"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Purposefully Developing Digital Literacy

About a month ago, a friend of mine asked me to check out some books for her from the VCU Library.  Her 13-year-old niece was working on a project on French theater, and needed some literacy criticism to include in her discussion paper.  As I got off the elevator on the fourth floor of Cabell Library, call numbers in hand, I was met by the sight of diligent students hard at work on their laptops, tablets, and other portable electronic devices.  I quietly made my way past them and into the library stacks...where I found myself...ALONE... with hundreds of old, dusty books.  I selected the 10 books that were on the list and went downstairs.  Some students in the elevator were giving me curious looks as though to say, "what is she doing with so many books?"  When I reached the circulation desk, there was a long line.  It soon became apparent to me that I was the ONLY person there to actually check out books.  Everyone else was there for renting laptops or asking a question about computer issues.  Are books slowly becoming obsolete?  Many experts think so.  In fact, I recently read a book by Nicholas Carr called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains (which I found VERY interesting).  But this is perhaps another topic for another time...

It is no secret that technology is all around us and (rapidly) changing every day.  Our education system is inundated with a cornucopia of digital media.  Furthermore, there is a tremendous push for educators to incorporate technology in the classroom.  This is an exciting time to work in education! But at the same time, I wonder if we are effectively teaching digital literacy.  Do students really participate in digital literacy events, or are they just learning discrete computer skills?  I think that we have come a long way in the past decade, but we still have quite a way to go. As Coiro pointed out in this week's reading, almost anyone can "access and consume information" that the digital world has to offer.  However, he goes on to say that "not everyone is equipped to build on that information in ways that generate new knowledge."  This is so very true.

In my own experience as a K-12 student, and later as an undergraduate student, I feel that I was exposed to a variety of resources, but I was essentially left to my own devices to learn how to use them effectively and meaningfully.  In my undergraduate institution, every student was required to take a content course with a "digital literacy" component.  In my case it was a Victorian Poetry class.  To satisfy the necessary requirement, the professor taught us how to search for literary criticism in JSTOR.  He did not actually teach us how to "consume" the information, but only how to look up articles on different topics, then import then into RefWorks and cite them MLA style.  Somehow, by performing this task effectively, I was suddenly deemed digitally literate by the university. 

I think that as educators, it is so important for us to continue on this journey of understanding digital literacy!


  1. Rachel, I concur with your comment "that educators, it is so important for us to continue on this journey of understanding digital literacy." A few years ago I took a "information literacy" course that focused on the lifecyle of information from the initial TV news broadcasts (blogs, tweets, etc.) about an incident or activity to its final evolution into a scholarly book. In between these two endpoints the information entered into a continuous upward spiral process of refinement as it was reflected in newspapers, then magazines, and then academic journals.

    One of the points made by the instructor is that information, its quality and accuracy, evolves along a timeline. As time passes, writers, bloggers, editors and researchers are able to verify and correct information, collaborate sources, critically analyze it, and synthesize it -- with the ultimate metamorphous being the publication of the information in a scholarly book.

    Consequently, I was a bit skeptical about Coiro's discussion about "knowledge" development. Yes, as educators we do need to continue on the journey of understanding digital literacy, but we also need to "read against the text" in our attempts to ensure we incorporate our insights about knowledge development and acquisition learned in the "text" world. The mediums (text verses digital verses ????) will continue to change. However, the fundamental definition of, and our understanding about, what constitutes "knowledge" should not change.

    1. Bob, thank you for your comments. The course that you took on "information literacy" sounds very interesting! I never thought about different types of texts as forming a lifecycle of information. Can you suggestion any good articles or books on this subject?

  2. Rachel,
    If you cut & past this link: http://lrts.stcloudstate.edu/instruction/libraryinstruction/documents/InfoCycle.pdf

    you can download a copy of "Books, Websites, or Journals? The Information Cycle" handout that explains "one version" of an information lifecyle. Additionally, here is a link to a 7-minute video from the Penn State University Library that shows how information cycles through time, and how different sources are more valuable to use at different times in the cycle. https://www.libraries.psu.edu/content/dam/psul/up/lls/audiovideo/infocycle_2008.swf

    I hope this helps


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.