How Digitally Literate Are You?

Briefly defined, “digital literacy” is a working grasp of skills needed to navigate the internet, send texts and emails, join video calls, use various apps, and otherwise take advantage of digital technology. But there’s more to it than that. You may know dedicated geeks who create and manage their own websites from HTML code; know every technical function and solution by heart; and always find what they’re looking for on the first search result.

Don’t worry: you don’t have to learn all that to be digitally literate. However, even if you use a device daily, you may be unaware of some important functions—or useful shortcuts, or quick fixes.

(Note: The digital-literacy discussion below focuses on smartphones and tablets. If you’d like to see a follow-up article on laptops, social media, or anything else digital, let us know in the comments.)

For a starting overview of skills worth learning (and easy to learn), try our Did You Know? playlist on YouTube—and its corresponding posts on the BridgingApps blog. Says Alejandra Gonzalez, BridgingApps Digital Navigator, “The blog posts come with checklists of recommended digital skills. I’d also recommend knowing how to reset passwords, a common issue with BridgingApps’ senior clients.”

From other coworkers (all qualified digital coaches) on the BridgingApps team:  

Tara Rocha, Digital Learning Specialist: Many of our recenter clients are Veterans who’ve received iPads through the VA—without much instruction. They come to us for help using the VA Video Connect app for virtual doctors’ appointments, but they also ask us to help them practice getting online and making sure their Wi-Fi is connected. The skill most often requested, though, is finding a way to stream movies and music. VA tablets don’t come with streaming apps, so we show our clients how to create shortcuts to streaming websites, such as Tubi and Crackle.

Walter Prescher, Digital Navigator: The three top questions I get about mobile devices are:

  1. “How do I make things bigger on my phone screen?”
  2. “How do I send pictures by email and text?”
  3. “How do I close the tabs in my browser?”

Amy Fuchs, Program Manager: Some of my thoughts about digital literacy:

  • When a client wants to get started with digital devices, the first question we ask them is often, “What kind of phone do you have?” And that’s not just about the difference between Android and iPhone: many people have just a basic cell phone which can make calls, exchange texts, take pictures, and play a few games—but it can’t access the internet as smartphones do.
  • Many clients aren’t clear on the differences between data, Wi-Fi, internet, and other connection options. Learning to connect to Wi-Fi is especially important when someone is on a limited data plan and also has limited income.
  • When working with clients on how to use their devices, one of the first things we address is needs related to accessibility. We don’t usually ask about actual disabilities: we might say, “How is that font size: can you read it comfortably? Could I show you how to enlarge your font?” We also talk about screen brightness, volume levels, and notification settings.
  • When pre-assessing a client’s digital skills, we ask something like, “In the past month, how many times have you [used a specific digital function] on your smartphone?” A sample list: access the internet; add a calendar event; set an alarm, use a navigation/map app; Google a question; play a voicemail or texted video. The specific skills we ask about depend on individual needs.
  • What we learn in pre-assessment often leads to discussions about more advanced skills. So, if someone knows how to listen to their voicemail but not how to change their outgoing message, or if they can use basic email but don’t know how to attach files, that’s an opportunity to teach a new skill. We always start with basics and build on where someone currently is.

As with any life skill, digital literacy is an ongoing learning process—among the most ongoing, given the rapid evolution of digital technology. If you need help, contact us to ask about our Assistive Technology labs and Digital Navigators.

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