"Without access to digital technology, 1 in 5 children is less likely to develop the digital literacy skills necessary for surviving in the modern economy and for participating in a globally networked information society." -Vanessa Vega, Edutopia

The education community agrees that digital media and technology are important tools for learning beyond the school day. Digital tools let students learn at their own pace and in their own style, thus increasing engagement and motivation. The 21st-century skills essential for future success are the same skills fostered through involvement in a digital-learning culture. Within disadvantaged communities, after school programs help to close the digital divide.

The dominant challenge for after school programs is a lack of technology funding, reinforcing the need for schools and after school programs to collaborate as they seek to integrate digital media into teaching and learning. Additionally, after school providers may have difficulty identifying the best methods for using digital tools to support their program objectives. National organizations such as ExpandED Schools and the National After School Association offer trainings and related resources to help programs learn promising new digital practices.

Quality after school programming can prepare students to become informed consumers, users and producers of digital content. Following are a few ideas to help programs get started:

  • Be aware of the levels of technological access and fluency in your students.
  • Inform students about local and public venues to access digital content.
  • Model and discuss strategies for critically evaluating digital content, finding useful information, expressing ideas in different formats and trouble-shooting common problems.
  • Create, find and share activity ideas that develop digital literacy, and refer students to organizations helping to develop those skills.

Consider excellent resources such as Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning by Marc Prensky and Edutopia’s Ten Tips for Teaching New Media.

After school programs have instructional freedom and flexibility, allowing them to develop and test innovative models of digital learning. With their commitment to interest-driven educational opportunities, after school settings are ideal for supporting schools in bridging the digital divide.