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Shouldn't We All Be Learning Digital Literacy Skills?

A few weeks back, I was doing some thinking about 21st century workplace literacy and wondering why edubloggers and workplace learning bloggers weren't having more conversations about what constitutes "literacy" in a radically changed workplace. I would argue that by anyone's definition, digital literacy should be part of what we mean when we talk about the skills that all workers need to be successful. I'd go so far as to say that these are skills that would benefit all citizens, whether they're working or not.

Now I see that Vicki Davis has embarked on a project to build the digital skills of her young students through  "Digiteen," which she's set up to teach the skills identified in Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble and Gerald Baily. They are:

1. Student Learning and Academic Performance

1A: Digital Access-- full electronic participation in society
1B: Digital Communication--the electronic exchange of information  
1C:  Digital Literacy-- the capability to use digital technology and knowing when and how to use it.

2. Student Environment and Student Behaviour

2A:  Digital Security and Safety-- the precautions that all technology users must take to guarantee their personal safety and the security of their network
2B:  Digital Etiquette--the standards of conduct expected by other digital technology users
2C: Digital Rights and Responsibilities--the privileges and freedoms extended to all digital technology users, and the behavioural expectations that come with them.

3. Student Life Outside the School Environment

3A: Digital Law-- the legal rights and restrictions governing technology use
3B: Digital Health and Wellnessthe elements of physical and psychological well-being related to digital technology use
3C:  Digital Commerce--the buying and selling of goods online

Looking at this list I have three questions:

  • Shouldn't "adults" have these skills too?
  • Do they?
  • If we think that these skills are important, what are we doing to make sure that people actually have them?

What do you think?


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Adults do have these skills, but in varying degrees of proficiency. One of the biggest challenges of teaching adults in this increasingly technological world is lessening the skill gap between learners.

Improvements in computer user interfaces may be able to lessen the gap by automating some processes. For example, I have been playing with Jott. You call the Jott phone number and your speech is converted to text and posted online to places such as Twitter and WordPress and Blogger blogs as well as quite a few others. You can see more on the site and some examples of the results on my site

Hi Richard--you're preaching to the choir about Jott! It's one of my favorite tools!

One thing I realized about digital literacy issues for adults is that I think that there's an emphasis on technology over process. That is, we may show people how to use a piece of software or an online tool, but there's so much more to this that's about process and community and how you use tools to accomplish these things. That's one of the things that I think I like about this list because it starts to move beyond simply teaching about technology as thought it's just a series of buttons to push to accomplish various tasks.

I have a problem with the word digital. To me it describes a format, like pen, pencil, tape, etc. The thing we are talking about here is more like the grammar in the format. That has as much to do with networking than it does with digital. Setting up a connection to the network, nurturing social/personal/professional networks, and networking information.

So is it best to say digital network literacy? Or are we down the line like "eLearning" where the "e" part is largely useless. Should we be pushing for the digital and the network to be implicit in what we mean when we say literacy and numeracy?

Hmm. . . interesting questions, Leigh. I think that there is still something going on with actually learning the specific tools, but also agree that it's much bigger than that--the "grammar" as you say.

The idea of the network is implicit in these skill areas, I think, but certainly doesn't seem to be emphasized and therefore it may get lost. I would love for us to get to a place where digital and the network are implicit in literacy and numeracy, but I don't know that we are even close to that. It feels to me like we're going to need to first be very explicit about what we mean until it becomes so integrated into the concept of literacy (like reading) that we can then say everybody gets it. I just don't see that happening yet because I don't think we're at all clear about what we should be doing.

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