Digital Literacy

globe-e-mail-ball-earth-world-at-63774I know this post comes a bit late in the conversations the #etmooc group has been having around the topic of what it means to be digitally literate, but it took me a while before I could formulate my thoughts (which, I might add, are still percolating). So, better late than never I say.

Literacy, as defined by Merriam Webster, means:

Competence or knowledge in a specified area: “wine literacy can’t be taught in three hours”.

It would stand to reason that digital literacy then would mean competence and knowledge of all things digital.

So, I have a digital clock that I can read, but I don’t know how it works. I have a slight understanding of digital vs. analog when it comes to my tv, but certainly not enough to be able to talk about it coherently.

The dictionary defines digital literacy as the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technology.

It almost sounds like one must be able to make their way through all of Bloom’s Taxonomy in order to be called “digitally literate.”

Can one be literate with Google search and all things Google, but not with, let’s say, the information once they get it?

If this is true, then there are probably many, many people who are only kind of literate. Topic-specific-literate.

So then, where do our children and our colleagues fall in this model of digital literacy? Is it possible for our students to have an easier time becoming digitally literate than some of our co-workers?

Let’s think about this a moment. Children who are growing up within this context are certainly around technology more than children who grew up even 10-15 years ago. I didn’t have a digital camera to capture pictures of my children until around 2003 ( I was late to that party– still clinging to my film and developing the pictures). Now, parents can snap a photo, look at it, share it, post it and delete it all within seconds. And children are doing this as well (just ask almost any parent of a young child how often their child wants to play with their phone, ipad, etc.).

So children are around technology more and use it more, but being immersed in it and using it are not enough to be digitally literate according to the above definitions.

Doug Belshaw shared this slideshow with us during his presentation for #etmooc. In it he speaks to what he terms the 8 essential elements of digital literacy. One of the quotes he has is pretty poignant and speaks to the nature of how quickly things change and become outdated:

The nature of literacy in a culture is repeatedly redefined as the result of technological changes. ~Hannon (2000)

It is apparent that one can be literate until something new comes along and then one must learn again.

John Seely Brown, in his video Motivating Learners, the Big Thinker Series from Edutopia, says that  “In a world of rapid change, any skill we learn now will have a rapid shelf life,” and that [we] need to learn to embrace change.

I think that for children who are growing up in this digital context, they will have an easier time adapting to the changes than adults who have not grown up in this context (some, not all). Just my personal opinion.

One of the reasons that I think some people may become digitally literate more quickly and possibly more easily than others, is desire and confidence in taking risks and, (as John Seely Brown terms), tinkering. For those who embrace technology and change and are willing to play and figure things out will be the ones who will become digitally literate before others. Which is why I think that children who are growing up in this context will have an easier time because they (many) are willing to play around on their way to figuring out how things work. Give a child a video game or a new ipad and that child will figure out how to make it work (I have watched it happen).

So it seems that we need to create environments where children (and teachers) are encouraged to take risks; where our students can feel turned on about what they are learning, so they will embrace challenge & not run from it.

image credit: pixabay

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