Monday, May 23, 2011

Digital Literacy

The notion of digital literacy is not new. Indeed, arguments for «computer literacy» date back at least to the 1980s. Yet as Goodson and Mangan (1996) have pointed out, the term «computer literacy» is often poorly defined and delineated, both in terms of its overall aims and in terms of what it actually entails. As they suggest, rationales for computer literacy are often based on dubious assertions about the vocational relevance of computer skills, or about the inherent value of learning with computers, which have been widely challenged. In contemporary usage, digital (or computer) literacy often appears to amount to a minimal set of skills that will enable the user to operate effectively with software tools, or in performing basic information retrieval tasks. This is essentially a functional definition: it specifies the basic skills that are required to undertake particular operations, but it does not go very far beyond this. Digital literacy is much more than a functional matter of learning how to use a computer and a keyboard, or how to do online searches. Of course, it needs to begin with some of the «basics». In relation to the internet, for example, children need to learn how to locate and select material – how to use browsers, hyperlinks and search engines, and so on. But to stop there is to confine digital literacy to a form of instrumental or functional literacy. The skills that children need in relation to digital media are not confined to those of information retrieval. They also need to be able to evaluate and use information critically if they are to transform it into knowledge. This means asking questions about the sources of that information, the interests of its producers, and the ways in which it represents the world; and understanding how these technological developments are related to broader social, political and economic forces. I found many definitions of Digital literacy but I realized that authors do not have a unique position about it. Probably fifteen years ago, it was easier to define what "Literacy" meant. Perhaps if we had said that literacy was the ability to read and write, we had been right.
The internet, computer games, digital video, mobile phones and other contemporary technologies provide new ways of mediating and representing the world, and of communicating. Outside school, children are engaging with these media, not as technologies but as cultural forms. If educators wish to use these media in schools, they cannot afford to neglect these experiences: on the contrary, they need to provide students with means of understanding them. This is the function of what some authors call Digital Literacy.

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