Literacy in the Digital Environment

During the session on Digital Literacy a question was posed to us, ‘What does it mean to be literate?’ My initial reaction was that being literate means being able to read and write. A quick Google search provides a similar definition, but also the antonym, ‘illiterate’, which is succinctly defined as ‘unable to read or write’ (Google). Framing this in the context of digital literacy I have been questioning the extent to which I am able to decode and comprehend in the digital sphere, and what this might mean.

An analogy to draw against the notion of literacy in a digital world might be in the person who is illiterate the physical word. The illiterate person cannot read, and cannot write, yet they can consume a story read to them and can create a story themselves and have it scribed. In some ways then they may be a passive recipient of literacy. I myself am literate. I can do both the things that the illiterate person cannot.

However, when I consider this capacity in the digital world, I find myself having taken for granted my engagement with the digital universe. I cannot read the code which makes up the software I use on a daily basis. Conversely, I cannot write computer programmes as I lack the necessary language skills to create meaning in the digital world. Thus I find myself to be a passive recipient of this form of literacy, at the whim of the knowledge and skill of others to access the digital world, receiving and using, but not engaging and creating.

With this in mind, the requirement from the National Curriculum requires pupils to ‘become digitally literate’ is dubious. The wider context of this statement is computing, the foundations of which are,

 ‘computer science, in which pupils are taught the principles of information and computation, how digital systems work and how to put this knowledge to use this programming.’

(DfE, 2013, accessed 23 November 2013)

And yet, digital literacy is referred to as being,

‘able to use, and express themselves and develop their ideas through information communication technology – at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world’

(DfE, 2013, accessed 23 November 2013 )

On Thursday my Year 2 base class proved their learning trajectory towards the latter definition. They had been looking at the Great Fire of London and this inspired their learning in an ICT lesson. The pupils were using the Microsoft Office Word programme to write adjectives they had learnt which described the fire, for example, ‘Glowing.’ They then had to alter the text to make it reflect the meaning of the word. Some pupils made it red, and then put then soften edges of the word to make ‘Glowing’ look like the glowing embers of the fire.

Despite fifteen years passing since I was engaged in similar learning activities in primary school, the computation element is still missing. These pupils did not know how or why the programme works as it does, and they were not being equipped the knowledge and skills to create programmes which could be specific to their needs. The pupils in my base class expressed themselves and developed their ideas using ICT, however, with the crucial word being the ‘future’ rather than the current environment, they may well be lacking the skills they will one day need.

This is not to disparage the work my pupils were doing or the lesson content itself. Their learning was valid for today and in any case follows the current curriculum requirements for ICT. It does seem to me though, that in an environment which has such vast digital resources available such illiteracy may be a hindrance and at some point in time, a disadvantage. Therefore, prospective teachers such as myself will need to confront our digital illiteracy and begin a learning journey with our pupils into this strange territory.

By Chad Jeeawock

References:

DfE (2013), National Curriculum in England: computing programmes of study [online], London: DfE. Available <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study&gt; [accessed 23 November 2013]

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2 thoughts on “Literacy in the Digital Environment

  1. I feel reassured that we have a similar attitude and understanding towards digital literacy, knowing that I myself am not fully digitally literate as we discussed in our last tutorial for EV682.
    It is interesting that the new computing curriculum seems to be focused on many aspects of being literate as you have highlighted, and I think that the lesson you were involved with chaning colours of fonts seems to be, in my experience, pitched at the right level. I am anxious and sceptical of this new computing curriculum, as you said, we will be learning alongside the children we are teaching. I think that it will put many people out of their comfort zones as their subject knowledge will not be as strong as other areas of the curriculum. I think it is the lack of professionalism here that scares me the most, I don’t want pupils teaching me, or me to teach children incorrectly.
    What I have taken most from this blog is you highlighting the digital future for children, and not just preparation for what the technological world looks like now. I would hate to think that I failed in equipping children with the necesary computing skills that they will need in the future because I was uncertain or lacked confidence in my teaching of it. I think we all need to take the plunge and learn as much as we can for the children we teach, but also the teachers that we will work with who would not have had any experience at all with coding. I just need to try and find some motivation to get me back onto the scratch website…
    Vicki Teubler

  2. It is an interesting point to consider the meaning of being ‘literate’ in terms of the digital world and computing. I think of this particular word in terms of reading and writing, as the definition you found stated, yet there is so much more to it as it can be applied to several contexts. When applied to the context of computing, many people feel less confident in themselves than in terms of reading and writing. While my own digital literacy is not as current as I would like it to be, I do feel like I have a lot of knowledge surrounding computing that could be brought to this profession.

    It is great to see the curriculum changing so much in terms of computing as the world is becoming more digital and children’s education needs to evolve with this. Many of the jobs that once did not rely on computers, now do – including teaching. ICT lessons provide a good grounding in how to use various computer software and programmes. Yet it could also pose as a barrier when brought into other subjects in the curriculum – can a lack of confidence and knowledge in ICT hinder its use in other subjects? This is something that happens regularly in the school I am currently on placement at. Children use the computers to type up work amongst other things, but their lack of knowledge often means it takes them twice as long to complete this which is ironic as computers are supposed to speed things up. It was interesting how you mentioned teachers and their levels of computer literacy. I have seen that teachers at my school prefer to use old fashioned whiteboards instead of interactive ones. Perhaps it is not only the children that need support in this area, but the teachers as well.

    Reading this blog has led me to reflect on whether I consider myself digitally literate and to what extent this will effect my own teaching practise and the implications on pupils’ learning.

    By Joe Egan

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