The recent NCCE conference was full of experienced computer professionals. Much like a college library, it was full of students bustling about sharing their favorite texts, discussing their recent readings, and people searching for answers to difficult questions. Access to the riches of a library is generally reserved for those who are able to read. Much the same could be said about the riches of the internet and digital literacy. George Couros’ Keynote address focused on the very concept of digital literacy and how to spread it throughout a school community.
The keynote address brought together a number of ideas that I had been working through in my own mind with a very clear and succinct thesis. Digital literacy much like reading literacy, must be taught in a literate culture. Just as we expect teachers to model effective literacy techniques to budding readers, we must expect teachers to display effective digital literacy techniques to students if we expect them to grow up as digitally literate individuals. This poses a significant challenge as a number of students already seem ahead of their teachers as soon as a technological device is placed on the table.
The focus of this struggle is that students already exist in many domains that many teachers have not yet ventured into. Communications such as texting, facebook, and twitter are a mainstay of student interaction that vast numbers of educational staff avoid. The cause of their aversion is that they are not fully digitally literate. Digital literacy in today’s world is far more than being able to operate a computer and perform its basic functions. Digital literacy must include not only how to read and write, but also how find the book and where to place the writing.
One aspect of literacy that is not taught very frequently is the aspect of publishing your work. Publishing feels like some distant process that only writers do and it is long and difficult. Most commonly, students feel that their work isn’t good enough to be published. However, the digital realm is heavily predicated on people publishing their work. Work in this case can range from something as simple as a 144 character tweet, to a paragraph facebook post, to a blog post, to an entire ebook or website. While our conventional systems for teaching reading and writing are sufficient, only sharing student work with their teacher is a digitally illiterate act.
What the keynote address made me realize is that the online portfolio concept that my school is using only addresses a small part of the need of students to become digitally literate. In the current model students in their junior and senior year gather and produce a website that represents some of their best work. They then give commentary on the work they’ve done. While this is fantastic that students are sharing their work with the world, starting at 11th grade is far too late. Student websites should be started in elementary school where students can share and store the totality of their school work. They should be constantly building and refining the website as a method of sharing their work with the world. Only through constant interaction with the internet can we hope for students to learn to be truly digitally literate. In order for this to happen, teachers should be doing the same with their work.