Digital Tools Beyond Email

Lesson Content

Inquire: Essential Software


A big challenge for today’s college students, whether studying in traditional or online settings, is the need to master unfamiliar digital tools. Learning to use these tools effectively is central to a student’s success with their courses, and it also helps prepare them to be productive in their professional careers. This lesson introduces the concept of digital literacy and essential software required for basic digital literacy. Upon completion of this lesson, students will understand how to use the essential software encountered in online learning and the workplace.


Big Question

How does digital literacy ensure one’s success in school and in the workplace?

Read: The Digital Toolbox


This section discusses the definition of digital literacy and describes the digital tools typically encountered in online learning and in the workplace.

What Is Digital Literacy?

In order to become productive at school and in the workplace, it is important to learn as much as possible about the various media and software tools that make up our digital world. Digital literacy is about the knowledge needed to effectively understand and use the digital tools required online, in school, and in the workplace.

DecorativeDigital tools are basically computer software applications used to create, change, save, and share digital media. Digital media is anything that can be saved in a format that can be used by these digital tools. Examples of digital media include audio files, video files, image files, or any other type of file that may be used by the software applications.

To improve digital literacy, it is important to understand the basics of digital media commonly used at work, at school, and even at home.

Audio files can be used to store music, a person’s voice, or any other sound that will be played through a speaker on a computer, tablet, mobile phone, or headset.

Video files store visual information in the form of videos that may be seen on YouTube, or in small animations that illustrate a learning concept.

Image files are used to store pictures created using computer design software, or by taking pictures using a phone, computer, or any other device that has a camera. Digital pictures can be uploaded to the Internet.

Various forms of media make up our digital world and provide us with the ability to communicate with others, express ourselves, and share our creations with those around us.

Audio and Video Communication Software

One of the most common categories of digital tools is video conferencing software that provides a way to communicate with others. Video conferencing software is audio and video software that allows individuals to see and speak with one or more persons remotely through a computer network. While there are many different types of video conferencing software, they all require some way to transmit audio and video which is provided by the presence of a camera and a microphone.

Mobile phones, tablets, or computers that have a camera, speaker, and microphone can be used with video conferencing software. While most mobile phones and many tablets come equipped with these items, some computers may require the addition of a webcam that provides a built-in camera and microphone for this purpose.

A variety of computer, tablet, and phone software application provide the ability for video conference participation. Many devices come with this software is already installed. However, current web technologies allow for installation to be conducted easily by clicking a link and permitting the web browser to use the device’s camera and microphone.

Two of the most popular video conferencing applications include Zoom and Skype. Both of these programs can be installed and used on a computer, tablet, or phone, and they provide the ability to communicate with others both around the world or in the next room.

Office Productivity Software

One of the most important and widely used digital tools that can be found in schools, at home, or in the workplace is generally referred to as office productivity software. Many office productivity software applications are available including Microsoft Office, G Suite (Google), and OpenOffice. All of these programs work with media types called documents, spreadsheets, databases, and presentations.

DecorativeDocuments provide the ability for individuals to write a letter, to create a paper for school or work, or to keep track of anything that would otherwise be written on a piece of paper.

Spreadsheets allow individuals to work with numbers, and they provide the ability to create programs that keep track of and calculate virtually anything imaginable including a person’s grades in school, a recipe at home, or financial information at work.

Databases provide a way to keep track of and organize data. The data that databases use can be in the form of text, numbers, or digital media like audio, video, and image files.

Presentations allow individuals to create informational slides using a graphical screen composed of various digital media to guide a presentation or talk that an individual may need to give at school or at work. Presentation software allows ideas to be communicated to others in an organized fashion.

Office productivity software allows documents, spreadsheets, databases, and presentations to be created, edited, saved, and shared with others, and it forms the basis of essential digital literacy in today’s technological society.

File Compatibility

One of the most important concepts to understand when working with digital tools is that each tool stores its data in a particular way specific to the tool. For example, a typical Microsoft Office document stores its information in a file that identifies its format using what is called an extension type. A file’s extension type, such as “.docx,” is the text that is used after the name of the file to indicate the format. Typically, all files that end in “.docx” indicate to the user that they are in the format of a Microsoft Office document and can only be opened by programs that recognize this format. Each type of productivity software has its own unique format which is indicated by the extension of the file.

In order for an office productivity software application to use a media file, it must be compatible, or usable, by that particular software application. The good news is that most of the major office productivity software applications are compatible with each other and can save and open each other’s file formats.

Reflect: Would You Rather…?


Would you rather share through screenshots or through screen sharing?

Expand: The Value of Illustration


This section introduces the illustration concepts of a “screenshot” and a “screen capture” while discussing their value at school, at home, and in the workplace.

Capturing Screen Images and Video

DecorativeIt’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and a video may represent a thousand pictures. For this reason, it is important to understand the value and use of software that allows an individual to create a “snapshot” or a “screen capture.”

Virtually all computers, tablets, or phones provide a way for an individual to take a picture of either a portion of or the entire screen. This is called a “screenshot” and it is used to save or share a picture of someone’s screen with others. This allows another person to see what is on your screen for the purposes of illustration. Screenshots are important in both work and school as they provide a graphical way to communicate easily with others.

A typical use in the workplace includes the act of providing a screenshot to a support professional to help diagnose a problem on a person’s computer. By providing the support professional with an image of your screen, they will have a better idea of the problem you are experiencing. Moreover, with the ability to provide a screenshot, others may see what you see without the need to either install software or visit the web page you are viewing. It simply provides an effective way to illustrate and share with others.

While screenshots are extremely valuable, they are often not adequate to effectively illustrate one’s point. For example, if a teacher wants to show a student how to log in to and use a software application, it is often easier to create a video that records the actions and images on the teacher’s screen rather than providing a large number of screenshots with text. A screen capture can help illustrate and communicate the steps involved in using a particular piece of software in an easy manner. Screen captures are used extensively in videos found on websites like YouTube and in online learning environments that provide instruction.

Both screenshots and screen captures are incredibly valuable in the workplace and in online learning to provide illustration of key concepts, information, or instruction.

Check Your Knowledge

Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.

Lesson Resources

Lesson Toolbox

Additional Resources and Readings

Cam Studio

A free screen capture tool


A free screenshot tool

Microsoft Office

Microsoft’s office productivity suite

Google G Suite

Google’s office productivity suite

Apache OpenOffice

Apache’s office productivity suite


Video conferencing software


Video conferencing software

Lesson Glossary


AJAX progress indicator
Nothing found. Please change the filters.

License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by David Allen for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0

Media Sources

DecorativeOnline EducationkreatikarPixabayCC 0
DecorativeScreen Capture ScreenshotClker-Free-Vector-ImagesPixabayCC 0
DecorativeCloseup of Excel Spreadsheet templateTexas State Library and Archives CommissionWikimedia CommonsCC 0
DecorativePodcast PopularBedexpStockPixabayCC 0