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
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> [accessed 23 November 2013]