The Pros and Challenges of Digital Literacy

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Digital literacy has become more and more popular over the years. Almost 50% of all college students take at least one online class in their time studying, 8 out of 10 teachers say that learning online increases the students engagement as well as quality of work, and there have been over one million K-12 enrollments of courses online. We can see how profound digital literacy is in our generation and along with the growth of digital literacy comes all of the positive impacts it has on everyone that uses it. Many have slandered the idea of digital literacy, advocating that it's harming traditional literacy more than helping. Many of these arguments revolve around the fact that digital literacy promotes bad habits that can then be transferred and shown in traditional literacy. Some examples of these bad habits may be the use of not credible sources, the use of improper syntax, and so on. What many fail to observe, is that digital literacy has helped many students increase their literacy around the world. Those advocating against digital literacy need to realize that digital literacy is a gateway to new ways of connecting information making it more valuable to students, connecting people around the world, and a means of communication between students or students and professors. We are in an age of digital literacy, where social media has taken over the lives of young teenagers, where teachers can post external resources along with their material to help their students, where researchers can post their findings online for others to read, where cultures around the world can be shared or discovered by others, and many more possibilities. The possibilities with digital literacy is endless and is a topic worth investigating because it is so widespread. It is so widespread that the fact of the matter is, you can’t stop it from growing even more. If we can’t stop it from growing, then we should be looking for ways to correct the use of digital literacy, that way everyone can use it to their advantage. I for one believe that digital literacy does help a lot of students with traditional literacy, just like the way it has helped me over the years. We just have to work with it and learn how to use it properly.

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It is safe to say that a large portion of the world is using the internet now and for some it’s hard to imagine living without it. With the creation of the internet and technology, came digital literacy. Digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet as state by Cornell University’s digital literacy resource. Information arising from technology such as computers, the internet, mobile devices, and tablets all fall under the category of digital literacy. The content from information technologies can range from multimedia presentations, social media, writing papers, posting information about yourself or others, etc. All of these require some knowledge of digital literacy in order to accomplish these simple, day to day tasks. With the addition of digital literacy to our society, we can see the effect that it has on traditional literacy. Traditional literacy over the years have had many different definitions and can be interpreted in many different ways. What traditional literacy is to me is the ability to read, write, and comprehend the material that is presented to us in everyday life. Some examples of traditional literacy would be the ability to read and comprehend magazines, newspapers, research papers, and books. Other than reading and comprehension, being able to write material that others can use or understand is just as important. Some even include health into traditional literacy. Having the knowledge about basic health information and services is just as important as getting an education. Much of traditional literacy to me is a social setting. You may be literate in a social setting that someone else may not be literate in. This can be a reason as to why literacy has no true definition. As society changes it effects the way we think about literacy and calls forth the need for some sort of adaptation of literacy to society.

Being informed about basic healthcare is made easy and possible by technology. We now have access to health information at the tip of our fingers. Thus leading to an increase in our quality of life. For example, there was study showing the health benefits of using the internet as a member of the elderly. The elderly that used the internet showed decreased depression by up to 20% and an increase in brain function. This in turn improves their quality of life with just minimal knowledge on how to use the technology in front of them. Other than the effects on the elderly, it gives all ages the ability to have easier access to medical information. As much as 67% of people feel that having the access to medical information online has made them a more informed patient and that 80% of people who use the internet have at one time, looked online for health information. Giving people more access to health information is important in the decision making and management of an individual’s health.

Aside from digital literacy providing a means to greater knowledge on health, it can also provide a much greater platform on which kids can learn. A professor named Jerome McGann at the University of Virginia made use of technology and the internet to create an interactive web based software that allowed students to take on an active role as a character in the poem. Instead of having students show up to class they would write stanza’s on this web based software, changing or keeping their characters actions within the poem. Along with this, he requires a justification for the stanza’s that the students wrote. The reason for using a web based program is to get the students to be actively engaged in the material that he assigns and it encourages students to work interactively with each other, rather than going to class where most students work alone. Matt Kirschenbaum, a professor at the University of Maryland supports this by saying the internet shortens the feedback loop on writing and has made readers more active participants. Other methods such as audiobooks support a student’s reading development. Audiobooks increase the student’s interest in reading and can improve their comprehension of the material being read. This method can also be used for students with disabilities that involve visual or physical handicaps. Nowadays E-Books and online texts are popular reading sources. Many of the online texts incorporate links to other texts or visuals such as graphs, audio, or videos. This leads to the reader receiving an increase in the comprehension of the material. Another research study that was conducted indicated that these forms of hypermedia have positive effects on the students understanding of the material. A few of the E-books today include the definition of words that are in the text as well as ways that you can manipulate the text to make it easier to read, like changing the font size. In a study it was found that the introduction of the internet to low income students increased their standardized reading test scores and school grades. The reason given for this was because the students would not usually read on their own time but once they have access to the internet and actually use the internet, they have no choice but to read. Another good point for reading online as opposed to reading traditionally is that you are able to cover more material in a less amount of time. In the time it takes to read a whole book, the student could have read several analyses speaking from different point of views and then relating it to their own point of view of the book. These analyses can be more enriching than reading the actual book itself. Reading texts online can serve as a way for people to get comfortable with reading. Hunter Gaudet struggled with reading most of his life after finding out that he was dyslexic. The internet allowed him to read what was needed or important in the text, which led to him being more comfortable with reading and to further hone his reading skills. With digital literacy coming into play, we can say that reading online and interpreting videos or pictures can be a skill that is just as important as analyzing traditional books as we read them.

The new methods of reading online gave way to new methods of writing online as well. Word processing is now used everywhere we go. Switching from the traditional pen and paper to typing may have improved the quality of writing produced by students. Research has shown that students who are comfortable with typing are more likely to write longer papers, spend more time revising the papers, and show an improvement in word choice. Other studies have shown that word processing increases the quality of a student’s writing in the higher education levels more than the lower education levels. Although lower education students, such as third grade still showed an improvement in their writing compositions. For students who have trouble writing, they are able to express themselves through the use of multimedia and visuals, which in turn provides support for the development of writing. Rather than writing about how the feel or what they think, they can provide an array of pictures to express just that. A rather unconventional means of writing that can be included as well, is peer to peer interaction through the internet. Peer to peer interaction can be e-mails, pen pals, forums, bulletin boards, chat services, etc. This method of writing encourages people to write more, increasing their motivation to write. As a result, they gain feedback from the people they are talking to. This feedback from others can show how important writing is to those that don’t already know the power of writing.

When we talk about peer to peer interaction or talking through the internet, the subject that most people would bring up is social media. Social media has grown at an alarming rate over the years, with the introduction of smartphones and other technological advances. Believe it or not, social media can serve a purpose in increasing literacy rates. Many have criticized social media, stating that social media has ruined communication skills for the younger population. What they fail to see is that this platform of communication has brought a means of communication to a population where without it they would fail to get their thoughts across to others. Kyle DePriest, a 20 year old boy, was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, and Asperger’s syndrome, making social skills very hard to obtain. Through the use of social media he was able to express his thoughts and become more comfortable in social settings. The social media platform provided him the confidence or the courage to now speak face to face with people, when previously he would freeze up or be unable to explain anything that he wanted to. Sites such as Instagram, a network where people can post pictures to share with people around the world, can show a student’s ability to create their own original content. Creating original content requires people to use a higher level of thinking in the process. Creations that arise from social media such as emoji’s or memes also require a higher level of thinking in order to process the information. Some memes require a mature understanding of what is being presented, tie that together with a quote or statement and it pushes people to connect the two in order to understand what it’s about. Emoji’s on the other hand are usually representations of emotions. Using them can tie together the writing and the feelings the writing is trying to project to the audience.

When there’s good there’s always bad. Although digital literacy has positive impacts, many have argued that digital literacy has a negative impact on the literacy of students and people in general. Most of the arguments revolve around the fact that digital literacy leads to the improper use of syntax, decrease in critical thinking skills or analysis, and the increase of mistakes due to carelessness. I do not agree with a lot of the stands that these individuals take and I think that a lot of these issues can be resolved through changes in the education system. Now that digital literacy has become so widespread, problems do arise in individuals that do not know how to use it correctly. In order to prevent this, I think schools should integrate digital literacy into the traditional literacy schools are teaching. Teaching the students how to correctly use these technological tools will decrease problems farther down the road. Ways to do this can be an introduction to word processing, a course on how to conduct proper research using credible sources, how to incorporate multimedia into literary works, or when to use certain terms and phrases in writing. Not only am I advocating the same thing, but many teachers or professors who notice these errors also feel the need to integrate them into our education system. As of now many school systems are moving in the direction of digital literacy. Providing the students with more computers, tablets, laptops, and providing teachers with smart boards as well as projectors to make the information more malleable. All of these tools make the material more engaging for the students and making the information more accessible to the students. There’s no possible way to stop digital literacy from spreading, the only route to take from there is to adapt to it. Since word processing has made it easier to access the work of students and has made it quicker to complete assignments, teachers should be providing more feedback to the students about their works. This will decrease the likelihood of the same syntax errors from occurring again in future writing. As for the decrease in critical thinking or analysis, this in my opinion is untrue. With more information at our finger tips we are forced to analyze and think more on the subject matter. Such as thinking if the source you are reading is credible or not, scrutinizing the information before using it and taking it in, rather than only analyzing the authors point of view you have to analyze another person’s point of view, and much more. Given a larger range of information and asking students to analyze different perspectives influences their view and gives them a choice as to which they choose to associate with. In addition to this, information can now be linked to other texts and visuals. Other texts can provide more of a challenge to understand and visuals take a lot of background knowledge from different areas in order to process the information given. Educators can use visuals to tie information together, making information more comprehensible, or to challenge students to think more in depth about the material. This will lead to the student’s deeper understanding of it all. Digital literacy in many ways can benefit the traditional literacy that we pride ourselves in, we just need time to adapt and integrate it into our education system.

Throughout my whole life I have been engulfed by digital literacy. Whether it be the internet, computers, television, smartphones, tablets, etc. All of these have been made part of my daily life and right now it’s hard to imagine living without it. The reason that I believe digital literacy is a move in the right direction is because it has helped me along the way to bring me to where I am now. English was not my first language growing up as a child, I grew up speaking Chinese first. I had a hard time learning to speak English but I overcame this social barrier through the use of technology. Watching television shows in English helped me through my younger years in elementary school. As I progressed in school, at about the age of 9 or 10 years old, I was recruited into the internet sensation. I started off by playing online games that allowed me to talk to other players. This allowed me to practice my syntax as well as allowed me to improve socially in face to face settings with my classmates or teachers. Moving past elementary school, going to middle school and up until college, most of my time spent on the internet was for school or for my personal entertainment. For school I would use the internet in order to get a different point of view on the books I was currently reading, look up the definition of words, help me with homework, teach me how to perform certain tasks, and search for sources for my research papers. External sources that analyzed books I was currently reading really helped me to understand what the author was trying to convey and helped me find out how I felt about it. If class wasn’t enough to teach me how to perform tasks that I would need, the internet was always there to help me. Finding information for papers was much easier than having to go to the library. These were all methods that I found the internet useful for improving my traditional literacy. Having more information did not necessarily mean easy answers. A lot of the work required further analysis and some projects even required visual aids. When it came to visual aids I would always try to find relevant visual aids that had a deeper meaning to them, which is more challenging than it sounds. My entertainment from the internet consisted of videos, browsing through pictures, playing online games, reading comics, and reading articles keeping me up to date on technological advances. Videos and pictures are all visuals that can take a considerable amount of analyzing in order to get the information that you need. Even browsing through random videos and pictures helped me to learn the process of breaking down information that was presented to me. Games allowed me to pick out what language to use socially and gave me confidence in speaking to others in real life. Reading comics allowed me to pick up on terms that aren’t frequently used in the way that we are taught, improving my use of the English language. Next, reading articles allowed me practice my reading, pronunciation, writing, and my comprehension skills. There is much to be learned from reading articles. You are introduced to new words, you practice sounding out the words in your head until you find the right pronunciation, you discover new ways to form sentences, and you are challenged to decipher the meaning of a new word or phrase within the article. Finally, I feel that digital literacy is important in the future especially for my profession. Since I am in the healthcare profession I have to be literate when it comes to technology. Knowing how to put the patient’s info into the hospitals database, knowing how to use software to interpret the data, and knowing how to gain access to the information if it was ever needed again. A lot of healthcare professions today make use of online patient records. Not only will digital literacy be used and scanned for in the healthcare profession, but many other professions make use of it as well, some more than others. The usage of technology can only grow from here.

Ultimately digital literacy has become ubiquitous in the lives of many people around the world. Many have tarnished the benefits of digital literacy by proclaiming its negative impact on traditional literacy. What they overlook is the many benefits of digital literacy such as helping those that are disabled, helping students understand the information by connecting material to visual aids or external texts, encouraging interaction between students and professors, providing confidence in social settings, and informing the masses about general health. All of these have had a positive impact on our quality of life. The negative impacts of digital literacy can be eliminated if the education system were to integrate digital literacy into its teaching regimen, making it a part of traditional literacy. I believe in the positive impacts of digital literacy because I have seen many accounts in my life, where digital literacy has helped me improve my literacy. Even until today technology continues to improve my literacy and will continue to improve my literacy even in the future.

Works cited

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  8. Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) for Educators (pp. 3-29). Routledge.
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  10. Boyd, D. (2014). It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press.

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