By: Nathan Snider
5G. Altered reality. Internet-of-things. Digital literacy.
In late 2018, it’s difficult to sort through the myriad of buzz-terminology that’s tossed between industry, education and technology consultants. We always hear of the term “digital literacy,” which leads many of us to draw correlations between the written word and some form of competency, with the end goal being to land on the leading edge of educational, occupational or even personal success. But what does this phrase mean? What bearing does this have on an individual or, more specifically, a student’s life in the real world?
Considering the advent and popularity of technologies that replace our more traditional behaviours, such as e-voting, open banking, self-driving vehicles and crypto-currency, our lifestyle and the demands made of us as citizens are also changing. We no longer have the luxury of existing blissfully in our online irrelevance, but must also be aware at an even younger age to what depths our digital footprint truly lives. We’ve become wholly responsible to our older selves with our digital behaviour and now, while learning the language of our online world, also determine what rights and responsibilities we possess. Our understanding of literacy as reading and writing are no longer enough when our new scholarship requires us daily also to navigate our digital actions, ability to discern news and social content and even our rights to personal data and consumer buying decisions.
As Namir Anani, ICTC President & CEO explains, “Transformative technologies continue to radically change the face of business in Canada while intensifying the demand for skilled digital talent”. So it seems ultimate that we position our post-millennial “Generation Z” with the choice to become fluent in this new language, in a world occupied by constant technological change, or fall noticeably behind. For an older demographic, this collective new literacy means riding a challenging wave of technical competencies at the risk of drifting out to a world of digital irrelevance. So it’s imperative that we as Canadians understand the importance of investing in ourselves equitably, ensuring we remain literate and competitive while fostering a healthy social and digital economy.
As “Connecting the Digital Dots” outlines, digital literacy is “a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment [and] includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments.” (Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots).
So it seems then that we’re not programming a future of humans to code, but developing learners who are literate in adapting to change, navigating demand and understanding when and how to leverage digital assets when it’s vital to success. We’re educating decision makers in a world integrated with technological innovation, building solid foundations in interdisciplinary fields where we blur the line between technology and, well, everything else. To apply or maintain the same level of flexibility in the realm of education or modern teaching frameworks, our digital literacy definition or methodology should allow for the ability to apply ICT in fields some believe to be foreign (i.e. history, geography etc.). However, if we challenge this traditional notion, we can quickly recognize how an interdisciplinary approach to ICT learning and essential conventional subject matter can blend in perfect harmony.
As ICTC’s secondary school “Focus on IT (FIT)” initiative outlines, a student must be capable of “clearly articulating a problem or opportunity” and does so by “understanding the organizational context in which the program or opportunity is present.” For example, consider an Ontario tenth grade history class, looking at the causes of the First World War. Although it’s not lines of code or advanced robotics, the result is a student capable of identifying a problem and understanding the context in which the opportunity to solve the problem is present. This is core analytical thinking.
Although this example is limited in scope, we should consider the opportunities it suggests. Digital literacy is more than ICT learning through computer-centric course-loads; it’s a new perspective on modern education.