Define the nature and scope of digital literacy.
Summarise the components of digital literacy.
Explain the purpose of digital literacy.
Explain the role of digital literacy in the lives of adults and young people in society.
Describe the impact of not being digitally literate on adults and young people.
One of the advantages of digital literacy learning is that, providing you have suitable tools and technologies, learning can occur almost anywhere. For example:
- Traditional Classroom
- Place of Work
- Virtual Learning Environment
- Distance Learning
- Peer Groups
- Local Library
- Travelling on Public Transport
Characteristics of Digital Literacy Learning Environments
In the modern age, lives are becoming busier and time more precious. Therefore, it is more likely than ever that digital literacy learning will be undertaken in increasingly unconventional settings. Nonetheless, the following considers the characteristics of three of the more typical digital literacy learning environments.
1. Traditional Classroom
A classroom dedicated to teaching digital literacy should ideally be equipped with all of the necessary technologies and tools needed for both the digital literacy practitioner and the learner. Unfortunately, as many tutors will have experienced, not all venues are entirely suitable for digital literacy learning. The computers may be extremely slow and the Wifi may keep dropping out. There may be no Smart Board or projector and the internal firewall may block you from accessing sites such as YouTube or GMail. Even so, this environment allows the tutor to demonstrate a wide range of tools, technologies and techniques, via their teaching methods.
The classroom environment also offers a safe haven for digital literacy learners to explore tools and technologies that they may not normally have access to. The tutor is on hand to offer support and answer any questions. Being taught with others can also enhance the learning experience for students and facilitate collaboration.
Such venues are mostly accessible to all and able to provide a wide range of adaptations to meet the needs of the digital literacy learner. Risk assessments will have been undertaken and equipment such as desks and chairs will be fit-for-purpose.
Depending upon the location, some learners may feel uncomfortable with the venue, especially if they have negative memories of their school years. Furthermore, if the venue is not located in a community environment, with good public transport links, then that may be a barrier for some. Learners need to know that their journey to and from the classroom will be equally as safe also.
2. Place of Work
Many employers realise the benefits of having a digitally literate workforce and actively encourage learning in the workplace. Some may even allow their employees an element of study time, as part of their continuing professional development. Learning is often contextualised as it typically relates to the employer’s business. This usually provides greater meaning and understanding to the learner.
The learner may be restricted as to where and when they can study. They may also be constrained in what they learn e.g. company specific software. As business always takes precedent, the learner may be subject to interruptions or distractions, especially if they work in an open-plan office. If the learner does not have a suitable and dedicated digital device, then they may need to hot desk with other employees. They will also be constrained by their employer’s tools and technologies, as well as their firewall.
On the face of it, learning from the comfort of your own home seems a perfect solution. The digital literacy learner can pick a time for learning that is best suited to themselves; they can fit in their digital literacy learning around other commitments; they are in familiar surroundings and there’s no need to travel anywhere.
Obviously, the learner will need access to all suitable tools and technologies, which they may not necessarily have, or may not have the latest version of. Their internet connection may be slower at home, or even non-existent, and members of their family may be unwilling to share the family digital devices with them, as and when needed.
The learner may not have an ergonomically-friendly desk or chair or, in some circumstances, may not have a desk at all. Working alone, may leave the digital literacy learner feeling isolated and unable to progress.
Finally, the learner may have demands placed on their time while at home, or feel guilty about neglecting their family, especially if they have been working all day.
There are many methods of communication that can be used with digital literacy learners. For example:
- Face-to Face
- Blog Posts
- Instant Messaging
- Skype / Facetime
- Twitter Tweets
- Google Hangouts
The advantages and disadvantages of three of these are analysed below.
For classroom-based digital literacy learning, this is probably the most common method of communicating with learners. However, virtual face-to-face communication can also occur using tools such as Skype or Facetime.
The primary advantage of face-to-face communication is that it promotes a two-way dialogue between the digital literacy practitioner and the learners. Body language and tone of voice are also important factors which can be observed when communicating in this way. Research undertaken by Albert Mehrabian1 concluded that there are essentially three elements to any face-to-face communication:
• Tone of voice
• Non-verbal behaviour e.g. body language and facial expression
Surprisingly, words only account for 7% of communication . Tone of voice accounts for 38% and the remaining 55% comes from body language. Therefore, the non-verbal elements are particularly important, especially when there is any confusion or ambiguity.
Classroom communication can take place on a one-to-one basis, or with a group of learners. It can be useful in facilitating positive discussion and students can also learn from the conversations that takes place with other learners. It can also generate impromptu questions and immediate requests for clarification.
If learners have low literacy skills, they will also find it easier to speak to to the digital literacy practitioner rather than write to them.
On the downside, not all learners feel comfortable speaking up in front of others. They may even feel apprehensive about asking questions of the tutor in a one-to-one discussion, for fear of appearing inane. Some learners may have a tendency to dominate group discussions and express their views rather forcibly. Also, not all learners attend every session and hence, miss out on communication opportunities. Finally, depending upon the size of the group, the tutor may not always have ample opportunity during the teaching session, to address each and every learner.
Email is a quick and effective tool when it comes to communicating with learners between teaching sessions. For universal topics, the same email can be sent to all of the learners, providing that the individuals’ contact details are not disclosed. Homework or research tasks can be set and documents attached. Links can also be included which means that the learners can be immediately directed to the sites that they may need to look. It also encourages the learners to used digital technologies, tools and techniques outside of the classroom.
Unfortunately, not all learners will open their emails and not all check for messages frequently. Hence, they may show up to the following session completely oblivious to what has been asked of them. Alternatively, the learner may discover the email at the last minute and be thrown into a state of panic, which in turn deters them from attending the next teaching session. There is also the remote possibility that the tutor’s message may end up in the spam or junk folder.
As with all written communication, there is also the possibility that the message may be misunderstood. Unlike face-to-face interaction, the learner will need to wait for clarification from the tutor, to any queries that they may have. Email also relies upon the learner having a certain degree of literacy skills. There is a risk that the digital literacy practitioner may use vocabulary that the learner is unfamiliar with.
By using a blog to communicate with learners, the tutor is encouraging them to use their digital literacy skills between teaching sessions. A blog can be read at the convenience of the learner and feedback can be left in the comments section. It can also encourage learners to help each other, by addressing any queries raised in the comments section.
A blog can be used to provide additional information and may even include links to further resources that the student may find useful. This encourages the learner to explore and undertake independent learning.
The disadvantages are similar to that of email. The learner may not understand what is written in the blog and is unable to obtain immediate answers to any questions. Depending upon how the blog is accessed, the learner may not even be able to find the correct blog entry that they need.
As comments are generally visible to the public, other learners will be able to read what everyone else has written. This may deter learners from commenting. Finally, if the learner has low levels of literacy skills, then they may be discouraged from reading the blog pots.
- Mehrabian, A. (1981) Silent messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Staying Up-To-Date With Digital Literacy
Staying up-to-date with emerging learning technologies, tools and techniques is not an easy task due to the rapid pace at which it is evolving. So just how can the digital literacy practitioner keep abreast of the emerging learning technologies, tools and techniques?
- CPD – Take full advantage of CPD opportunities
- Digital Magazines – Subscribe to digital magazines and online newsletters
- Mentoring – Find yourself a mentor and learn from them
- Google Alerts – Set up Google Alerts and be notified of new developments as they happen
- Facebook Groups & Forums – Join relevant groups and forums to share information and resources
- Experiment – Download and use new apps, check out new programs and visit electrical stores to trial the latest technologies
- Networking – Meet up with colleagues and other professionals
- Read Reviews – Trade professionals often have advanced copies of the latest tools and technologies. Make a point to check these out.
- Social Media – Use Twitter, Linkedin and other sites to keep in touch with digital professionals
- Learners – Take note of what technologies, tools and techniques your learners are using and learn from them!
- Blogs – Check out the amateur bloggers who are passionate about digital technologies, tools and techniques.