“The medium is the message”: Education in the age of digital literacy

There is a new language and skill set for the 21st century. Proficiency in English, mathematics, science as well as all the other traditional subjects, is all for naught without at least a modicum of understanding of this new language. We have entered a digital era that requires a digital literacy. Like any other form of literacy, this requires the ability to access a breadth of resources (in this case digital resources) and apply them in a way that evolves the traditional curriculum. A digitally fluent person can not only access information, but also understands what is appropriate to use and when.

The challenge for teachers in the new digital education age is to remain current with our own digital literacy and fluency. As part of our lesson planning, we need to be able to exemplify how to not only access information, but increasingly be able to critically assess the veracity of information sources. This becomes ever more important as potential gaps in credibility become opaque. The advent of digital communication has resulted in an increasing emphasis in critical evaluative skills. Students (and teachers) need to be able to evaluate the bias and reliability of information in increasingly fast paced and unregulated environments like cyberspace. As the noted media theorist Marshall McLuan stated: “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding” (McLuan, 1967)

The second aspect of digital fluency lies in the methods of sharing information post-critical analysis. Once teachers and learners have synthesized and verified, they must develop a level of comfort with media and digital technology that will allow for them to transmit their learning in a timely and relevant manner. Some of the more cynical among us might say that the audience has been spoilt for entertainment value and become fickle as a result. The modern reality is that we as learning facilitators need to retain audience attention in order to educate. Thus, we must be able to refine our methods using our new digital skill set to reach out to our audience. Digital fluency is another tool that enables as many learners as possible to connect with material, by providing them with appropriate pathways through which to connect with learning. Digital sources can provide visual, auditory, reading/writing, and even kinesthetic opportunities (with the advent of 3D printing). Thus, the theories of Neil Fleming’s V.A.R.K. learning styles are all buttressed by using digital technology.(Fleming, 2014)

“Sharing is good, and with digital technology, sharing is easy” according to Information freedom theorist Richard Stallman. This brings to the fore a problem. The ease with which students and teachers can now appropriate the work of others as a result of their burgeoning digital literacy. As stated above, we have examined the need for critical analysis to ascertain the veracity of what we read, but what about the honesty of what we transmit to others. We must teach students to honor and protect the sanctity of others work. Digital fluency has spawned an ability to short circuit the learning process and we need to ensure that we instill a sense of digital ethics in the new generation. Ultimately, digital literacy is an inevitable part of future education but it up to all of us to mold the next generations’ attitudes towards its use. As Angela Ahrends (Apple CEO) stated at the 2013 Apple conference: “I grew up in a physical world, and I speak English. The next generation is growing up in a digital world” Our education needs to adapt accordingly.

Elmer-DeWitt, P. (2013, October 22). Angela Ahrendts (with iPhone): ‘This is the entry into the brand’ Retrieved May 15, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2013/10/22/angela-ahrendts-with-iphone-this-is-the-entry-into-the-brand/

Fleming, N. (2014). “The VARK modalities”vark-learn.com

 McLuan, M. (1967). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects.  Random House; New York.

 Digital fluency. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Teaching/Digital-fluency#js-tabcontainer-1-tab-1


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