Defining digital literacy

digital literacyAn article making the rounds in today’s news details the Canadian government’s interest in ‘defining’ digital literacy for teachers and students. From the article:

The report released by People for Education on Monday finds that the vast majority of Ontario secondary school teachers use some form of digital technology in the classroom, though it noted that the type of technology and the way it is used varies greatly, necessitating the need for a clearer policy on what makes for a digitally literate student.

As both an Ontario teacher, and one who was explicitly trained in integrating technology into the classroom, I have very mixed feelings about this. On one level, I understand what they are trying to do here. They want to have clear objectives that both teachers and parents can look at to say ‘if the child has learned these skills, they can be considered proficient in this subject area.’ I understand the need for that. I understand that teachers need to know what skills to teach and parents (and students) need to know what expectations they are supposed to be working toward.

But I think there is a real danger here, of making these expectations too fossilized into rules and regulations. It is fine to say ‘learn these skills’ as long as you don’t follow it up with ‘and not these ones.’ If a new technology emerges, and it’s a useful one, I don’t want to feel as a teacher like I must pass it by because I haven’t yet taught some five-year-old outdated thing that’s still in the document and so must be taught.

I have seen the glacial pace at which education reform moves. Last time I consulted the science and technology curriculum document, the only explicit reference I could find to computers was a science unit on ‘electricity and electrical devices.’ Once you put something in there, you’d better be prepared to teach that—and only that—for the next decade. That’s why I think general goals, as opposed to specific lists of sanctioned and approved websites or apps is probably better for a curriculum area that changes as fast as this one can.

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