At SchoolSphero Team
Two teenager girls sit together back to back in a computer lab at school.

Technology literacy is an individual’s ability to obtain, assess, manage, and communicate information in a technology-driven environment — and it is becoming more important than ever for society as a whole to possess and maintain these abilities.

In fact, a 2013 report by the NYC Comptroller’s Office suggested that 77% of jobs would require digital competency by 2020 — and their predictions were spot on. As jobs at all levels now require some form of technology literacy (even applying for most jobs requires technology literacy to fill out an application), our students need proper guidance to stay nimble as the way we work, communicate, and move through our daily lives changes.

At Sphero, our community of educators has helped break down the fundamentals of technology literacy. From understanding the core principles to learning how to instill technological adaptability into your students, this guide will help you provide students the tools they need to succeed.

Core Principles of Technology Literacy

Teaching technology literacy isn’t just about showing students how to use computers or research information — it’s about helping them become better critical thinkers and problem-solvers in digital environments. 

Hannah Pals, middle school mathematics and science teacher at Shirland School District 134, tells us, “Technology literacy differs from information, media, and computer literacy because it focuses more on solving problems, not researching information, fact-checking, or knowing what tool does what.”

From critical thinking and problem-solving skills to application basics and technological creation, here are the core principles of technology literacy for students in the 21st century:

1. Critical Thinking

While most students are already familiar with technology — such as operating smart devices, searching for information on the web, and sharing images or videos on social media — true critical thinking capabilities in the tech space go far beyond these skills. 

Critically-thinking students know how to properly source and consume quality digital content in their studies. They are also able to navigate the fundamentals of internet safety, such as knowing how to create strong passwords, understanding privacy settings, and having a firm grasp on what should or should not be shared online. 

What’s more, students need critical thinking skills to be able to adapt to constantly evolving technologies. In 2011, 96% of working Americans were using new communications technologies daily, so today’s students must learn to be flexible.

Paige Besthoff, teacher of Digital “Techknowledgy” at E.R. Appleby School in New Jersey, tells us, “Students should be trained to think about how to use and build technology as a general concept since the actual technology they will use hasn’t even been discovered yet.” 

2. Application Basics 

When it comes to being technologically literate, students also need to understand how to use basic digital tools and be able to discern which tools to use for a given task.

For example, say you wanted your students to create a digital presentation. This means that they should not only understand how to operate computer programs like PowerPoint, but they should also know how to format the presentation properly, insert media like pictures or videos, present their slideshow, and export the project as various file types.

Cross-application dependency is also a crucial aspect of technology literacy. This means that your students should be able to understand how multiple applications can work together to complete a single task. As an example, if your students wanted to add a drawing into their presentation, they could create that drawing in the Paint application, export it as a .jpg, and import that file into their presentation.

Brandon Hazzard, Educational Technology Integrationist at The First Academy in Florida, summarized this concept for us best: “Anyone can Google information, but knowing which tools to use makes up the difference between technology literacy and resource gathering.”

3. Problem-Solving Skills

Beyond critical thinking abilities and knowledge of application basics, students must understand how to apply these skills to solve real-world problems. 

Paige Besthoff tells us, “Students should be presented with a problem or challenge to solve and then use some form of technology to accomplish their goal. Technology should be a tool to use to help students achieve a solution, not just something to play with or use to type an essay.”

According to Mark Frydenberg, Bentley University's Senior Lecturer of Computer Information Systems, the technology problem-solving process includes breaking the problem down into smaller parts, finding similarities between pieces, generalizing things that are different from each other, and implementing algorithms to automate a process. 

4. Creation

True technology literacy occurs when students can use the currently available technology to create new information or technology. Creation requires the application of critical thinking, application skills, and problem-solving.

Paige Besthoff says about the importance of creating, “I’ve heard family members say, my child knows everything about technology because they are on YouTube or video games all day. This is not being technologically literate; this is being a consumer. In order to be technology literate, one must be able to be a creator of technology.”

This new creation could manifest as anything from writing a line of code to building a computer to even programming robots

How to Teach Technology Literacy

With the core principles of technology literacy in mind, it’s time to uncover how to best teach these concepts to students — and fortunately, you don’t have to be a technology wizard to do so.

If you’re struggling with personal technology shortcomings, think of yourself as a facilitator of curiosity rather than feeling pressure to be the technology expert. View this as an opportunity for both you and your students to learn from each other.

Brandon Hazzard tells us the best way to begin is to, “Find one or two things that you are willing to try to go all-in on and learn. Become masters of those one or two pieces of technology. Then, the next year, become great at something new. Before long, you will have a set of tools in your technology literacy toolbelt.” 

If you’re still unsure how to begin teaching technology literacy, Intel’s Technology Literacy Teaching Guide provides six lesson plans that introduce these fundamental concepts through engaging activities.

Equip Students with the Technology Literacy They Need to Succeed

In a world inundated with technological advances, keeping up with the latest products and processes feels like an impossible undertaking. Fortunately, with the proper technology literacy training, students and educators alike can adapt with ease.

Sphero’s collection of programmable robots and STEM kits can help you educate your students on technology literacy, instilling valuable skills in critical thinking and problem-solving along the way. Discover how you can implement these tools in your classroom today!

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