EdTech & Design, Opinion, Promising Practices

Digital Literacy is not a tool or a series of checklists

Today I will return from maternity leave to a slightly reconfigured position which includes two new blocks of digital literacy coordination/leadership/support (I’m not totally clear on the name yet).

Digital literacy is one of those phrases that starts out meaning one thing and ends up meaning nothing. It gets politicized, jargonized, and sometimes tossed out.

So, as I move into this new role, I want to be clear about this hot potato term:

  • Digital literacy as a tool. The tool metaphor worked for a long time, basically characterizing the idea that technology can help us deliver our lessons in more flashy and engaging ways.
  • Digital literacy as a field of study. Here digital refers to anything technological and literacy as the skills necessary to make meaning. Marry the two and we have the idea that “reading” technology as a text requires a different skill set than more traditional texts like books, paintings and advertisements.
  • Digital literacy as something we teachers must add to our list of things to get through. Looking at the curriculum and considering the idea that we need to add more to what we already do is enough to make any teacher sigh and contemplate a simpler job with fewer pressures (like say, for example, almost anything else this side of molecular neuro-surgery – if that is in fact a thing).
  • Digital literacy as something that distracts us from the core subjects. This framework requires a belief that technology is a fad. As long as we keep our heads in our books, this whole computer thing with laptops, blogs, twittering, Prezi and other made-up words will blow over.

None of these definitions work for me.

Recently Gary Kern our Director of Instruction for Technology & Innovation referred to technology as a space for learning to occur. This metaphor puts me closer to a helpful understanding because it connects technology to learning more immediately than any of the others.

Our goal is not to entertain students. It is not to pacify learners or distract them or discipline them or satisfy them. Our goal is to disrupt them just enough that they move into learning constantly and with a degree of independence.

If we look at digital literacy as a series of checklists like

  • 12 great ways to use Twitter in the classroom
  • The top 5 reasons for student blogging
  • The best 30 apps for science students

we can too easily skip over these deeper understandings around our current context:

  • that technology is a significant and often embedded part of how we  communicate
  • that as the rate of change increases we need to rely on sharp, ready critical thinking to navigate our world successfully and independently, and
  • that content is important too.

I intend to use my role to support teachers in their teaching. Technology will enter the conversation not as a way to jazz things up but as a way to deepen the relevance, application and communication of the stuff of learning.

Over the next few blog posts I will write to sharpen these ideas. Please feel free to challenge me with questions and comments; I welcome the discussion.

Meet the Expert(s)

Brooke Moore

Brooke Moore works alongside schools as the Delta School District's District Principal of Inquiry and Innovation in BC.

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