International Literacy Day, organised by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), took place on the 8th of September 2017. One focus of the 2017 event brought stakeholders and decision-makers together ‘from different parts of the world to examine how digital technology can help close the literacy gap and gain better understanding of the skills needed in today’s societies.’
Digital Literacy has many, and varied, definitions. Consider a preschool child, a university student, and a pensioner. Different ages and stages in life require different standards of literacy and digital literacy. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova notes that ‘Digital technologies permeate all spheres of our lives, fundamentally shaping how we live, work, learn, and socialize’. It logically follows that everyone needs to have some basic standard of digital literacy.
The first digital literacy program I encountered in my youth, was a typing and word processing program in secondary school. This was followed by the European Computer Drivers Licence (ECDL) program. Presenting today’s digital natives with such basic programs would be pointless and boring, at least to the majority.
There is a wide range of courses available to cater for every level of literacy. If students are to be compelled to undertake some kind of ICT or Digital Literacy program, the curriculum should be one that challenges the students to develop new skills rather than merely certify a basic level of competency. NUI Maynooth students recently lobbied to remove the ECDL as a compulsory module element in the degree courses offered at the University. Maynooth University has listened to the students, and is currently undertaking a review of their system.
Microsoft has been responsive to the evolving digital landscape and have updated their free Digital Literacy Curriculum. They are currently offering Version 4 of their curriculum, and on completion of this basic literacy program, there are additional resources offered to broaden the skills of the learner.
The European Commission have published a thoroughly comprehensive framework outlining ‘eight proficiency levels and example of their use’: DigComp 2.1, The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens: With Eight Proficiency Levels and Examples of Use, written and compiled by Stephanie Carretero, Riina Vuorikari and Yves Punie. UNESCO have published their own ‘Policy and Strategy Guidelines’ specifically addressing Media and Information Literacy. There are no training programs attached to these frameworks and guidelines, however there are plenty of free to use resources and tutorials throughout the WWW that would more than adequately satisfy a keen seeker.
As outlined by Lena Olsson and Eva Edman-Stålbrant in their research paper titled ‘Digital literacy as a challenge for Teacher Education. Implications for educational frameworks and learning environments’, Digital Literacy is an ever moving target. As new tools become available, and technological advancements emerge daily, digital literacy is not something attained and then left stagnant. It has to be constantly refreshed. W3Schools.com goes a long way to provide basic training opportunities in relation to the technological side of Digital Literacy. Digital Literacy however, does not begin and end with technological capabilities. In Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, Research, Philip R Polefrone, John Simpson and Dennis Yi Tenen acknowledge the principles of ‘Critical Computing’ and add the following seven principles which extends the meaning of Digital Literacy to encompass literacy within Digital Humanities:
1. Demystify everyday computation.
2. Use few, free, small, universal, and powerful tools that you can alter and understand
3. Privilege simplicity and human legibility over complexity and machine efficiency.
4. Invest in technologies that align with the values of our community.
5. Identify research objectives prior to selecting the appropriate tools and methodologies.
6. Divide big problems into small, modular components.
7. Be ‘lazy’ by automating mundane tasks, but do it right by commenting your code, taking notes, and sharing with others.
In the pursuit of Digital Literacy, one may encounter many overlapping principles. Rather than considering it an inconvenience, take comfort in the fact that as you encounter these repetitions, surely you must be on the right track if everyone finds this element to be important! As educators look more towards digital tools to supplement teaching and learning experiences, reflect on your own Digital Literacy, taking account of both the computational and humanities aspects. Are your skills stagnating? Is your literacy outdated?