We often discuss digital literacy and how we aim to develop it in our students, yet we don’t have a clear consensus as to what the term actually refers to. I have always found this to be a little concerning. However the recent ransomware attack, which in the UK heavily impacted on the National Health Service (NHS), has made me reconsider my concerns and the importance of digital literacy for our pupils.
On Thursday 11th May, before the attack, my digital literacy teaching most likely would have focussed on areas such as online bullying, fake news and addiction to mobile devices, a reflection of reports which highlighted fake, or allegedly fake, news stories circulating on the internet via social media, while other news reports pointed towards children spending significant amounts of time using their mobile devices, including late at night. Some teachers may have mentioned ransomware or viruses, but largely the focus would have been on other areas.
24 hours later and news of a ransomware attack, which impacted on computers in 150 countries, was been widely reported. This was an attack which utilised a previously identified vulnerability which had been left unpatched and unresolved in a large number of computers across the globe. It could have been even worse if it had not been for the fortunate actions of a security consultant in the UK.
Following the reporting of the cyber attack, I believe a large number of teachers would have taken the learning opportunity which presented itself, choosing to discuss ransomware and the wider cybersecurity issues with their students. I believe this is a good thing.
However, I also think that discussions of digital literacy after the attack are likely to have changed as a result of the events of that day. I suspect there will be a greater focus on cybersecurity, viruses, hacking, upgrading and ransomware, than they did 24 hours earlier. In effect, the world has changed in that we now perceive the risk of a wide spread vulnerability being exploited in computers across the world, and the potential impact it could have on us all as individuals.
This is one of the reasons why I feel we have such a difficulty in determining what we mean when discussing digital literacy. The issue is that we are referring to being literate with the digital technology which exists including the benefits and risks, yet the ransomware of the 12th May goes to prove that the risk, or at least the perceived risks, are dynamic in nature. The risks we perceived changed radically in the 24 hours of May 12th. As the digital world is changing, as opposed to being static, then the requirements of being “literate” with this digital world must also therefore be changing. Being digitally literate on May 11th was different to being digitally literate on the 12th.
On the 11th May some had identified the risk associated with older or unpatched software however clearly the risk was not perceived as significant enough or they would have done something about it. Here I believe is a significant learning point. We can’t predict an unpredictable future. We need individuals who are flexibility to respond to the unexpected. We need resilience to deal with where things go wrong and to retain a level head throughout. We need creativity to identify solutions to problems we cannot imagine in advance. We also need the IT skills to identify and use the appropriate technologies to address issues as they arise. Are these the skills of the digitally literate?
Building digital literacy and awareness of online safety is an important aspect of today’s schooling. The recent ransomware incident proves this, in that it will be the students we are teaching now who will be the users presented by these, and also as yet unidentified threats in the future.
We already discuss with students the importance of their privacy settings on social media and the need to consider what they share.
How safe are my devices?
How much info have I shared and who with?
Gary is an educator with a passion for educational technology combined with experience working in the primary, secondary, further education, higher education and international schools. Also currently a Microsoft and Google Certified Educator and a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. Find him on Twitter at @garyhenderson18 and read his blog at techandlearning.wordpress.com.