Digital literacy is a terrible term. It is misleading and submissive. it is manipulative and has significant economic overtones for everyone. Some advocates for technology in schools have adopted the term ‘digital literacy’ unwisely to describe what many others argue for as ‘media education’. Digital literacy is a low status term comprised of ‘digital’ (new media, untrusted, volatile and disruptive) and high status literacy. The end result is a mutt of term.
So why do some people use the term and others don’t. The answer lies in cultural conventions and status. Digital literacy is a popular culture term which has emerged from ‘the crowd of educators’ whom avidly use social media towards largely technologically deterministic view of what schools should be, if they modernists got out of the way. In media studies, the term multi-literacies has been around for a while, long before a few savant journalists started blogging about education to a growing citizen audience online. Even a casual look into books and papers by media scholars will reveal much of the ‘shift’ and ‘growing up digital’ opinions, are actually based in established fields. The key difference is the need for education to keep pace with technology or culture, but that social-media was a new audience that needed a ‘new term’ in order differentiate and promote it’s most vocal celebrities. It soon became apparent to citizen journalists (and journalists) that this new market could be expanded faster if they could convince teachers to align with their agenda, setting about building clusters of people whom they saw as mutually beneficial to engage with, mostly on economic terms. This to me was the beginning of the ‘digital-literacy-cartels’, rather than any emancipation of communication for children in classrooms.
Digital literacy submissively defers the importance of media education to authority. In order to expand the potential for books, seminars and so forth, social commentators needed the patronage of high-status journalists, publications, institutions and the most entertaining ‘new media’ outlets such as TED (or the pauper TEDx), Huffington Post and so on. At the same time, media scholars have continued to expand the research base around media studies, so it’s hard to see any reason to suggest ‘digital literacy’ is an omission to be rectified, especially by people who offer no evidence. Many media analysts reject the idea that literacy is primarily one of written communication, but is based on our understanding and mastery of cultural conventions which we use to interpret the everyday world.
Everyday, those pushing ‘digital literacy’ seek the approval of: more followers in order to prove they are more correct and more high-status administrators, leaders, producers and publishers to further their economic and social ambitions. Where media education would focus on analysis, evaluation and critical reflection on cultural communication (therefore IS authentic), it would also use modes of communication the ‘digital-cartel’ avoid as they don’t understand it and see no economic benefit. In actual fact, their assertions of around ‘digital literacy’ seek to give things such as learning management systems, games, virtual worlds, augmented reality and so on – low low status.
Evidence of this can bee seen easily. A teacher who has brand aligned (following the right people on Twitter and endorsing Google or Apple products) will talk about ‘digital literacy’ as surely as my cat will demand milk when I walk in the door. This also creates a perception that a teacher, who is Googled-up, is a better exponent of technology, and that teaching kids how to use Google products should be an function of education at all.
Seriously? Keep Googliness and app-tricks well away from me and my kids. I don’t want to be digitally literate! Don’t waste their time teaching them ‘tricks’. Teach them what the forms and structures of modes of communication – can be or should be.
I hope media education will one day be taken seriously (and funded seriously) by the highest of all curriculum bodies. Right now, institutions put ‘digital literacy’ into the same basket that pre-digital-schooling called ‘general studies’. It’s a low status subject unworthy of being taken seriously, but added to keep the post-modernists busy. So far this approach (at best) suggest kids should know something of the Internet (how to behave, use the ‘right’ tools and be compliant with policy and modernist sensibilities).
Arguing for media studies (as a faculty) is very hard to do when money is being syphoned from the civic purse (which modernist happily do) to avoid actual reform (the think savants want within their agenda-bias).
So, please keep ‘digital literacy’ away from me. So far there is no evidence that it exists as a unique ‘need’ nor that children take it seriously. In the mean time, media panic around out of school ‘kids’ behaviours continues to rage … go figure.