Digital Literacy in the 21st Century
I have never given thought to the concept of digital literacy, neither have I heard of the term until now. Many persons like myself grew up hearing that you need to be computer literate and that was pretty much the order of the day. So, what exactly is this emerging concept? What does it mean to be digitally literate? Is it the notion that a person is simply familiar with computer parts and their mode of operation? Does it only involve the knowledge of information and communication technologies? These are just a few of the questions that I’ve asked myself in exploring this concept.
Digital literacy is a concept that I would say, many people still don’t have a clear understanding of. Although not new, having first been mentioned by Gilster (1997), it is still a process that many people find a hard time grappling with, overcoming and successfully integrating, especially within the confines of the classroom. Many people think of it as just being able to use a piece of technology, but it is way more than just that. It is more than just being able to use an iPhone or an Android device.
Digital literacy is a process (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006); that involves communication, collaboration and critical thinking (Hague and Payton, 2010). Developing a student’s ability to be digitally literate therefore means affording the student the opportunity to incorporate digital technologies in their educational tasks, when it is appropriate and useful, which results in active, creative and critical use of the digital technologies (Hague and Payton, 2010).
The Digital Immigrant versus The Digital Native: Communicating Digital Content
According to Delafosse (2014), there are a limited number of educational institutions that have successfully integrated information and communication technologies in the classroom to enhance students 21st century learning skills. Many persons would agree with me that the E-generation as they are often called, possess a seemingly innate set of skills, which allows them to inherently navigate the digital environment (Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan, 2006).
However, one of the growing concerns is that within the learning environment, the teacher (most times a digital immigrant) is the one instructing the students (digital natives) on how to be digitally literate in order to function within a 21st century society and this seems to be rather counter-productive. What we end up getting is a classroom of apathetic, disengaged students, whose technology use within the school environment is less creative and meaningful than its use outside of the learning environment (Spires, Bartlett, Garry and Quick, 2012). So how do we correct this grave error?
According to Spires, et. al.(2012), students being the digital natives that they are, use social media tools and a host of digital technologies for entertainment. It is my belief however, that to meet the cultural element of being digitally literate, the learner must be able to separate the use of media for personal gratification/entertainment versus academic purposes. Finding a meaningful way to integrate technology in the learning environment will only serve to boost students’ motivational and participation levels.
In making the connection between education and technology use, educational leaders must be willing to tap in on the talents of digital natives, capitalize on the resources and assist them to use available tools to develop a set of higher level thinking skills. It is quite obvious the social environment is constantly changing and technology will affect the way we think and interact. Undoubtedly, the learning experience will see changes as a result and so learners will have to adapt to this change by learning how to learn, (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, and Leu, 2008); a task that can only be accomplished by being digitally literate.
For more information about the potential of creating digitally literate classrooms, check out this 7-minute video from Edutopia, where the founder of Chicago’s pioneering Digital Youth Network (DYN) describes how the organization empowers young people with critical digital literacy skills that make them academically and professionally competitive. She outlines the elements of being digitally literate and how as educational leaders we can get students to apply technology within the context of the educational environment as they would at home.
Facing the Challenges: Embracing the Opportunities
Digital literacy has become a requirement for success in the 21st century. It permeates all levels of education. Students must therefore remember that with the vast amount of information that is present through the World Wide Web, being digitally literate means being thoughtful and responsible in the use of technology and information (Delafosse, 2014).
The internet presents a mix of challenges and profound promise as it relates to education (Spires, et. al., 2012). In his work on digital literacy, Gilster (1997) made the resonating point that students must be able to make critical judgments about the wealth of information to be found online. Undoubtedly, this is a skill learnt overtime but an essential one that needs to be developed. Having the ability to determine the credibility of information and contextualize, analyse, remix and create new information from what is found online is a requisite skill that being digitally literate will afford any student.
Coiro, J., Knobel, M., Lankshear, C., & Leu, D. J. (2008). Handbook of research on new literacies. New York, N.Y.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Delafosse, S. (2014, April). Digital Literacy 2014. [Video file]. Retrieved from https:// http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzd8r-uEjY8
Edutopia. (2013, February 6). Nichole Pinkard on Digital Literacy (Big Thinkers Series). [Video file].Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aya43MnWTxQ
Gilster, P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York, N.Y.: Wiley Computer Publications.
Hague, C. & Payton, S. (2010). Digital literacy across the curriculum. Retrieved from https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/FUTL06/FUTL06.pdf
Jones-Kavalier, B. & Flannagan, S. (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 29(2), 8-10
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). Digital literacy and digital literacies: Policy, pedagogy and research considerations for education. Digital Kompetanse, 1, 12-24.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/10748120110424816
Spires, H.A., Bartlett, M.E., Garry, A., Quick, A.H. (2012). Digital literacies and learning: Designing a path forward. Friday Institute for Technological Innovation: North Carolina State University.