There have already been several proposals for sessions on developing functional digital literacy and meeting the needs of people with low technology skills, and I’d like to add a similar-yet-different idea to the pack.
In recent years I’ve been told—and trained to expect—that incoming college students are “digital natives” and are entering college campuses with the highest levels of digital literacy ever. In many ways this is obviously true. However, what exactly constitutes digital literacy for my students is somewhat less clear to me. For example, it hasn’t worked for me to assume that “digital literacy” means that students will have the same set of commonplace, ordinary, and everyday digital competencies that I do. In fact, I’m routinely surprised to discover my students’ unfamiliarity with basic features of common digital tools (like Google Maps or Google Books), even while I know my students spend a tremendous amount of time inhabiting complex digital environments.
What seems clear, then, is that there are multiple digital literacies at play in my classroom—and that they don’t necessarily overlap in predictable or common-sense ways. The skill sets I imagine when I think of digitally literate students entering my classroom are not necessarily the same sets of skills those students actually bring into my classroom—or that they consider digitally necessary/desirable. While I’m personally thinking about digital literacy in the context of the college classroom, I imagine this is a broadly applicable issue affecting libraries, museums, and other humanities-oriented institutions.
The questions I would propose to meditate on, then, are these: What do we mean when we say “digital literacy”? To what degree to we mean familiarity with specific tools or applications? To what degree do we mean certain attitudes or approaches to digital information? And how important is it to come to agreement on these terms and expectations, anyway?