As I’ve mentioned before I don’t believe that the ‘digital immigrants’ and ‘digital natives’ dichotomy holds up to much scrutiny. Although I teach mainly History, around 30% of my timetable is teaching ICT (Information and Communications Technology). Through observing students in these lessons I’ve come to realise that the concept of ‘digital literacy’ – the subject of my Ed.D. thesis – is a slippery notion. Not only that, but it’s a concept that, if it exists, does not necessarily follow automatically just because an individual has used computers from a young age. Here’s my three reasons why students shouldn’t automatically be classed as being digitally literate.
1. Students often don’t seem to understand the processes behind the things that they click on. What you see as ‘understanding’ and ‘digital native activity’ is actually simply force of habit and the result of trial-and-error. Ask them to do something different and you get blank looks. For example, I asked a student to login to their Windows Live/Hotmail account so they could email their work home. How do I do that? they asked. The same way you do at home, I said. Oh, I just click on the button on MSN Messenger they replied…
2. The seeming ability of students to ‘multi-task’ belies a shallowness in the enterprise they are undertaking. It’s not actually that difficult to have 8 MSN Messenger windows open when you’re doing the txt equivalent of grunting (LOL, GR8, BRB, etc.)
3. True literacy is predicated upon some type of intelligence and intentionality of action. It’s about communication and selecting and deploying the correct tools for the job. Students may be well versed in Bebo, MySpace, MSN Messenger and the like but this does not mean that they can be classed as digitally literate in any meaningful sense. The ability to abstract from those very specific applications is unfortunately sorely lacking in a good number of cases.
You may say that I perhaps teach in an unusual area or that I’m generalising from too few specific instances. I do, however, teach in a school where most pupils come from fairly well-off middle-class backgrounds with almost ubiquitous access to digital devices. I also teach (or have taught) from Years 7 to 11.
Have you noticed anything similar? What do you understand by the term ‘digital literacy’?