Education Week - November 9, 2016 - 6
What's your favorite way to read?
magazines or head to the library and search through
stacks of books. They learn to use a table of contents
and an index to locate information within a book.
But part of digital literacy is learning to search for
content in an online space. Students have to query a
search engine using keywords and navigate those results, including assessing the reliability of particular
authors and websites.
Third grade student, Indian Run
Elementary School, Dublin, Ohio
for Education Wee
n for Educatio
| Education Week * November 9, 2016
Because the term "digital literacy" is so wide-ranging, it can cause confusion. What exactly is someone
talking about when he or she refers to digital
literacy? Is it the consumption, creation, or
communication of digital material? Or is that
person discussing a particular digital tool? Do
technology skills like computer coding fall under
the digital-literacy umbrella as well?
Some experts prefer the term "digital literacies," to convey the many facets of what reading and writing in the modern era entails.
"The concept should instead be considered plural-digital literacies-because the term implies multiple opportunities to leverage digital texts,
tools, and multimodal representations
for design, creation, play, and problemsolving," Jill Castek, a research
assistant professor with the Literacy,
Language, and Technolog y Research
Group at Portland State University, wrote
in an email.
Leu of UConn avoids the term altogether.
"Is someone who is 'digitally literate' equally
literate when searching for information, when critically evaluating information, when using Snapchat,
when using email, when using text messaging, when
using Facebook, or when using any one of many different technologies for literacy and learning?" asked
Leu in an email. "I think not."
He prefers the term "new literacies," which he said
better conveys how rapidly technology is changing.
Other experts have used terms like "literacy and
technology," "multiliteracies," and "21st century
But for now, digital literacy seems to be the prevailing term among educators. "I understand this is the
term that is popular today," Leu said, "just as I understand a newer term will appear in the future that
will replace it."
Sharing and Communicating
While traditional writing can be a
personal endeavor, digital writing
is generally intended to be communicated with others. And digital-writing tools are designed to
make that easy to do.
As North Carolina State's Spires and
her co-author, Melissa Bartlett, wrote
in a 2012 white paper about digital literacy and learning, "Web 2.0 tools are
social, participatory, collaborative, easy to
use, and are facilitative in creating online
That makes digital writing a potentially powerful lever for social good,
allowing students to "actively participate in civic
society and contribute to a vibrant, informed, and
engaged community," as the ALA notes.
It also makes digital writing a potentially dangerous tool-decisions about when and what to share
online can have repercussions for a student's safety,
privacy, and reputation.
Digital literacy also refers to content creation. That
includes writing in digital formats such as email,
blogs, and Tweets, as well as creating other forms of
media, such as videos and podcasts.
Renee Hobbs, a professor of communication studies at the University of Rhode Island, talks about
digital authorship as "a form of social power." At
a weeklong professional-development institute
on digital literacy held at URI this past summer, she showed examples of student activists sharing their messages about the
Black Lives Matter movement through
Creating digital content is a "creative
and collaborative process that involves
experimentation and risk-taking," she
said. There's more risk-taking than in
print writing because digital writing is
so often meant to be shared.
"I read on my iPad
when I'm in a car,
or when I'm on a
plane when I'm
going to a trip.
When I'm at
home, I read
For that reason, learning about appropriate internet
behavior is also a part of digital literacy, many say.
"We need to help kids see they can use digital tools
to create things and put things out into the world, but
there's responsibility that comes with that," said Lisa
Maucione, who attended the URI institute and who is
a reading specialist for the Dartmouth public schools
"It's on a book, on
a paperback book
because I've been
reading like that
since I was kid."
Tenth grade student, Mineola
High School, Mineola, N.Y.
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