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Improving digital literacy for Canadian youth

CIRA and MediaSmarts, a not-for-profit are working together to provide digital literacy resources that help Canadian youth live healthy online lives
By Erica Howes
Communications Specialist

CIRA and MediaSmarts, a not-for-profit are working together to provide digital literacy resources that help Canadian youth live healthy online lives

Whether at home or at school, most Canadian youth are constantly connected to the internet. Digital natives – a term used to describe a person brought up during the age of digital technology – are inherently good at using technology and the internet to explore new topics, solve problems, and play games. But there is another layer to digital literacy that doesn’t come so naturally. In order to safely navigate the online world, it’s up to the teachers and parents to educate youth on what information is considered private and identifying what is a trusted source of information.

Working to improve digital literacy in Canada

Enhancing Canadians’ usage and understanding of the internet – particularly in the area of digital literacy – has been at the heart of CIRA’s Community Investment Program since its inception in 2010.

CIRA’s 2018 report The gap between us: Perspectives on building a better online Canada, surveyed 70 grassroots organizations across the country working on the frontlines of Canada’s internet, and digital literacy was identified as a key gap. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents cited understanding personal digital security as their top concern, followed by basic internet navigation skills and the ability to recognize a credible online source.

With the digital landscape quickly changing, CIRA believes digital literacy is more important now than ever.

This year, CIRA has pledged its support for the next phase of a unique, multi-year research project that investigates the online behaviours of Canadian youth. CIRA and MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy, have partnered for nearly a decade on digital literacy projects.

As the .CA registry, we want to support programs that enhance Canadians’ knowledge and skills to use the internet effectively and safely. Funding this research is CIRA’s latest contribution in advancing the fact-based understanding of digital literacy in Canada.  We’ve supported MediaSmarts in developing tools and resources to equip teachers, parents and kids with the skills they need to use the internet safely.

“We have a long standing history with teachers across Canada and they were telling us that there’s a lack of coherent curriculum around what digital literacy meant and they felt unprepared to teach this in the classroom,” said Dr. Kara Brisson-Boivin, director of research at MediaSmarts. 

CIRA and MediaSmarts: An evolving partnership

CIRA has supported MediaSmarts’ projects through our Community Investment Program, which funds projects across Canada doing good for and through the internet.

Here are four projects we’ve partnered on that are helping improve Canadian digital literacy:

Winning the Cybersecurity Game lesson plan

This series of cybersecurity resources helps students and adults develop safe online practices. The lesson plan and cybersecurity tip sheets are designed for elementary school students.

Young Canadians in a Wired World (YCWW) Phase III research

CIRA provided financial support for the national student survey. Its findings are now used to create evidence-informed internet policies in Canadian schools and public libraries, and to inform public policy and standards such as the Canadian Paediatric Society’s screen time recommendations. MediaSmarts has presented findings from YCWW research to many government departments and agencies, including the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women on the topic of girls and cyber-violence in 2016.

USE, UNDERSTAND & CREATE: A Digital Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools

This framework provides teachers with supporting lessons and interactive resources. It has resulted in the creation of over 50 free, bilingual resources, including lessons and interactive games.

Digital Literacy 101

With funding from CIRA’s Community Investment Program and ISED’s CanCode program, these workshops provide essential digital literacy training, as well a rich bank of online resources – videos, classroom implementation guides and self-guided workshops – to support new teachers.

What’s next? 

CIRA now joins MediaSmarts to fund the next phase of foundational research. The Young Canadians in a Wired World Phase IV focus groups, which will help determine the kinds of resources teachers, parents and civic organizations need to help young Canadians lead healthy online lives. Findings from the focus groups will be released in early 2020. 

CIRA and MediaSmarts have a shared interest in promoting the importance of digital literacy in Canada. We’re bringing our partnership to a new level with the next phase of a unique, multi-year research project that investigates the online behaviours of Canadian youth. 

About the author
Erica Howes

Erica works in corporate communications at CIRA. Her background is in writing and community relations in the non-profit sector. She is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program.