Digital Literacy is New… Digital Literacy is optional … Busting the Myths!

Following up on my previous post where I attended a public talk given by Bryan Alexander and Alex Grech, I have decided to write a bit about digital literacy and my thoughts about what this digital literacy monster. Both Bryan and Alex were also leading the National Digital Literacy Conference held in Malta on the 20th November 2015. The title of this post, is a snippet I borrowed from Bryan Alexander’s talk on Digital Literacy and its deconstruction.

Digital literacy has been overused and abused by many people who want to impress education policy makers. I know this is a strong statement, and I am maybe generalising. But I feel that digital literacy is not about teaching technology in schools, or teaching technology to our student teachers. When someone becomes digitally literate, then that someone starts understanding more the impact of technology on non-digital living in society. So digital literacy, and becoming digitally literate involves skills that are much broader, and run much deeper than learning about office applications or how to use the interactive whiteboard. So how do we do it in practice? How do we become digitally literate? I don’t think and I don’t believe that taking lessons, or formal training is going to help someone become digital literate. Becoming digital is about the experience, it’s about immersing yourself in the virtual realm – not unequipped with basic skills… these basic skills do not include knowing how to use tools or applications, but they include skills related to communication, the practice of ethics, knowing how to understand and interpret information, being critical of information, creation and production, problem-solving… so if these are the underlying skills for a successful digitally literate citizen, what’s new in digital literacy? So many people might say that digital literacy is a new subject – to be taught in a way that a language or a science subject might be taught… here’s whats new… No digital literacy is not new – it’s about bringing all the skills which we should be targeting in education and which absolutely everyone agrees should be what education is about, and applying it to the digital medium, which primarily uses the Internet as the network connecting people, information and multiple media together.

Is digital literacy optional? No – it shouldn’t be… as teaching shouldn’t be just about teaching content. Teaching is about instilling a love and passion for the subject, it’s about kindling curiosity about knowledge, it’s about helping someone else connect their own dots to create a meaningful experience. Living in today’s society implies some kind of digital knowhow… but digital knowhow is not being digitally literate… my 6-year old can meddle around with my smart phone or with my laptop but is he digitally literate ?- No! He still needs to develop crucial skills related to his social, emotional and cognitive growth that would make him digital literate… can school help him become digitally literate ? I am still hoping (am I being utopic?) that yes… but it will only happen when schools and policy makers, start deconstructing the monster of digital literacy, and viewing it for what it really is… applying the right skills (there are many of course… but these are 4 general umbrella skills associated to digital practices: communication, critical approach, creation and collaboration) to the digital and online medium.