Literacy is known as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about a language. The emergence of new technologies has brought about a need for the addition of digital literacy which refers to the ability to select appropriate technological tools and use them effectively. Though digital literacy goes beyond the use of specific tools to encompass a whole set of skills needed to flourish in today’s technology rich environment.
The Future Lab’s report Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum defines digital literacy as having “access to a broad range of practices and cultural resources that you are able to apply to digital tools. It is the ability to make and share meaning in different modes and formats; to create, collaborate and communicate effectively and to understand how and when digital technologies can best be used to support these processes.” (1) It’s about collaborating, staying safe and communicating effectively; it’s about cultural and social awareness and understanding; it’s about being creative.
Digital literacy can be envisioned as a number of interrelated components:
|The Components of Digital Literacy from Futurelab report|
However, the education systems - and schools on both sides of the digital divide - have been slow to adapt this new type of literacy in reading and writing instruction. Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) and Kristen Hawley Turner (Fordham University) offer a passionate plea for teachers to incorporate technology in more meaningful ways in their article No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait (2). They offer some examples of how teachers commonly integrate technology tools in the classroom in an ineffective manner:
Hicks and Turner claim that educators should not just focus on students learning how to use specific technology tools, but we should be teaching students how to be literate across multiple forms of media and in a variety of contexts.
Students should be able to:
- critically consume information and share across time and space
- co-create and collaborate to solve problems
- persevere in light of setbacks
- maintain flexibility
Understanding how technologies enable new literacies and meaningful communication should be a core curricular and pedagogical function of English education (3). Henry Jenkins (MIT Media Lab) calls this ability to function in online networks a “participatory culture” which has a relatively low barrier to artistic expression and civic engagement (4). Benefits of this digital culture include peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude towards intellectual property, diversification of cultural expression, modern workplace skill development, and an empowered conception of citizenship. Jenkins further claims that participatory culture is the new “hidden curriculum” in schools.
Digital literacy is a crucial component in modern literacy instruction and is necessary for today’s students to be productive members of a digital world. Teachers should focus on the skills related to digital literacy, not specific tools which will soon be obsolete in the ever changing world of technology.
1. Hague, C. & Payton, S. (2010). Digital literacy across the curriculum. Bristol, England: Futurelab.
2. Hicks, T. & Turner, K. H. (2013). No longer a luxury: Digital literacy can’t wait. National Council of Teachers of English. English Education, 102(6), pp 58-65.
3. Grabill, J. T. & Hicks, T. (2005). Multiliteracies meet methods: The case for digital writing in English education. National Council of Teachers of English. English Education, 37(4), pp 301-311.
4. Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media Education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.