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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Digital literacy 



I’ve been wanting to return to the matter of defining digital literacy for some time now, but never quite seem to get the opportunity to write a whole piece. After several encounters this week it seems like a good idea to put some markers down. Look out, this could be an uncharacteristically lengthy post! Here goes. My basic standpoint that digital literacy is best described as digitally mediated written communication (literacy qua literacy) remains unchanged. Unchanged for the reasons I’ve put forward elsewhere and synthesized in this piece. It seems to me that there are two substantive criticisms of this position. The first is that digital communication has become such a densely textured multimodal affair that it is unrealistic, reductive or somehow artificial to regard the different modes as separately functioning entities. They make meaning in and because of their interaction. The second criticism flows from this first one and suggests that that a literacy purist’s definition of the digital reduces literacy to letter-acy or basic alphabetic decoding and is therefore old-school. My counterargument is that literacy has always described the production and consumption of written language in a way that includes everything from the simple, perhaps unattractive but nonetheless essential, act of decoding letters, right up through comprehension into the critical reading of literature, media texts and so on in the various and diverse contexts in which it occurs. The fact that many texts are complex multimodal constructions does not undo the fact that we read different semiotic systems differently in order to build our various holistic meanings (that point follows on from Kress). In other words digital literacy has its origins in print literacy but reaches out and beyond the confines of bookspace. And this, I think, is the point at which digital literacy gets interesting; the very point at which the written word starts to take on new appearances, to perform new functions, to interact with new media, to connect different ideational and relational resources, to mutate, hybridize and so on. When we apply this sort of view of digital literacy to education it gets even more interesting! We are forced to re-evaluate the curriculum (what is literacy and literacy learning, how does it develop, where should it be placed in an education of communication etc etc) and our pedagogy (who learns what from whom and what, as well as how and when). I suspect that these are thoughts that will get developed in later posts!

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