In an era of evolving digital technology, it is essential that university dietetics programs incorporate curriculum on digital literacy in preparation of student contributions to the collective digital media environment. This instruction is an important aspect of professional competence, as it will provide students with tools needed to critically navigate sources of information available on the Internet, and subsequently increase their competence as providers of evidence-based food and nutrition information available to the public. When thinking of outcomes succeeding instruction on digital literacy, a component of digital professionalism, Ellaway et al. (2015) state that “professionals should maintain the capacity for deliberate, ethical, and accountable practice when using digital media” (p. 844).
Deye (2017) defines digital literacy as “. . . the use and security of interactive digital tools and searchable networks. This includes the ability to use digital tools safely and effectively for learning, collaborating and producing.” Digital literacy is reflected in the International Society for Technology in Education’s Coaching Standard Digital Citizen Advocate (7c): “Support educators and students to critically examine the sources of online media and identify underlying assumptions” (International Society for Technology in Education).
Prior to becoming credentialed practitioners, dietetics students should be able to demonstrate competence in digital literacy through proper access, utilization, and referencing of online sources. Skills acquired in digital literacy will enable dietetics students to critically evaluate online nutrition and health information prior to referencing their curated digital communications intended for consumer communications. Paulus, Baker, and Langford (2019) assert that “. . . we should enable our students to use [information and communications technology] ICTs to create contributions to public knowledge while they are still in school. ‘. . . Students work best when they know their work is for their future beyond school…when they realize their work contributes (p. 55).’” An earlier start to contributing to the collection of digitally accessed, evidence-based food and nutrition information may further enhance identity formation as professionals while students are still in college.
However, for dietetics students to be competent in digital literacy, it is essential that they understand the ethical considerations when making contributions to the digital media landscape. Regarding competencies related to access, utilization, and referencing of online sources, Helm (2016) describes this as “content credibility,” and states the best practices in this area are as follows (p. 1828):
- “Always provide accurate and truthful information.
- Distinguish between science-based facts and a personal point of view.
- Share only information from credible sources.
- Include the source of nutrition studies or claims cited.
- Place results of new studies in context.
- Correct misinformation and respond to inaccuracies.”
Helm’s words of wisdom reflect several principles housed within the Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession, which are listed here:
- “1a. Practice using an evidence-based approach within areas of competence, continuously develop and enhance expertise, and recognize limitations
- 1b.Demonstrate in depth scientific knowledge of food, human nutrition and behavior.
- 1c. Assess the validity and applicability of scientific evidence without personal bias.
- 2d. Respect intellectual property rights, including citation and recognition of the ideas and work of others, regardless of the medium (e.g. written, oral, electronic).
- 2e. Provide accurate and truthful information in all communications.
- 3d.Refrain from communicating false, fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, disparaging or unfair statements or claims” (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
Additionally, Helm (2016) discusses the importance of giving proper credit and providing citations to the original source of information. In the case of citing other blogs, the author pointed out that there must be a link to the original source of information as well as proper credit to the author or organization for which the author works.
In summary, when instructing students on the use of digital media tools to communicate evidence-based information, we must recognize that they are still learning core content, including key concepts in food and nutritional sciences as well as methods used and ethics involved in accessing digital information. Thus, it is important that students are knowledgeable in digital literacy and ethics as well as applicable core content before they publish information online, but these experiences are encouraged to increase to the contributions of evidence-based food and nutrition available to consumers as well as aid in the development of students’ professional identity formation.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Code of Ethics for the Nutrition and Dietetics Profession. https://www.eatrightpro.org/practice/code-of-ethics/what-is-the-code-of-ethics
Deye, S. (2017). Promoting digital literacy and citizenship in school. National Conference of State Legislators, 25(7). https://www.ncsl.org/research/education/promoting-digital-literacy-and-citizenship-in-school
Ellway, R, Coral J, Topps, D, Topps, M. (2015). Exploring digital professionalism. Medical Teacher, 37(9), 844-849. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2015.1044956
Helm, J. (2016). Practice paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Social media and the dietetics practitioner. Opportunities, challenges, and best practices. J Acad Nutr Diet, 116: 1825-1835.
International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE Standards for Coaches. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Paulus, M, Jr., Baker, B, Langford, M. (2019). A Framework for digital wisdom in higher education. Christian Scholar’s Review, 49(1): 41-61.