Digital Literacy

Wikipedia defines digital literacy as learning how to “effectively find, use, summarize, evaluate, create, and communicate information while using digital technologies; not just being literate at using a computer”. I recently had a small experience that gave me some insight into my own, personal digital illiteracy. I’ll admit that I have had some considerable difficulties coming to terms with the  changes in our culture surrounding digital and Web-based technology and its use. I’ve lamented certain changes that I’ve noticed: virtual friendships v. ‘real’ friendships; the diminishing importance of the physical and an emphasis on digital/virtual experiences; the seeming need for continuous connection; and the entitlement that comes from instant (INSTANT!!) access to anything and everything. However, I have  begun to embrace the advantages that technologies can and do present. As a digital immigrant, I am slowly losing my digital accent. And well I should, if Marc Pensky (as well as the multitude of blogs and articles that I have read) accurately describes the importance of the need for educators to think more like digital natives.

At its most basic, Marc Pensky calls upon educators to teach students using methods and media with which they are fluent in order for teaching to be effective and relevant. We’ve examined and reexamined this idea in our Technology in Education graduate course, so it’s not such a novel idea. However, I had a very minor experience last week while doing some research online that has made me realize in a very personal way my own digital illiteracy. I don’t recall what I was doing online – it’s irrelevant, really. What is relevant is the mental ‘slap’ that the incident provided. I’ve never hidden my distaste for and cynical mistrust of academic research and the attendant (seeming) disassociation from my experience of reality. I’m more inclined to accept anecdotal evidence – after all, it’s based on a person’s real world experience. And to continue up the hierarchy of validity, I prefer learning from experiences that I have personally been witness to. That’s a result of my cynicism. So, this incident last week… For some reason I couldn’t figure out the hyperlinks embedded throughout the page I was reading. I couldn’t ‘get’ how to go where I wanted to go. I understand the concept of hyperlinks; heck, I use them (sometimes it’s not pretty, as I am easily distracted and have found myself hours away from the task I was supposed to be doing). But for some reason, that day, I just didn’t ‘get’ it. My immigrant accent came back stronger than ever that day, I suppose. And this little glimpse into the reality of where I am as a learner and as a user of and contributor to Web 2.0 has stuck with me. And because it happened to me,  the lesson I took away is more deeply learned, more relevant to me. I’m coming to this ‘technology thing’ as an immigrant, not as a native. Have you ever watched a 4 year old with some of these devices? It’s as if it were second nature to them – they click here and there, and try this and try that. that’s not how I operate. It’s is not how I learned to approach interaction with information and text – it was static and unchanging. There’s not a great deal of explicit inter-connections between the texts I learned through as a student.

But I’m learning, always learning, and hopefully remembering the lessons I learn along the way. I’m slowly losing my accent, as I become more fluent with digital literacy. The digital natives will always be able to hear my accent. But as a future teacher, the most important thing is to share that process with my students, to let them know that we are all always learning and growing. I might not be a flashy, tech-savvy, big bang whiz-kid and I’ll certainly need help from my students, but I have some tricks up my sleeve too. I think I have developed some important skills and abilities, and they’re relevant even in today’s world and for today’s students.


6 thoughts on “Digital Literacy

  1. Many educators have debunked Prensky’s premise of digital natives and digital immigrants. There are many of your generation, my generation, and other “older” generations that are quite adept and comfortable with current technologies. Research also finds that it is often times the younger teachers who are less capable with integrating new technologies than are the older teachers. It that what has happened for some, and you might put yourself in this category, is that as technology progressed, they remained bystanders rather than participants. Now, they are suddenly caught by surprise as so much has changed while they weren’t really paying attention. For sure, younger generations seem more adept at intuitively picking up new tools and using them with little to no instruction. They are not afraid and they have not yet learned that someone has to teach them. Us older folks come from the generational mindset that for learning to happen, someone has to teach us, show us, walk us through the steps,… learning 1.0. I think one of the hardest things for those just entering the 2.0 world is to recognize that they can now easily be in charge of their own learning like never before possible. New enterprise is looking for employees who get this and demonstrate this. They need learners, not workers.

    Today in the classroom, we need teachers who are learners first and teachers second. For, we’re living in a time where information is no longer scarce, expertise is no longer scarce, and all of it is ubiquitously available on a wide variety of devices. If anything, our students don’t understand this passive “sit and feed me” style of learning. They struggle with tolerating it, as outside of school, learning is much more in their hands… something that they do, not something that is done to them.

    I think you’ll like this… and if you have not subscribed to Will Richardson’s blog, I recommend it highly, along with his new ebook, “Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere .” ($2.99 Kindle book)

    • @Ransom: inre the “sit and feed me” model of learning: if only today’s kids/students would just realize how much EASIER it is to be hand fed information, though. No mental energy wasted! You sit and passively ingest the diet of data that’s thrown into your food bowl. And if you’re lucky, some of it will stay with you. If it doesn’t stay, it’s ok, because as adults we’re fed the same diet (somewhat modified content – the process is the same).
      As an older, lazier, and fatter adult, returning to the university classroom has shown me just how insidious mental passivity can be. It’s taken me some time this term to switch that part of my brain back on. And to be honest, at my age, I don’t have the leisure or time to let that happen again. Kids on the other hand have the rest of their lives to ‘recover’ from their poor diets. 😉

  2. But how many does this kill? What is the dropout rate in Rochester? Nationally? Urban, often poor and minority?

    Rich kids usually get high quality nutrition away from school, and that helps compensate for the junk food diet quite a bit…

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