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Digital Literacy- A Response from a Special Educator

The Digital Literacy strategic brief released last week by NMC, written by Bryan Alexander is much appreciated. It is giving an infusion of energy into a topic in need of some focused attention. Many thanks to Maha Bali and colleagues for their reflective critique on ProfHacker and to Bryan Alexander for ongoing reflections about the process of developing the report. I am excited to participate in this conversation and learn alongside these colleagues.  Here are my thoughts after a few days to reflect on the report.

I am concerned by the lack of depth in the initial report and the failure to address the connection between literacy and digital literacy.  Literacy is a large topic that has been researched for decades if not longer. We know a great deal about literacy and we know a great deal about creating a literate society. Our education systems are actually quite good at this, not perfect but good. What we don’t know is how this knowledge about literacy translates to the digital era that we are now living in. The fact that the relationship between traditional literacy, the ability to read and write, and digital literacy is not addressed in the NMC report is of concern. We should be building on the framework that currently exists. Through extensive research, educators have learned that there are multiple components to becoming literate, and that each of those components can be taught to develop literate students. For example, reading is a component of being literate. Reading can further be broken into teachable components, phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension. When a student is not able to read or is learning to read slowly, we are able to assess these components and identify where the struggle lies (Torgeson, 1999). We are then able to provide instruction in the area of need to guide the student towards reading proficiency (Richards & Leafstedt, 2010). Having a clear definition of reading and each of the components has informed the research and development of educational strategies for those struggling. I would like to argue that we need a similar approach for digital literacy.

Digital literacy needs to be defined so we can identify, develop, and measure the successes of educational approaches to teaching digital literacy. If we want to move the needle towards a more digitally literate society, there needs to be clarity about what we are working towards. These definitions are important for all students, but they are essential for struggling students and those with limited access to digital platforms. Definitions should guide educators towards knowing what to teach and when to teach it. To this end, the definition presented by Bryan in the strategic brief is limited. The categories are broad and the skill sets ill defined. I would like a definition of digital literacy that is made up of components, each of which have a continuum of skills and concepts that can be developed over time. Below is an initial outline of three components essential to digital literacy and a possible continuum of development for those components.

Components of Digital LIteracy Developmental Continuum Developmental Continuum Developmental Continuum
Emergent Proficient Expert
Technical Skills Basic Computer Skills, using software and different types of hardware Content Development, using more advanced software to create Coding/Programming
Information Literacy in Digital Platforms Basic search skills, and understanding about why search is needed Advanced search and an understanding of how the internet is structured to influence our search results Curation and Critical analysis of content
Digital Participation Consume content online occasional response such as a like on Facebook, beginning understanding of how information is shared. Contribute ideas and opinions about what others have produced Produce content, engage with others about content, collaborate and influence the development of new knowledge

These components and the continuum of development are far from fully baked. I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t hit publish now, this will sit on my desk for months. I would love input as I dig deeper into these ideas.

** My perspectives are influenced significantly by my work in special education and my passion for reaching those that are difficult to reach through effective, well-design learning experiences.

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