Are we still in the dark ages of digital literacy?

Reading Emma Mulqueeny’s 2013 blogpost on embedding digital literacy as early as year five made for familiar territory this evening, and not because it’s a post I’ve read before!

“we are falling behind all other countries by doing nothing more than shaking our heads at the problem and perhaps attending a 1-day course on coding”

Emma has a point. Not just about the coding bit (which I am beginning to realise has become lost through the reduction of the art of programming to abstract drag and drop components) but of the progress the teaching community has made in embedding digital literacy as a component as essential as literacy and numeracy in primary school and of convincing universities to demand more of their students than the ability to navigate a website and use Harvard referencing styles in their essays. Technology is still widely seen as the carrot; the reward; the thing students do in the evening or in extra-curricular clubs; the phone in the pocket, rather than a compartment of the learning toolbox essential for future success.

Secondary level teachers also have to accept their portion of the blame for this lack of progress. We shuffle ICT and Computer Science topics like cards to try and find the best hand in order to increase numbers taking the subject at certificate level. Then we simultaneously complain that our subject has been dumbed down through introduction of faculties and non-specialist teachers, a near-empty CPD budget, lack of suitable technology or time – all the while beautifully distracted from the key aim: to actually address the digital literacy problem.

But what would we actually do in this utopian classroom to enlighten and engage students and – as a country and with barely a nod to OECD PISA rankings and the like – actually nurture digitally literate children?

New Yorker’s James Surowiecki summed up the current problem still faced by many so-called digital natives (and others!) in his 2007 article “Feature Creep” which commented on the (then new) iPhone:

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle.

Just like the multitude of excuses and ever-changing course plans that distract the education community, technology can blind the user with its blizzard of features and this makes fixing a measure of digital literacy challenging. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Why do we want to improve digital literacy? What will the accomplishment of digital literacy mean for our students?
  2. Is a digitally literate person someone who can understand and operate a microwave? A smartphone? A Sky+ box? A Raspberry Pi? An Arduino? A drone? A 3D printer?
  3. Is digital literacy an achievement that can be assessed? In what format?
  4. Is a digitally literate person from 2014 as digitally literate as someone who achieves this in 2015?
  5. Is a consistent technical infrastructure necessary to ensure national digital literacy?

Have JISC accurately captured the different aspects of digital literacy?

Or Futurelab?

Or the Open University?

Or Doug Belshaw?

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