Defining Literacy in the 21st Century:
Digital and Media Literacy for Today's Learners
The definition of literacy has evolved in the 21st century. The basic definition of literacy means to be able to read and write. To be successful in today's digital world, literacy goes far beyond being able to read and write. What it means to be digitally literate has reflected the change in how information is processed, delivered, and received in today's highly connected world. The University Library of The University of Illinois defines digital literacy as:
The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information. 1
The ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers. 2
A person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment... Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. 3
Media literacy is a 21st century approach to education in which the Center for Media Literacy defines as:
a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy. 4
"Technology ignites opportunities for learning, engages today's students as active learners and participants in decision-making on their own educational futures and prepares our nation for the demands of a global society in the 21st century." 5
Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives in the 21st century! Most challenging in this millennium is our students know a lot more about technology than we do, and it is almost impossible to keep up with them! We are serving a new generation of students, often referred to as Digital Natives. They have grown up with technology and have been immersed in media rich resources. They are masters of multitasking. Today's students have revolutionized expectations in the classroom.
Digital Immigrants, that would be most of the teachers (but not all) do things like print our email, while the Natives do not even use email any more! They use text and instant messaging. We still get our news from the newspaper, and think a podcast is some kind of science fair project! Only a handful of teachers understand how technology is a not a subject to teach but rather a tool to use with a Digital Native to let them power up and apply real world problem solving to their curriculum. These teachers are often referred to as Digital Transients. Teachers must meet students where they are, they must aspire to use the language of technology to engage their digitized learner in our globally collaborative world.
In doing so, teachers must help students become responsible digital citizens. Mike Ribble has two great books about this topic. Check out Raising a Digital Child and Digital Citizenship in Schools to learn more, both available at www.amazon.com.
According to The National Association for Media Literacy Education, media literacy is seen to consist of a series of communication competencies, including the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, and COMMUNICATE information in a variety of forms, including print and non-print messages. Media literacy empowers people to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of an increasingly wide range of messages using image, language, and sound. It is the skillful application of literacy skills to media and technology messages.
Today's students must do more than memorize facts. Students must understand how to use digital tools to gather facts, interpret, analyze and create meaning, even create new meaning from the information they gather. Becoming truly literate means embracing a new framework of learning that layers core content into a world rich in digital and media literacies that will help students become future ready graduates in a globally collaborative world.
While using the digital tools is innate for most students, digital citizenship requires leadership and facilitation in our schools by highly qualified teachers. Unfortunately, many districts are resorting to untrained faculty, parttime assistants, and sometimes no one to lead digital literacy at their schools. Schools must not turn their back on highly qualified teachers who are based in schools that are leading the digital transformation in education. Schools who use budget cuts as an excuse to cut these positions from their schools are doing a huge disservice to their students.
Many systems have a team of highly qualified teachers in central office positions rather than working directly with students. This too is a disservice to our children.
US Digital Literacy believes best practice for all schools is to provide funding for an Instructional Technologist in every school to facilitate digital and media literacy instruction for all children and all teachers and staff. Systems that do not make such a provision are not truly embracing 21st century education in their schools. They are also not looking forward to what has only been a taste of the evolution of technology in the lives of our children.
Commitment to providing digital tools must come with a commitment to providing fidelity in instructional practice.
This website is dedicated to providing many resources for learners, teachers, and parents to become better equipped in today's digital world. Please check back often for updates and new information.
Digital Strategy Glossary of Key Terms http://www.digitalstrategy.govt.nz/Media-Centre/Glossary-of-Key-Terms/ accessed August 21, 2008.
Paul Gilster, Digital Literacy, New York: Wiley and Computer Publishing, 1997, p.1.
Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century; http://connect.educause.edu/Library/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/ConnectingtheDigitalDotsL/39969
Center for Media Literacy http://www.medialit.org/media-literacy-definition-and-more
Toward a New Golden Age in American Education: How the Internet, Law, and Today's Students are Revolutionizing Expectation, National Education Technology Plan 2004, U.S. Department of Education, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/technology/plan/2004/plan.pdf