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Rethinking literacy in the Digital Age

A boy in a gray jacket reads a book on his bed. Shining string lights are hung from the wall above him.

Image credit: Pexels

Literacy is an essential part of life. Not knowing how to engage with the written word can have dire consequences, such as hindering communication and learning. Unfortunately, the National Assessment of Education Progress reports a steady increase in students across grade levels 4 to 12 who cannot meet basic literacy benchmarks.

It is also alarming that the decline in performance is present in all racial and socioeconomic groups. However, this may not be a well-rounded picture as "literacy" has become more than just reading and writing.

Most texts that students come across today are digital, from blogs to journal articles. Being digitally literate is now just as important as mastering basic skills, and educators can play a significant role in rethinking and shaping how students learn these skills.

Understanding Digital Literacy

To understand how literacy exists in the digital age, it is important to know where the two intersect. Literacy has traditionally been defined as the ability to read and write. Digital literacy, on the other hand, encompasses the ability to use literacy in the context of exchanging information through various digital platforms. Moreover, it includes an individuals’ ability to interpret and produce text, images, audio, and designs using technology. In fact, the ILA’s definition of literacy today elaborates on how literacy, over time, has been applied to a wide range of activities and contexts, including computer, math, or dietary literacy. It has come to mean basic knowledge in any area – in this case, understanding and using digital materials in various settings. According to UNICEF, digital literacy should be part of the broader skills for holistic learning, which includes foundational, transferable, job-specific, and now digital skills.

When discussing literacy today, there must always be a digital element. Focusing exclusively on print-based literacy and ignoring the digital aspects will not set students up for success. Particularly for students- from using mobile devices to communicate and reading content on the Internet-digital literacy is demanded everywhere they go. And remote learning has demonstrated that encompassing both traditional and digital aspects of literacy is the only way forward.

Teaching and Assessing Digital Literacy

Nowadays, children read more digital materials than they do print. This has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is important to consider students' strengths and weaknesses with this in mind. Teaching institutions must adopt higher education leadership strategies, which focus on building a contemporary understanding of the student experience. Using these insights, principals and administrators can execute comprehensive plans that cover development strategies, instructional support for teachers, policy and culture change to support literacy efforts, and effective interventions for struggling students. By using those strategies to provide authentic opportunities for students to integrate their print and digital literacy skills, more educators can ensure students are equipped to deal with both text and digitized media both in school and the real world. For instance, tools such as the teacher digital competency framework are embedded in educators’ training. This model ensures that their curriculum, personal-ethical, and personal-professional competencies go beyond the narrow focus on subject-related technical skills to improve students’ digital literacy and skill-building in today’s classrooms and beyond.

How Digital Tools Can Help

There are a plethora of digital tools that can help students develop their print and digital literacy skills. Skybrary is one example. This app has a digital interface that is suitable for children and provides access to over 900 engaging eBooks, which they can add to their digital backpack for online or offline reading. This helps foster a love for reading that is essential to cultivate throughout life. Schools can also invest in tools like tablets and accessories like digital pencils to help children build enhanced motor skills alongside literacy. Recently, augmented reality applications have also helped to make learning more interactive. Some schools are even choosing gamification as an approach to engage students, especially in challenging learning sessions like the ones present today. Being open to these digital tools can make all the difference between someone who is digitally literate and another who falls behind. Students who understand how to navigate digital content through digital tools soon develop the ability to create and process it at an early age. This is a valuable skill that allows them to contribute to collaboration spaces that utilize digital means. To be digitally literate means students are just as much producers as they are consumers of digital content as they learn about and contribute to the world.

Literacy has evolved along with the world’s needs and developments, and it is high time that educators and students alike move along with it. Succeeding in school and any field after students move on can only be possible with these skills and the ability to adapt — all while practicing the basic literacy skills.



Janey Russel

Article written by Janey Russell

Janey is a blogger and part-time teacher for ESL students.
She enjoys novel hunting for her son and takes up film
photography in her spare time.

Exclusively for Reading Is Fundamental