Defining Digital Literacy
Digital literacy is a skill that does not have a definite meaning. For instance, while my proficiency with digital media can be considered average in comparison with other college students, it could also be considered below average in the eyes of a computer programmer. The reason I find it difficult to define ‘digital literacy’ is because ones own level of literacy depends entirely on the software that is currently popular. When the first computer was invented, it took up a huge amount of space and had an endless number of buttons and levers. Now, we have iPads and smartphones that can carry more data than a computer would have decades ago. Technology and digital environments are constantly changing and evolving. Social media outlets, for example, are always coming out with new and improved designs or features, forcing users to adapt to the new system. As our society becomes increasingly digitized we are expected, by default, to be knowledgeable about such things. In Digital Storytelling: Extending the Potential for Struggling writers, the authors discuss the difference between technological literacy, and media literacy, “Technological literacy refers to the skills needed to adequately use computers.” This statement is rather broad. A few questions come to mind: What type of computer? What does it mean to be adequately capable? They then go on to state, “Media literacy refer to the necessary skills to access, evaluate and create messages in written and oral language, graphics, moving images, audio and music…media literacy also requires the composer to select components that complement the multimedia project.” Using their definitions, we need both types of literacy to identify as digitally literate.
What is Digital Writing?
The best part about digital writing is the amount of freedom you have not only write about whatever you want, but also choose where you want to publicize it, what social media platform you want to use and the overall tone. Digital writing can range from a caption on an Instagram post about your cat or a lengthy blog post ranting about a controversial topic. The length of whatever you decide to write does not decrease in value if you decide to compose a tweet. Digital writing is new and should be seen in a completely different lens than the way we view traditional forms of writing, such as analog writing. Everything in the digital world is connected. These connections allow us to form online communities to discuss, critique and think about one another’s writing.
Writing in Digital Environments
In the past decade alone, our world has made monumental leaps forward, especially in the switch from analog to digital writing. This shift is apparent in the digitization of college applications or the accessibility of online news articles. Digital environments allow writers to hone in on their skills. A multimodal work of writing encourages the writer to implement various forms of media to strengthen their piece. Digital writing environments benefit writers because; “digital stories provide an alternate conduit of expression for those students struggling with writing traditional text,” (Digital Storytelling). When my parents were in college, no one had a laptop in class or had an iPod for music, and an iPhone for texts, calls and emails. Everything they did was handwritten. There are benefits of each method.
Education in Digital Environments
Digital writing is beginning to play a huge role in education. Classrooms all across the country are buying new technology like smart board projectors, or supplying each class with computers. As technology and digital environments evolve, so do methods of education. Dan Cohen suggests that blogging just as valuable as any other form of writing, “A large blog audience is as good as a book or seminal article. A good blog provides a platform to frame discussions on a topic and point to resources of value. Writing a blog lets you reach out to an enormous audience beyond academia. Some professors may not want that audience, but I believe it is a part of our duty as teachers, experts, and public servants. It’s great that the medium of the web has come along to enable that communication at low cost,” (Professors, Start Your Blogs, Cohen). Collaboration through digital environments can help students build connections with one another in a way that is easy and efficient. Partnership also allows students to build on each other’s ideas as a way of expanding the point of view, “In order to take a step toward becoming a more digitized education system, we have to look to our teachers and professors for guidance. Many teachers can tend to be antiquated in their thinking, but Turner encourages them to drop this, and adapt to their changing environment, “Now English teachers must embrace a new role: We must advocate for digital literacy, not just technology, in a way that re-conceptualizes our discipline. We must dump the dittos, throw out the work- books, and remix our teaching for a digital age,” (No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait, Turner).
So where do we go from here? The key to all of this is to first and foremost be aware. Have awareness of how the screen you’re reading this on, or the phone in your pocket, have changed drastically over years. On a daily basis, we tend to take these changes for granted, but upon further analysis, they are actually monumental and truly affect our lives as students. Have awareness in your classroom, how does each one of your professors teach; lecture? Discussion? How do these varied methods alter your ability to process and learn new information? Collaboration is a key feature of digital writing, according to Liana Heitin in her article, Writing Re-Launched: Teaching with Digital Tools. Allowing and accepting changes to happen will help the transition.
My Experience in the Digital World
Creating an account on Facebook was my first experience in the digital world. Although the format and design of Facebook have changed drastically since I joined in 2010, the accessibility of information and the easiness of connecting to old friends were amazing to me. I can talk to my friend living in Tokyo at the click of a button, or glance at the toolbar on the right containing the most popular news that day.
I went to a small private school in the heart of Brooklyn in New York City, where I attended Kindergarten through 12th grade. In 5th grade, we were each given a MacBook and required to take Computer Science classes to learn how to use them. Like any other young kid, I found it challenging to focus on my teacher’s instruction on how to use Microsoft programs, while the person to my right was playing snake on his dashboard. In middle school they taught us how to code and build our own websites. By the end of 8th grade, I could create a web page from scratch, with a multicolored homepage and a moving banner image. In high school, they took our MacBook’s back and replaced them with Dell laptops. They explained to us that they wanted us to have proficient knowledge of both types of computers to benefit our résumés for internships and future jobs.
It was not until college that I realized how unusual this all was. The idea of preparing 5th graders for jobs after college never struck me as odd until now. I have yet to meet anyone who was given a brand new Mac laptop as a 5th grader, and then a new Dell in 9th grade. My middle and high school experiences were reflective of the shift from analog to digital writing. Although we were young, they wanted to condition us to be able to adapt to new versions of the laptops we were using, so that we would not be at a disadvantage in the future.
In addition, there has been a huge push toward a more ‘green’ approach to learning, specifically paper. The digitization of writing and books lessens the waste of paper and the destruction of forests. Although I will always prefer reading something on paper, the ability to write an essay and email it to my professor for notes makes the editing process much easier.
- Cohen, Dan. “Professors, Start Your Blogs.” Web log post. Dan Cohen. N.p., 21 Aug. 2006. Web. 22 Oct. 2014. <http://www.dancohen.org>.
- Duke University Press, comp. “Teaching Digital Rhetoric: Community, Critical Engagement, and Application.” 6.2 (2006): n. pag. Project Muse. Web. 22 Oct. 2014. <https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/pedagogy/v006/6.2digirhet.pdf>.
- Greenidge, Wendy-lou, and Ruth Sylvester. “Digital Storytelling: Extending the Potential for Struggling Writers.” Reading Rockets. Weta, Dec. 2009. Web. 22 Oct. 2014. <www.readingrockets.org>.
- Heitin, Liana. “Writing Re-Launched: Teaching with Digital Tools.” Education Week. N.p., 4 Apr. 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2014. <http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2011/04/04/02digital.h04.html>.
- Hicks, Troy, and Kristen H. Turner. “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait.” NCTE.org (n.d.): n. pag. NCTE. Web. 22 Oct. 2014. <www.ncte.org>.
- Purcell, Kristen. “How Teens Do Research in the Digital World.” Pew Research Internet Project. Pew Research Center, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2014. <http://www.pewinternet.org>.