Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_literacy ).
This session examined the role of digital literacy in primary school teaching and we began by examining how it was referred to in the new national curriculum. The curriculum makes reference to children’s learning in this area to enable them to “express themselves and develop ideas” through the use of digital media. To me, this highlights the creative element that comprises teaching and learning using digital media, plus the potential cross curricular learning opportunities it presents. The curriculum document highlights that the learning should be “at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world”. This part of the statement suggests to me that there is a need to be less prescriptive about exactly what and how elements of this subject should be taught, compared to some other subjects. The teaching of digital literacy needs to be adapted to keep up with the fast pace of changes and developments in technology.
Next we divided into small groups to discuss what we felt it meant to be literate. The consensus was that being literate meant being able to decode text of some kind, but also to be able to grasp its meaning. We felt literacy was about having the ability to communicate and to be understood. We identified that there were multiple layers to literacy and this could also involve learning the language associated with new technologies and grasping associated concepts. Again in groups we identified a number of qualities and characteristics that a child might need in order to be digitally literate. This exercise helped to clarify for me that there are specific skills pertinent to digital literacy. With the wealth of information available through digital media, such as the internet, a key skill for digital literacy is the ability to filter what is relevant and the ability to question content.
We watched a short film clip featuring Doug Belshaw. He identified what he termed as ‘The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’
He believed that these elements are not ranked and completely vary in importance depending on the context. He emphasises that the context is everything. I think the way he has presented his concept of digital literacy is useful as it demonstrates that the skills required to carry out a task completely depend on what it is you are doing. For example, carrying out some internet based research will require criticality, whereas working on a joint animation project with a small group would require constructiveness, creativity and good team working skills. I do think that Belshaw’s efforts to ensure all the elements he identified began with ‘C’ may have compromised the clarity of his intention. I would have liked to have seen some reference to team working. He could have included “Collaboration” perhaps.
The next part of the task involved groups of 3 working together using ipads to do a fun practical task using an app called ‘Puppet Pals’. This app enables you to do a basic animation using cut out characters on a range of backgrounds, both of your own choosing. We worked on these for a period of just about 20 minutes then came back together to share our masterpieces. I was really impressed with what everyone had managed to put together in such a short space of time. The ‘puppet shows’ were very funny and wide ranging. I reflected that this short activity had the potential to be a wonderful primary school based activity, with the children working to a brief, but allowed to use their own ideas to create something unique.
Burn, A and Durran, J (2007) focus on the skills needed for some specific digital media projects carried out in Primary Schools. A year 3 / 4 class were working on creating their own version of Little Red Riding Hood using stop animation software and clay models. Kerry, a pupil involved in the project explained that she had learned “to be kind and co-operative but be very patient and to move the characters carefully and slowly” (p.51). Burn and Durran identify that the range of skills needed for this would be broad ranging. They included problem solving, team working, talk, patience and fine motor skills.
Burn and Durran highlight that when teaching digital literacy, especially through creative projects such as those they write about in chapter 3, children will be “expressive” and at times “anarchic” and “subversive”. A teacher may need to be prepared for some “unexpected twists”. What strikes me about this subject is that it presents rich opportunities for self expression, collaboration and cross curricular learning. From my limited experience of creating our own ‘puppet show’ in the lesson, and the level of hilarity that ensued, I realised the potential for how much the children would enjoy and be engaged with an activity like this one. They are exposed to so much media content such as films, TV programmes, cartoons, advertisements (the list is endless) that they have a wealth of cultural experiences they can draw on, even at a relatively young age, which they could then adapt and develop into their own finished product.
A final point I wish to make regarding the teaching of digital literacy is that there is a need to be selective about what is taught. There is limited need for schools to focus on the technicalities of how to use email software or send a text message, when many children will have their own computers at home and will learn this from each other, or from parents. Where the focus needs to lie in this respect is with other literacy teaching themes, such as writing appropriately for your audience. Where I can see the real benefits of digital literacy, is with the use of media to engage individuals or groups in a creative pursuit that they will enjoy and have fun with, whilst developing a range of other technical and life skills.
Burn, A, Durran, J, (2007) Media literacy in schools: practice, production and progression. Chapter 3. Paul Chapman, London.