Don’t Underestimate Digital Literacy

“Um, Ashley? Why is there a baby? We are supposed to be blogging about digital literacy in an undergrad class…”

“Have you seen an undergrad lately…?”

I kid, I kid. But they sure do make me feel old.

The real reason for the baby, is today’s society has pretty much decided to abandon the idea of age sensitive technologies and have even gone so far as to market technology products specifically for babies and toddlers. This act, of having technology that is available and given to young children has skewed the idea of digital literacy.

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Fisher-Price Ipad Apptivity Seat, Newborn-to-Toddler

I have heard in so many classrooms a collective astonishment when met with students that are not able to touch type or search for quotes without Google images. Teachers just cannot wrap their brains around how in a society where babies are given Ipads and toddlers laptops, how a student of any age could not know basic digital literacy skills. At first, I was with them. How could students with iPhones in elementary school not know these skills? But then I came up with a theory.

Even with all the technology available at such young ages, parents are probably not taking the time to digital literacy skills.

Unfortunately, in schools, it is a lot of the blame game. A 6th-grade student comes to class and reads at a 3rd-grade level, the teacher subconsciously starts blaming for the 5th-grade teacher for not catching them up. And last year the 5th-grade teachers wondered why the 4th-grade teacher didn’t fix this, and this continues down to the Kindergarten teacher. This trend is especially true with soft-skills and technology usage. Teachers assume that skills (like typing) were taught the previous years in school and then become frustrated when the students do not meet “grade level expectations”.

So, what does this all mean for universities? To begin, we have to first look at what we even mean when we talk about digital literacy. Digital literacy is “the idea of ‘information literacy’ which is the ability to effectively find, identify, evaluate, and use information. Digital literacy specifically applies to media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and other nontraditional sources.” (“What is digital literacy?,” n.d.) If a student is to show that they are digitally literate they should be able to show that they know about various technologies and how to use them efficiently and effectively. They also must know that everything they do in the digital world has consequences (much like their real worlds) and if used correctly could make their lives easier and more productive (Ng 2012).

Much like in the K-12 system, undergraduate professors assume that students come to them with a certain level of digital skills, and often times they are disappointed. In an undergraduate system, students are meant to know and already use educational technologies such as; messaging services like Google Hangouts and Skype,  blogs, social bookmarking like Digg and Delicious, and media sharing like Flickr and YouTube. On top of these tools, there has been a major shift in the past several years to have online learning, mobile learning and distance learning. Combined, these tools and teaching methodologies lead to a heightened sense of importance on students coming to the universities already familiar with an effective use of technology.

 

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“Technology has had- and will continue to have- a significant impoact on higher education” (Glenn & D’Agostino, 2008).

Beyond just the technology tools that are being used in the universities, students are also expected to come with a sense of what it means to be a good digital citizen. Often thought of one and the same with digital literacy, digital citizenship is often the forgotten piece of the puzzle. Students today are often referred to as “digital natives” being given technology at younger and younger ages. However, they often lack the knowledge of how their online behaviors effect their everyday lives. Due to the ultra-connectivity that is today’s world, students must understand that part of their digital success hangs on their ability to promote positive and respectful behaviors within their online environments. Where topics like cyberbullying and plagiarism seem like a no-brainer, especially in the higher grade levels, these are skills that are ofter not taught flat out in any grade level. Nonetheless, where digital citizenship is not the same as a student’s digital literacy, it is important to note that a person cannot be completely digitally literate without being aware of their citizenship online.

 

 

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