Open Thinkering


Is digital literacy ‘in crisis’?

Sometimes, juxtaposition is all that’s required.

Bennett, et al. (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate – a critical review of the evidence (BJET, 39:5, pp.775-786)

Cohen’s (1972) notion of a ‘moral panic’ is helpful in understanding the form taken by the digital natives debate. In general, moral panics occur when a particular group in society, such as a youth subculture, is portrayed by the news media as embodying a threat to societal values and norms. The attitudes and practices of the group are subjected to intense media focus, which, couched in sensationalist language, amplifies the apparent threat. So, the term ‘moral panic’ refers to the form the public discourse takes rather than to an actual panic among the populous. The concept of moral panic is widely used in the social sciences to explain how an issue of public concern can achieve a prominence that exceeds the evidence in support of the phenomenon (see Thompson,

In many ways,much of the current debate about digital natives represents an academic form of moral panic. Arguments are often couched in dramatic language, proclaim a profound change in the world, and pronounce stark generational differences. (p.782)

Susan Murphy, Digital Literacy Is In Crisis (2011):

The solution to this crisis begins with teachers, and this is where the gap widens even more. Teachers are in a terrible predicament, because they are in a position where they’re still trying to figure this stuff out themselves. The Web is still so young. None of us has more than 15 years of experience at it. The technology, trends, and philosophies behind the Web change at lightning speed. Teachers are simply not equipped to bridge the gap of digital literacy, because they have fallen into the gap.

(emphasis in original)

6 thoughts on “Is digital literacy ‘in crisis’?

  1. Yes. This links into the broader moral panic in Society around the use of new technologies – wrote an assignment on this last year, referencing articles in the press asserting that ‘Facebook gives you cancer’ and Baroness Greenfield arguing that gaming and the internet fries kids’ brains. As Dr Fox would say, it’s not fact but it is Science. Iit’s useful to look at Raymond Williams work on ‘technological determinism’ here. He argues that the assumption that wicked technologies come along and change us can be questioned. Couldn’t it be the case that society creates the technologies it needs to meet ends that arise from other causes…?

    1. I absolutely agree. Whilst technologies are never completely ‘neutral’, they don’t themselves cause the situations in which they are used nefariously. The moral panic about children and technology stems from a fear, in my view, that (predominantly) middle-aged people have about the rate of change in the modern world.

      1. The phrase, ‘Teachers are simply not equipped to bridge the gap of digital literacy, because they have fallen into the gap’ is interesting isn’t it? It suggests the problem’s in the literacy landscape. Teachers are portrayed as victims of a seismic shift that’s left them not just stranded but swallowed up. No way back from that!

        But people can and do learn to read and learn new languages all the time. How do we feel as teachers when students say, ‘oh, I’ll never be able to do that! I’ve always been rubbish at that.’ We want them to develop a more open mindset, some excitement and vision about what’s possible and some tenacity and courage in the face of failure or partial success. If you find yourself in a hole, start climbing.

        Isn’t it also rather futile to bemoan the influence of new technologies if Williams is right that they grow out of social change rather than causing it. What you’re saying is not just, ‘I don’t like this new tool,’ but ‘I don’t like this society and how it operates.’ I think you’re right, Doug that technologies aren’t neutral – I think Williams goes on to suggest that a dialogue between technologies and practice where they drive each other is probably closest to the truth. So to shape The language, you’ve got to be part of the conversation…

  2. What an exciting place to be though. I would rather be in the gap than not! At least there I can embark on a learning journey alongside my students, forcing me to rely on collaborative-production, research, discussion, debate and experimentation rather than teaching from the front of the room as authority figure. Perhaps if all facets of education were like this then learning and teaching would be like this in every classroom.

    1. Well indeed, if that’s how you choose to address the gap. But, to stretch the metaphor, if you try and get students to leap the chasm over to *your* side of the gap (as many teachers do) then that’s a #fail.

  3. I agree with you, James. That’s a much more empowering way to view the landscape. Karl Mannheim said: ‘In a society in which the main changes are to be brought about through collective deliberation, and in which re-evaluations should be based upon intellectual insight and consent, a completely new system of education would be necessary, one which would focus it’s main energies on the development of our intellectual powers and bring about a frame of mind which can bear the burden of scepticism and which doesn’t panic when many of the thought habits are doomed to vanish.’ (cited in Freire, P. (2010) Education for Critical Consciousness. London: continuum p. 30)

    One of the ways I’m thinking of trying to do this in my own teaching is beautifully explained in Michael Newman’s ‘Teaching Definace’ Ch 7…

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