Literacy is not static but changes with the times. The new technological innovations and tools necessitated literacies that are not limited to the traditional 3Rs, but include new ones: the digital, media and global literacies that build and improve application, socio-cultural, and transformational skills which recognize new ways of seeing and thinking about the world.
Digital literacy is one of the new literacies in our modern times. It is not only the access to digital tools but also to use them effectively in our every day life at the social, career and personal levels. Digital literacy is when people are able to read and interpret text, sounds and images, manipulate and apply data in ways that are appropriate to fulfill their needs, and to communicate a message.
A digital native is one who was born into the digital age while a digital immigrant refers to one who adopts technology later in life. Being a digital native does not make one digitally literate. Most digital natives today have access to and knowledge about technology but do not know how and when to use it appropriately.
An example of this gap between access to digital tools and the necessary skills to use them appropriately is cyber violence where teens do not know their limits and where to stop abusing their digital access for reasons of having fun, jealousy, racism, sexism, etc…In quite a few cases the result of cyber violence was the victim committing suicide to escape harassment. In many other situations, a person looking for a job will not be considered if he shows ignorance of netiquette and appropriateness of internet use.
Digital Literacy means:
- Knowing how to use search engines with all its branching skills such as: being able to find, evaluate, understand and summarize online resources;
- Knowing how to use emails and texting;
- Knowing how to create videos, write blogs, Photoshop pictures, use PowerPoint in presentations, etc.
- Knowing which media is most appropriate to communicate a message;
- Knowing the ethical rules of interacting with others on different platforms;
- Knowing the ethic behind citing materials without plagiarizing when sharing or citing information;
- Knowing the quality and credibility of an online message or text by identifying the author, purpose and point of view;
- Knowing how different platforms affect the meaning, audience, and readability of text;
- Knowing how to apply knowledge by taking social action individually or with the community to solve problems in the family, workplace and community, and participate as a contributing member of the community; knowing how to apply the new skills to new areas such as to secure employment.
- A key digital literacy skill is to know how to manage distraction: How to not get walked all over by Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc…
Digital Literacy in School
As a result of digital literacy there is a shift from an emphasis on traditional skills of memorization, recitation, penmanship, and math to creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration skills, flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility.
Technology has changed the way today’s students read, perceive, and process information. Educators who are considered digital immigrants may struggle to find effective teaching methods for digital natives. Some digital immigrants might resist teaching digital literacy because they were not taught that way and are not comfortable using it. This is a problem because today’s students speak a new language different than those who teach them.
Tips for developing the digital literacy of students:
1. Begin by exploring the ways in which the group are already using mobile and web based technologies. Many of them are already engaged with digital tools for personal use like Skyping relatives or keeping in touch on Facebook and Twitter. A good point to start the conversation on teaching about digital literacy may well be students’ personal use.
2. Recognize that students arrive with their own digital practices:
Instead of trying to pass on literacy to students, expect that students arrive with some well established wrong and unethical digital practices of their own. Identify the values and history behind the appropriate and ethical academic practices. Establish guiding ethical principles: Developing digital literacy should have an ethical dimension. What does it mean to behave well as digital professionals, researchers or citizens? How do we act ethically in environments where public and private are blurred? Refer to your organization’s rules and regulations.
3. Developing digital literacies in practice requires:
• providing authentic contexts for practice,
• Supporting individuals at different levels of skill and experience,
• Helping learners manage conflict between different platforms in different situations,
• Helping learners integrate their prior conceptions and practices.
4. Acknowledge that there is anxiety about technologies in the classroom and take the lead. Engage students in this debate on anxiety, ethics, and other issues to ensure that they have ownership of the tools used and the approach to use them.
5. Take a holistic approach and integrate multi-disciplines in real life contexts.
Digital literacy in Society
Digital literacy has many uses in society:
- It helps people communicate and keep up with social trends.
- It helps people stay in contact with their family, friends and colleagues.
- It helps pass timely information.
- It helps buy and sell goods and services.
- It gives people a major voice online and helps users establish a digital identity.
- It provides a global conversation platform that connects readers from all over the world based on a certain interest or cause.
- The effective use of digital tools leads to the community betterment and empowerment
- Government officials around the world have emphasized the importance of digital literacy for economic reasons. Centralized governments, such as China, are leading by implementing digital literacy training programs faster than anyone else while industrial nations focus on digital literacy to compete globally. There is a major divide between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, between those who apply critical thinking to technology or do not, those who speak English or do not, and those who create digital content or merely consume it.
Digital Literacy at Work
Digitally literate individuals are more likely to be more secure and ahead of the crowd. Many jobs require a working knowledge of computers and the Internet to perform basic functions. As wireless technology improves, more jobs require proficiency with smart gadgets. In the past, this literacy was required of white collar workers, but blue collar workers are using it much more than before. This literacy is now used in construction, manufacturing, and retail jobs to collect and analyze data about products and market trends, to stay competitive, and to improve safety. In addition, job recruiters often use websites and social platforms to find potential employees, thus magnifying the importance of digital literacy in securing a job. It also helps in professional learning, as in the case of some groups on LinkedIn.
Digital literacy does not replace traditional literacies but supports them to develop. As long as there are new digital tools, as long as we need to keep adapting to their use thus learning becomes a life-long process. It is not about information but about developing skills gradually over time.
In conclusion, digital literacy requires a change in consciousness in how we relate to technology with an underlying principle that it should facilitate critical reflection, awareness of the self and social accountability.