to include into their assignment.  
There’s lots of stuff out there!
It’s important for students to understand that when they read and gather what they find online that they are not making new discoveries, meaning it is not their original work and they must give attribution or credit for the sources they are using.
We also know this as plagiarism meaning an attempt to get credit for someone else’s work and while students may get a bad grade in middle or high school, in college they will get expelled.  It is a serious offense!  
At worst, if they steal copyrighted information that they find online and claim it as their own without giving credit, they could get sued.  It also greatly damages their reputation.
Another aspect of being digital citizens is that 92% of Digital Natives or today’s youth that have grown up using digital devices, now have  a digital footprint.

What is a digital footprint? Let’s watch this short video:

Digital Footprint video

The simple definition is:
“the information about a particular person that exists on the Internet as a result of their online activity.”

Our digital footprint paints a picture of who we are—-and it is likely more public than we assume.
Many companies will Google job applicants to see what they can find out about them online.
Have you Googled yourself to see what come us?  Next time you’re online type your name into a search bar to see what comes up.  

Is your online identity affected by your digital footprint?

The portrait that your digital footprint paints also helps companies target you for products at specific markets, some schools or employers use it to look into your background, and advertisers track your movements across multiple websites.

Whatever you do online, you might be leaving digital footprints behind.

How many of you have left comments on Facebook or simply hit the LIKE button?
Have you ever shopped online?  
Have you left reviews for the items you’ve bought online?
Even when we are logged into web-based platforms or search engines like Google, the information we are looking at, what we’re clicking on or key words in our email are being tracked.  
It’s important to know this because we want to make sure that our digital footprint represents us fairly and doesn’t damage our reputation.

Education is key and we need to let our children know that the many ways they are interacting online can have consequences and could affect things in the future like college and job applications and getting credit and loans to buy a car or home.

The best thing to do to manage your digital footprint is to manage your privacy settings.
When you are signing up for “free” accounts, they are not usually free.  
You are giving the apps and products permission to gather data that can be used to market to you or they sell the data to companies to help them create targeted advertisements.
My suggestion is that you visit each website or online platform that you interact with to check their privacy settings.
If you’re on social media you can manage your privacy settings in your account information but sometimes the companies change their terms of service and
they don’t always alert the consumers–us and our children.  
We have to be vigilant about this and again, be smart consumers.

cc: luc legay –

How many of you are on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, maybe Snapchat?  Why is it called social media?
Well, there is a ton of information to be shared like news, recipes, rants, magazine articles, live video from witnesses.  And it’s social meaning we create and are a part of networks where we can engage by liking, commenting, sharing.
These networks we create or join are important.  They are a part of our identities and how we think of ourselves as a public.

In the early days of the internet, small groups of people formed online networks and they communicated with each other by plugging in their phones that connected to their computers and then they would be prompted by a flickering cursor to type a message.  If someone was online they would respond.  
Later came a larger web where you could get access to electronic newspapers and some sights that shared information that was maybe published once a week
but you would read it and there was no 2-way communication.  

Later came Web 2.0.  
Web 2.0 enabled 2-way communication where online users could communicate with larger networks.  And now we have the social media revolution.

Let’s watch a video first:
Social Media Revolution


This video is from 2016 and it includes trends and statistics that are still daunting to me!
The social media revolution has done just that, revolutionized the way we think about social and civic engagement, e-commerce, news sources.

Social media is how many of us communicate. How many of you use Facebook Messenger or What’s App to text or call people?
Technology has made it easier to connect with friends and family in far away places.

My mom doesn’t have a smart phone. She has a tablet and she calls and messages me using FB Messenger at least twice a week!
My mom who has resisted technology most of her life– but she is a very social person and has gotten her friends to also join social media groups so they can share chisme together–virtually–well, at least that’s what she says.

As parents, most of us are on social media for various reasons and some of us may be “friends” with our children.
So what is the allure for our children to be on social media?

Did you every hang out at the mall when you were a teenager?  It probably wasn’t to shop, maybe it was.
My local mall had a movie theater and my friends and I would ask our parents to drop us off to watch a movie but then we would stay to hang out with other kids from school at the mall.  That was our Facebook in a limited social network which included only the kids that got rides to the mall on that day.

When I was much younger than I am now, my family would travel to a small town in Mexico where my dad and his family are from and we would visit the town square.  We would buy ice cream and sit on bench to people watch.  I remember seeing young girls on one side of the square and the boys on the other side.
Ever so often one would get brave and go over to talk to another.  This is where young people come gather,  to get to know other young people like them.

In my research I look to why students are attracted to social media. I regularly ask students at the college where I work about this. Last year I did a workshop for parents at the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier on different social media platforms and how teens and young adults are using each site.
I also look at research that experts in the field are doing.  A researcher named danah boyd writes quite a bit on this subject.  
She has a book called, It’s Complicated: The Networked Life of Teens where she conducts interviews from across the country to get a sense of what motivates teens to engage in online spaces.

What I’ve found isn’t surprising.
In a chapter boyd calls, “Search for a Public of Their Own” she describes how teens want access to meaningful public spaces and they want to connect to their peers. They want to see and be seen. It reminds me of the town square and the youth dances in Mexico when I visited.  
It’s completely normal– isn’t that what most of us wanted growing up?  
Perhaps what we still want?

Social media is an extension of this.
Teens are now part of a larger public in online spaces but they are also creating and engaging in larger networks.  There are potential dangers in this and that’s why we as parents feel uneasy.  We want to have more control on how our children are using the Internet and with whom our children are interacting with online.
Their safety is our number one concern.

The Internet was essentially invented to share information with a group of trusted individuals.  Because of this, little protections existed. There wasn’t a lot of worrying about people introducing viruses or pretending they were someone else to be malicious.  If that was the case, they would be expelled from this virtual community much the same as a traditional community.

But now…  the Internet is largely open and more accessible.  We navigate through it not always thinking about how open it is.  This can at times lead to identity compromises–there is one of us, but there are many components that represent us digitally. The lines between our physical self and digital self are becoming more blurred because of the ways we interact online. We want to shelter our children and keep them safe but we also have to prepare them to be good digital citizens so they can exist and balance their digital and physical lives.

There are many resources available for parents on the internet about internet safety for kids.

I have a handout in both English and Spanish for you today from a workshop I do on this subject.

In the workshop I cover;

  • Privacy and revealing personal information
  • Choosing screen names- using real names vs. pseudonyms or an alias that protects your privacy by not revealing your real name    
  • Password safety
  • Posting photographs, pictures, and video online
  • Friends on the internet
  • Internet scams, identity theft
  • Downloads
  • Cyberbullying

As boyd says in her book,“teens want access to publics to see and be seen, to socialize, and to feel as if they have the freedoms to explore a world beyond their heavily constrained one shaped by parents and school.
The interactions online can be meaningful and teens create networks that can be both social and beneficial.

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There is another book I recommend by a researcher on cyberculture named Howard Rheingold.  He wrote a book called, “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.” Rheingold points out that the success of 21st century learning depends on making use of online tools without being overloaded with too much information.  
We need to be empowered participants rather than passive receivers.  The message is that we use social media mindfully, which means we think about what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are spending our time wisely doing it.

This can and should include our individual efforts to produce a thoughtful society by as he says,
“Countless small acts like publishing a Web page or sharing a link could add up to a public good that enriches everybody.”

It’s about being a good digital citizen; using digital tools to ethically contribute to the cultural understanding for global communities.  In essence, putting your digital literacies into practice!  These are especially important in the academic future of our children.  They will be asked to join or create their own learning networks where they will practice their digital citizenship skills to ethically and empathetically contribute to the information infrastructure we’ve been talking about.
These learning networks will lead to learning communities where many 21st century learners engage with people they’ve never met in person.  We now ask students to work collaboratively using web-based and online tools like Google docs to write together, to edit with each other and to learn from one another.

21st Century Learning is about being a digital scholar.

What can we as parents do to encourage our children to be mindful of how they are using digital tools?

cc: massimo ankor –

There is a lot of critique about the ways our society is using technology and engaging in social media.  
Indeed, researchers continue to study this especially when technology trends change.  I’m currently interested in learning more about gaming, youth and Mindcraft since my children like to spend a considerable amount of time watching Mindcraft videos on YouTube and creating virtual worlds inside the platform.

Think of it as this:
If you want to go swimming, then you have to learn how to swim–especially if you want to go into the deep end without drowning.  

Education is the most powerful tool in digital literacy.  Technologies change, digital tools and infrastructures are continuously updated and can look quite different from year to year but once you are aware of how these technologies work and the effects they can have then you can go into the deep end of the swimming pool.

What can we do as parents to help our children learn and understand?

The World Economic Forum ( has put together a set of 8 digital life skills that children need to learn, and that parents should be informed about.  We’ve covered most of these but I’ll return to this slide during our questions & answers.

Our digital well-being depends on how we manage the technology that can at time feel like it’s overtaking our lives.  We should be aware of efforts to limit screen time, to not jump at every buzz our digital devices make.  I sometimes dig in my purse to look at my phone because I think I heard it buzz when it hasn’t.

It’s important to be in the moment, to listen, to make eye contact and not constantly look at our electronic devices. We may also want to take breaks from social media, especially when there is constant news and information posted on things we disagree about.
Think about self care— let’s take care of ourselves first so that we can guide our students.  For our children, it’s important to have them take a break from gaming and other activities they like to do online.

cc: gem fountain –

I’ve spoken today about social networks and how they can have a positive effect on youth looking to create online groups that matter to them and help them grow academically.  But human contact is also important.  I said earlier that employers are looking for soft skills, the “works well with others” skills that are best developed by interacting more with humans and perhaps less with machines.
As parents we can navigate the Internet together with our children so that we learn from each other.
Sit down and ask them why they like to visit certain websites and why they like to read certain blogs or watch YouTube gamers.
It’s also good to take advantage of free tutorials and classes that teach students and parents.
We are all in this together, as parents and teachers we are working to prepare our children as digital citizens who can look at the challenges of today and to solve the issues of tomorrow.

I’d like to end on a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. since we just celebrated his life and legacy earlier this week.

He said,The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically……intelligence is not enough…..intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  

cc: Auntie P –

Thank you!  I can take questions in English or Español.

Questions from the audience included:

How long should parents let children be online?  I answered that some experts recommend 30 minutes to an hour a day but sometimes kids are required to be online to do research or homework so times may vary.  I usually let my kids be online to play games for about an hour if they’ve finished homework.  I have to admit that on weekends like the rainy ones we’ve had recently, I do stretch that time out a bit.

Are there filters or timers that parents can set for children when they are going online?  You can set up a family account on YouTube that gives parents access and control on types of videos that are accessible to children.  There are also restrictions for websites, web searching and timers that parents can set up on mobile devices like the ipad.  Common Sense Media has many, many resources available for parents and step-by-step guides. The Whittier City School District also created a presentation called How to Keep Your Kids Safe During Online Activity.

I had another important question that came from a mother after the Q&A session.  Last week she saw news coverage of a student who opened fire in his classroom at a private school in Mexico. News reports stated that the shooting was inspired by a website that the student visited.  The parent I spoke to was concerned about her children and their interactions online.  She says when she was growing up the worry was about neighborhood street gangs and deadly initiation rituals but now there are virtual gangs to worry about too, she says.

It’s a difficult question to answer.  I worry too. Education, talking with our kids, this is where we can help.