What is digital literacy?

As we incorporate technology into the classroom, this question warrants attention. To avoid answering it with a list of tools that a student must master, I propose we look to earlier definitions of literacy.

Walter Ong explains that, in the early stages of literacy, scribes simply translated oral speech into text, and well after printing became prevalent people still read out loud because they viewed reading “as primarily a listening process, simply set in motion by sight” (119). As print technology improved, it “produced books smaller and more portable than those common in a manuscript culture, setting the stage psychologically for solo reading in a quiet corner, and eventually for completely silent reading” (128). With silent reading came a “different relationship between the reader and the authorial voice” (120).

Furthermore, literacy gave “thought different contours from those of orally sustained thoughts” (94). In addition to favoring “left-hemisphere activity in the brain” and fostering “abstract, analytic thought” (89), print produced neatly bound, self-contained products that were seen as “independent of outside influence” (131) and thus promoted notions of originality and creativity.

As we transition into a digital culture, these concepts are once again in flux. “Reading” and “writing” online, which require the fusion of images and text as well as social and collaborative elements, are simply not the same as reading a bound book or writing uneditable text.

In order to answer, “What is digital literacy?” we first need to ask, How is the digital environment changing the relationship between reader and author? How does it change our views of originality and creativity? What kind of thinking and communicating does it foster?

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