The past two weeks ETMOOC has been about digital literacy and I must say that I disliked the topic from the start and still do. I am the only one to blame for that and I do not argue in any way that the topic is not important. Still maybe its helpful if I write down two reasons what is it about this topic that makes it so unattractive to me.
Lets start with an experience from way back. In Europe we have the international computer skills certification programme. The organisation behind it enables you to test your computer skills and get a certificate for that. Over ten years ago I got 7 certificates like that, at that moment basically for skills in using Microsoft Office products. Even then when the pace of change in IT was considerably lower then it is today I was perplexed about the skills I had to show to get my certificate. For me there was little relationship between what I found important skills in using the tools and what was tested for the certificate. It was also unclear to me how the test could translate into a statement (the certificate) that I was literate in using those tools. For me an absolute trivial subset of skills was tested.
Since then we not only have an information explosion but also a functionality explosion on the internet. Functionality that is very new and of which we are only beginning to understand what we can do with it. Or even worse technology of which we now not know if it will be in use in ten years time. Paradoxically the more precise you go about defining what digital literacy is before you start testing people on it, the more removed it will be from current insights in what is valuable digital literacy. I don’t believe we defined literacy 10 years after scripture was invented so why would we do that for digital literacy?
In my example what I had to learn was based upon a finite set of tools, given enough time it was possible to find out everything there was to the tools. Even in that situation it was hardly possible to come up with a recognized and worthwhile set that would define your literacy with those tools. Let alone that we would be able to do that now for the multitude of functionality that can now be used and define your digital literacy.
My second issue is that it has a lot to do with what I call “demands go up when technology is involved”. There are a lot of examples where problems existed already in the pre-IT time and never got any attention there, suddenly when the same process is now done with IT the already existing problem gets much more attention (and is sometimes turned into a reason to stop using the technology). The whole discussion about electronic voting comes to mind as an example. There is no denying that it has problems but voting on paper also has a lot of those problems.
In ETMOOC we talked about “who owns your educational data” with a thorough presentation from Audrey Watters. She has very convincing reasons why it matters who owns your educational data. My problem is that these reasons where also valid when educational data was kept on paper. Moreover when educational data was only stored on paper the problems of ownership and retention where bigger then they are now. For most things with the currently available technology it is easy to keep the original and hand in an electronic copy. Also getting your data back is made much more easy with the available digital tools. So why is this a big thing now that technology is involved?
So to sum up my two problems with digital literacy: we are trying to define it to early and in trying to define it we put in demands that I cannot relate to the improvements IT has brought us.