Digital literacy – essential or desirable?

There’s no question that adult educators need basic literacy and little doubt that information literacy – knowing how to research, find, assess, use and manage information – is a fundamental aspect of teaching and learning.

What about digital literacy? There are various aspects, sliding and evolving scales of digital literacy, so what is a reasonable minimum expectation for proficiency in 2013?

Should adult educators be expected to communicate by email and social media and research via the internet? Should we know how to find, evaluate and create information using digital technology and to use digital applications to enrich our teaching and professional development? In other words, what is essential and what is desirable?

A Twitter discussion last night using the hashtag #ukfechat has prompted this blog. The timing coincides with the forthcoming launch of a new WEA Tutor Portal for us to share and update key course administration tasks and information electronically.

During the Twitter discussion, Sarah Simons commented, “Think there’s group of people pretending digital age isn’t happening & other group perhaps overplaying essentiality?”

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We can all probably identify someone at each end of this spectrum, with most people being somewhere between the extremes, but we’re also aware of the increasing pace of public services becoming digital by default. People who are unable to use email and the internet are at risk of being excluded from activities and services. Carol Azumah Dennis’s tweet reinforced this.

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Many adult educators are creative and proficient users of technology but others might benefit from support in developing their skills, not just for their work but for life in general. Could Bob Harrison’s suggestion of digitally literate students acting as technology mentors for their tutors be worth exploring further?

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It’s a model that chimes with the WEA’s approach to relationships between tutors and students and with our Digital Activists’ Inclusion Network (DAIN) in the East Midlands.

Thanks to Sarah Simons for facilitating the Twitter chat and sparking a productive exchange.

What do you think?

(Twitter users can follow last night’s conversations using the hashtag #ukfechat)