A Fresh Take on Digital Media Literacy and Online Critical Thinking Skills 

A book and a laptop set side by side.

In the age of AI and online misinformation, how do we prepare incoming students for effectively navigating today’s online spaces? 

The Concept 

Promoting digital literacy as a central focus for incoming college students is not a recent development. Digital literacy as a concept was first introduced in 1997 as “the skill to exploit the technology for reading, writing, and living in the digital age” (Bawden, 2008). While this standard definition of digital literacy holds true, how we define computer literacy in today’s digital landscape looks very different from basic computer skills of the early 2000s.  

While understanding word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software continues to be a required basic skillset for new college students, today’s online landscape has led to an added need for fostering critical thinking skills that allow students to discern reliable sources of information.  

Recent studies have found that students “commonly determined a source’s credibility not based on its expertise and trustworthiness but instead through factors like a website’s contents, URL, or popularity” McGrew, S., Reynolds, E. C., & Glass, A. C. (2024).  

“higher education sectors and government have an important role to play in encouraging greater use of digital learning technology. Future learners should be equipped with the operation and critical thinking skills when using the technology and it should be a weapon for improving learning and outcomes for individuals”

Khan, Nasreen, et al. (2022). 

Learners should be proficient in using digital technology for communication, interaction, and collaboration, and to contribute to society through digital services. But more to the point, students should be capable of using specialized digital tools to assess and evaluate information and digital environments in their respective fields.  

To support this, several higher education institutions, including Florida State University, the University of North Dakota, and the Kentucky Community College System, have begun to require courses in Digital Literacy for incoming college freshmen. Whether through the introduction of standalone courses or infused throughout a program’s curriculum, the goal is to set the stage for students to be able to use technology and communicate with others effectively throughout their studies. 

In Practice

How can colleges and universities effectively incorporate digital literacy into curricula? And how do we make sure graduates not only understand digital literacy but also put digital skills into practice in real-world situations? 

Here are a few strategies: 

  • Integrate Digital Literacy Holistically: Rather than confining digital literacy to a single course, institutions should aim to integrate it across various disciplines. This would better prepare students by helping them develop critical thinking skills in a digital space across industries. Faculty can lead these efforts for their institutions by organizing forums to discuss the urgent need for enhanced digital literacy, urging for the integration of digital literacy modules into course curricula. Additionally, they can spearhead initiatives to collaborate with IT departments to develop comprehensive digital literacy workshops and resources for both faculty and students. 
  • Real World Applications: Faculty should provide students with hands-on experiences to think critically in digital contexts. Some ways to do this include creating opportunities for students to evaluate the credibility of online sources, analyze data for biases, and think critically about the implications of technology on society. 
  • Embrace New Tools and Technology: Faculty should embrace new technologies rather than shy away from them, particularly AI tools. Instructors can encourage students to become familiar with these tools in various ways, such as using AI-powered chatbots to simulate conversational practice in language classes, analyze large datasets to help draw conclusions in social sciences, and further develop writing and communication skills through AI-powered writing assistants. 
  • Faculty Development and Support: In an ever-evolving digital landscape, institutions should provide faculty with training and resources to effectively teach digital literacy. Faculty development programs can help instructors stay updated on new technologies and teaching methods. 
  • Promote Lifelong Learning: To ensure that learners maintain digital literacy skills as online landscapes continue to evolve, institutions should continually work toward instilling a mindset of lifelong learning in students by emphasizing the importance of continuously updating their digital skills. Encourage students to seek out online courses, certifications, and professional development opportunities even after graduation. The same goes for faculty and staff.  

In Closing:

The concept of digital literacy has been around for decades, its definition has evolved significantly with the changing digital landscape. Today, it encompasses not only basic computer skills but also the ability to discern reliable information sources in an online environment.  

In response to the challenges posed by the age of AI and online misinformation, educational institutions are reevaluating their approach to digital literacy and critical thinking skills. By implementing the strategies listed above, institutions can better prepare students to navigate the complexities of today’s digital world and apply critical thinking skills in real-world situations. 


  • Khan, Nasreen, et al. “Connecting Digital Literacy in Higher Education to the 21st Century Workforce.” Knowledge Management & E-Learning 14.1 (2022): 46-61. 
  • McGrew, Sarah, Elizabeth C. Reynolds, and Alex C. Glass. “The Problem With Perspective: Students’ and Teachers’ Reasoning About Credibility During Discussions of Online Sources.” Cognition and Instruction (2024): 1-27. 
  • Joshua Irvine “University of North Dakota to Require Digital Literacy Classes” The Grand Forks Herald. (2024) 
  • Lauren Coffey “Digital Media Literacy Becoming a Graduation Requirement” Inside Higher Ed. (2024) 
  • Images sourced from freepik.com 

Christina Schettini is a Project Manager for the FIU Online Learning Design team. Through her work, she supports the development of effective and engaging learning experiences in the online modality.

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