Multiple (Competing?) Digital Literacies

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?


Session Idea: Literacy – True, Functional & Tech

The Techmobile and Free Library Hot Spots are part of the effort to spread digital literacy, but we often encounter those with multiple literacy issues.

According to the Center for Literacy, an estimated 550,000 individuals in Philadelphia are considered low literate. And if you’ve been paying attention to the big digital literacy push here in Philly, you’ve probably heard something like 41%-55% of Philadelphians lack access to broadband internet.

With all of these disheartening statistics, how do we keep working to help people make the leap from low literate to functionally literate and help them adopt technology at the same time? How do we look at literacy as a whole? How do we encourage students of all ages to improve?

I’d love to talk about literacy and digital literacy and what I’ve encountered working for the Hot Spots and Techmobile. If you have encountered literacy issues at your institution or workplace, how do you approach it?