Me and the Digital World

How digitally literate am I? To answer that question, I would like to make an analogy between traditional literacy and its digital counterpart. Becoming traditionally literate is a process. It begins with a complete inability to either read or write and ends with complete fluency in both skills, which would mean the ability to effortlessly comprehend and produce text in all the possible genres. There are many intermediate steps along the way, however, and most of us never reach the final destination of complete fluency. Some may not get that far; they struggle to read the most basic texts and can hardly string a written sentence together. Others progress a little further: they can function effectively at an everyday level, they can fill in basic forms, write a shopping list without effort. Others still might reach the level of being able to write the odd report at work; they might even read a crime novel for pleasure. In terms of my digital literacy, I am at about that stage, but to continue the analogy, I’ve never picked up one of the classics, I don’t participate in a reading circle, I’ve never read the New Yorker, and I am totally incapable of contributing an article to that publication, let alone creating my own work of contemporary literature.

Moreover, it seems that I am only completely digitally literate in the narrow sense of having good ICT literacy. When it comes to the other six elements of digital literacy identified in the JISC guide (JISC, no date) ­– “media literacy”, “communications and collaboration”, “career identity and management”, “learning skills”, “information literacy” and “digital scholarship” – then my literacy varies from moderate to virtually non-existent.

It is interesting to consider how digital literacy dove-tails with digital identity. According to Beetham and Sharp’s (2010) developmental pyramid (cited in JISC, no date), literacy progresses through a number of stages – “access and awareness”, “skills” and “practices” – which then culminate in the final stage: “identity”. Thus, in this schema, digital identity is an outcome of a high level of digital literacy. If I were to follow this idea, I would have to conclude that I have no digital identity at all. However, digital identity can also be viewed in different terms. For instance, White and Le Cornu (2011) discuss the concept of digital visitors versus digital residents. According to White, visitors treat the digital world as a “tool shed” that they visit to select the appropriate equipment for a certain task, whereas residents approach the digital world as a park containing groups of friends and acquaintances with whom they can interact and spend time, both at work and play. In short, visitors have a purely instrumental approach to the digital world, whereas residents have invested their identity in it.

While I have a problem with such binary distinctions, I would still consider myself more of a visitor than a resident. I approach the digital world primarily as a tool shed, and the tools that are on offer are of varying quality. I have a low patience threshold for any digital platform or service that takes more than a few seconds to learn or navigate. Say what you will about Apple, but their products normally work seamlessly together in a beautiful, logical and intuitive way. Sadly the same cannot be said for the products of its competitors.

In terms of my development, I hope that more than just introducing me to some more tools, ONL will help to give me a new perspective on online learning. I think what is already clear to me is that the ONL style of learning requires the learner to take the initiative and also responsibility for finding out about tasks and managing tools. What I would most want is to know how to create a holistic online experience for students with attractive, intuitive web platforms. In my opinion, in this busy world, neither I nor my students want to waste too much time fiddling with drop-down menus, user ids or highly complex settings. Moreover, online learning should be fun and not end with the user frustratedly banging the keyboard.

References:

White, D. S., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Online. Accessed 7 October 2018: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049

JISC (no date). Developing digital literacies. JISC website. Accessed / October 2018: http://web.archive.org/web/20141011143516/http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/infokits/digital-literacies/