Monday, September 26, 2016

What does literacy mean in the digital age?

Fighting the digital media revolution -- either personally or in our schools -- is a quixotic endeavor. Students must learn to read for bias, shift between written and visually communicated information, and maintain focus within a myriad of opportunities to depart from the primary text via hyperlinks to supplemental information. In fact, they, and we, are already doing these tasks and educators must embrace the teaching of the skills necessary to read well in a digital environment rather than refuse to allow the digital world into their classrooms. Students must learn to discern the connections between the array of topics and information presented in multimedia forms to make meaning of an information collection. Reading in a web-based rather than printed text environment therefore requires students to develop information literacy skills specific to that medium beyond traditional printed text literacy strategies.

Teacher’s anecdotally cite their concern that students’ comprehension skills are eroding as is their persistence with lengthy and complex texts as justification for reading print only. To me, it does not make sense to resist the infiltration of the web into the classroom. We all must embrace the teaching of web literacy so students develop into sophisticated consumers of digital and print media. In some ways, digital media further empowers the reader to control the reading process and experience. Web reading is (or can be):

  • non-linear in its thinking requirements,
  • non-hierarchical in its organizational strategies,
  • non-sequential in its presentation,
  • multimedia which requires significant visual literacy skills,
  • interactive so that the reader controls the pace and flow of the reading, not the writer, and readers can even offer comment on the substance of the writing.

We should be developing new pedagogy around literacy instruction to embrace these changes and maximize student potential instead of becoming distraught about the possible adaptive changes to our brains as the means of reading evolves.

Graphicacy is a vital skill as more and more information is conveyed via sketch, diagram, chart, etc. Savvy readers need to evaluate non-text features like graphs and images. This isn't new in the world-wide-web -- there are charts and graphs and images in books -- but the variation of the media and the volume of it (since we're no longer constrained by pages and printing costs) is different and thus worthy of a new strategy. Students need to develop the ability to unpack and make meaning of the multimedia components in a digital text and synthesize the meaning they derive from each component.

These are sophisticated skills. They are high on bloom’s taxonomy. To dismiss the reading strategies necessary to understand the presentation of ideas in digital texts is to misunderstand or ignore the value of these texts - and their permanence. It is imperative that administrators and educators embrace these new media and invest in the professional development necessary to nurture students literacy development in the digital age.

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