lunes, 19 de octubre de 2009

Digital Literacy

lit·er·ate (l¹t“…r-¹t) adj. 1.a. Able to read and write. b. Knowledgeable or educated in several fields or a particular field. 2. Familiar with literature; literary. 3. Well-written; polished: a literate essay. --lit·er·ate n. 1. One who can read and write. 2. A well-informed, educated person. [Middle English litterate, from Latin litter³tus, from littera, letter. See LETTER.] --lit“er·ate·ly adv. --lit“er·ate·ness n.
—————————————————The American Heritage Dictionary

Literacy is a familiar term to any teacher or educator. It basically refers to being able to read and write. However, The AHD’s definition also includes ‘familiar with literature’ and ‘knowledgeable or educated in several fields’, in other words ‘a well-informed, educated person.’ Additionally, sometimes, the term functional illiteracy is used to refer to those who can read and write but only at a minimum level, which limits a person’s opportunities in terms of social situation and job opportunities.

In the last decade and out of the omnipresent use of Information and Communication Technologies (ITCs), on the other hand, a new kind of literacy has emerged: digital literacy. This kind of literacy is related to the ability to use technology to share, search and produce information and knowledge. It involves the use of computers, digital social networks, search engines, applications and hi-tech gadgets.

This type of illiteracy is closely related to access to technology, which is often very scarce in the lower segments of society, but it could also be related to age. In poor countries, for instance, most young people may grow up with a rough idea of what a computer does, or what the Internet is. But it could take years before they actually get to have their own or work with one. They are in some ways in a similar situation to those adults who grew up hearing about this incredible invention that was the computer and the Internet but it was not until five to ten years ago that they had the chance to work with it. If these two are to succeed in the modern world, they need to start working on their digital skills.

As with traditional literacy and illiteracy, digital illiteracy and literacy can be divided into levels or degrees. For instance, digital illiteracy could be understood from not even being able to turn on a computer to only being able to use a word processor and a search engine.

Now, I’ll propose some levels of literacy. Let’s see where we fit:

Complete digital illiterates are those who do not even set foot near a computer, let alone an Ipod or a smart phone. Sometimes they are also called technophobes. They see technology as a threat to their own life on earth. If they are left alone with a computer, they will suffer a nervous breakdown.

Functional digital illiterates are those who are able to turn on the computer, open a word processor and even send an e-mail to their friends. They, however, have the steps written down in a notebook they use only for this purpose (without it they would panic and start screaming for help). They are able to use technology to produce or communicate but at a very basic level. Let’s put it this way, if they had been able to do that twenty years ago, they would have been considered top-notch digital literates. Now, not so much.

In-the-making Digital literates are those who have overcome many obstacles and are on their way to become fully digital literates. However, they have learned how to use many computer programs, applications and gadgets but in a step-by-step fashion. They rarely dare improvising in their use of the software and still have a long way to go in hardware management. For instance, you know you are an ItmDL if the only way you copy and paste is by going to the Edit menu, clicking on Copy, going to the place you want to paste and clicking Paste in the Edit menu again. Your motto is if it works this way already, why doing it any other way. You, however, still panic whenever you get a warning or when something does not work properly.

Digital literates have picked the accent, body language and culture of the digital natives. They have mastered the use of keyboard shortcuts, they don´t ever panic. They solve problems as they come out and sometimes outplay the natives in their knowledge of ITCs. Their skills though come from hard and conscious work on learning. They have invested good time, work and money in becoming fully literate. Digital literates are fit the modern digital world.

Why is it so necessary to develop digital skills?
Because, we are not alone in the world. While you may have experience and expertise in your own area, the first wave of digital natives was born about twenty years ago. And from that time to our time, there have been at least three or four more great harvests of these digital natives.

What is a digital native?

The term was coined by Marc Prensky who used in his work Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants published in 2001 (it can be easily found online). According to Prensky, a person who is born and raised in the midst of the digital revolution, nursed by video games, computer games and the Internet is a digital native and consequently everyone else is a digital immigrant. It is basically an analogy to native language speakers and non-native language speakers.

Think of our young students, whose parents only had time and means to raise one or two children and who had to work all day to make ends meet. These new generations grew up in big cities where there were not that many parks to play in or friends to play with. Who do you think their friends were?

Digital natives are able to quickly adapt to new software and software changes simply because these changes follow their own logics as primary users. A digital native thinks if (A+B)/D equals C, then C times B equals A+B, and (A+B)/C equals D and surprise, it works. Do they do it consciously? As it happens with language, most of the time they are not conscious of what they do. They just do it, which is why a native cannot teach unless they are trained to do so. And who knows more about teaching than us teachers?

This is why it is so important that teachers review their curricula, approaches and educational tools to include ICT use in their classroom and beyond their classroom whenever possible. Teaching through the use of new technologies does not mean forgetting all you know about teaching, it really means embracing a set of new and innovative tools that can help you improve your connection with students and their connection with each other and the world.

The new internet, the Web 2.0, has so much to offer that it would be a shame if you and your students missed it just because you are afraid of computers. Think of your computer as a window in your apartment. A window is not interesting in itself, what's interesting is what you are able to see through it.
A computer with no connection to the Internet is like having a wall right in front of your window. The Internet is the landscape, the birds, the mountains, the neighbors, their activities, or anything you think is interesting.
Good News
And there is good news: Web 2.0 is all about making new friends. Neighbors are screaming out what they are doing every second and inviting you to join them. So you can’t use a certain software. No problem; the guys @4A can help you. Internet 2.0 is like a huge hippie town in which everyone has something to say, show or share.
Come on! Don´t be scared and join us. Then, we can all become digitally literate teachers.

2 comentarios:

  1. Hey, Jesus! I like your posts because you always go directly to the point, not around the bushes. This post is the most interesting so far; thanks for your explanations about digital natives. You're definitely right!

  2. Thanks Fer. Maybe you'd like to read the whole article by Mark Prensky. He has a very interesting idea of what learning should be. I had to translate the piece on Digital Natives a while ago.

    Here's the link: