Monday, April 29, 2013

The Shifting Face of Literacy in 2013

Recently I participated in the Saskatchewan School Library Association's annual conference which focused on the connection between inquiry and the collaborative classroom. Presenter, Andrea Hernandez (@edtechworkshop), Director of Teaching and Learning in Jacksonville, Florida, guided our learning by sharing her experiences in supporting students in becoming collaborative learners.

Andrea's opening question, "What does it mean to be literate in 2013?" presented an opportunity to examine my own thinking about literacy and how that looks different in today's world than it did even five years ago.

Certainly, the basics of literacy remain constant - reading and writing. Saskatchewan curriculum extends these basics to include speaking, listening, viewing and representing which together form the strands of the English Language Arts curriculum.

But literacy has changed and grown to include online literacy and its associated skills. Learning to read on the computer screen involves a different skill set than reading a traditional book. Navigating web features such as links, sidebars, advertisements, etc. is also an important skill to learn so that students can locate correct and accurate information quickly ... and avoid distractions will doing it.

The importance of these skills was in today's world cannot be understated.

The day after the conference, my husband and I were enjoying breakfast at a community fundraiser when I was confronted with the reality of our changing world for adult learners.

That morning, a friend of ours joined us for coffee and, knowing that I am an educator interested in technology, launched into a narrative that illustrated the shifting face of literacy in 2013. He grumbled about online forms he was required to fill out in order to acquire a permit because the paper version was no longer an option. He does not own a computer or Smart phone and although he tried using a computer at a friend's house, he simply found the task too difficult to accomplish. And when the web site asked for an email address (which he does not have), he was frustrated, believing that he was not going to be able to get his permit after all.

But all was not lost. He eventually found another friend who completed and submitted the form on his behalf.

Throughout the day, I couldn't stop thinking about how quickly the shift to online communication has taken place. After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica ended publication of its paper edition. Newsweek magazine, just shy of 80 years in the business, also moved to an all-digital format at the end of 2012.

And as I asked more adults about their own online experiences, I discovered that many are simply ill-equipped to handle the change from print to digital. As another friend suggested, "Jade, you need to become a digital scribe."

What is clear to me is that learning the various skills associated with using the internet (navigating, searching, analyzing, reading, and so forth) are as important as learning how to use a glossary and text features in a textbook.

Perhaps even more so.

As an educator who is interested in preparing our students for tomorrow by building skills and knowledge today, I wonder where might our students be in 10, 15, 20 years if we do not build the foundations for learning now and expand our understanding of literacy as it currently morphs.

And again, I wonder ... "What does it mean to be literate in 2013?"

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