Digital Literacy

It’s a commonplace perception that kids born after internet access started to find its way into our lives have an incredible capacity for picking up and using new technologies but in terms of developing digital skills that will be critical throughout their schooling and into their working lives, are these kids being provided with the educational support they need? In an earlier post I embedded Ken Robinson’s inspiring video where he argues for the need for a revolution in the way we educate our children so that they can meet the creative, intellectual and technological challenges of the 21st Century. He recognised early that our current educational approach was not going to be adequate for the future.

Over the past couple of years educators in most countries have started to seriously address this issue and a lot of good work is being done under the banner of ‘digital literacy‘.

But for many of us,  the definition of the term ‘digital literacy‘ still remains a little unclear. The Danish Technological Institute offers a good, clear definition on the digital literacy project website:

Digital literacy has become an essential life skill which, if absent or underdeveloped, becomes a barrier to social integration and personal development.

The definition continues:

Digital literacy involves the confident and critical use of Information Society Technology (IST) for work, leisure and communication. It is underpinned by basic skills in ICT: the use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the Internet.

  • Digital thus contains more than one dimension; both knowledge and skills of the digital literate person is included in the concept. These different dimensions can be conceptualised in different manners. One way is to disassemble the concept into some of its critical components: Assess – Knowledge how and about to collect and retrieve information. Manage – Interpret and represent information. Evaluate –  Judgements about the quality, relevance, usefulness, or efficiency of information. Create – Generate information through adapting, applying, designing, inventing, or authoring information .
  • Another way to separate the dimensions of the digital literacy concept also displays the concept as consisting of building blocks. Here three elements make up the concept: Instrumental skills – the ability to operate hardware and software. Informational skills – the ability to search for relevant information using digital hardware and software. Strategic skills – using the information for own purpose and position.

However the dimensions are described, in almost every circum­stance “ordinary” basic literacy skills are a necessary precondition for digital literacy.

Cognitive skills are the fundamental skills consisting of mathematical skills, reading skills, problem solving skills, spatial skills, and visual skills.

Technical skills are skills revolving around hardware and software applications, networks and other elements of digital technology.

Digital literacy constitutes the sum of fundamental skills and the technical skills.

from The Digital Literacy website of the Danish Institute of Technology

One of the key premises  is that a successful development of digital literacy skills is determined by a successful development of basic literacy skills. In Australia, we’ve recently seen a lot of press around the need to improve language and mathematical literacy in schools. Both from a basic literacy skills perspective and in recognition that these skills are the foundation skills required to develop digital literacy the initiative and the raising of public awareness around the debate is essential if we are going to educate our children to successfully participate in the ‘digital age’.

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