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It's not a phone...


It’s Digital Literacy Awareness Week at Waikato and I’ve been forced to think about how to describe digital literacy.   For me, digital literacy is about the way that we approach our use of technology and the meaning it brings to us.  

About 4 years ago, I had taken my son (who was eight at the time) to his swimming lesson.  Afterwards, he wanted to know if Mum had gotten something ready for him.  I said that I wasn't sure but that we could phone her.  He immediately replied, "But you don't have a phone Dad"...

"Yes I do", "No you don't", then ensued in a typical dad/son exchange. Eventually I said "You know that I've got a phone", and pulled it from my pocket and waved it in front of him.  "But that's not a phone, Dad", he said with seriousness and a hint of puzzlement on his face.  Trying not to sound too exasperated, I said, "Of course it's a phone!  What do you think it is?"  The reply came back, with some disdain in his voice, "That's not a phone Dad, that's the Internet!".  I was beaten - Son 1, Dad 0 again!

This highlights for me the role of past learning and perceptions in our understanding of the present.  That’s not a bad thing in itself, unless it limits our thinking about how we operate in the present and the potential for the future.   While I used "the phone" to access the Internet all the time (probably 95% or more) I still perceived it as a phone.  In fact, in a device that easily fits in a pocket, I had access to trillions of pages of information.   While we shouldn't lose sight of the past, we sometimes have to consider how new technologies allow us to do new things, rather than do old things in slightly different ways.   My digital literacy increased that day, not through learning a new vocabulary but through conceptual change, perhaps like learning how a Haiku or sonnet is constructed.

What experiences have you had that have made you more aware of the role of digital technologies in your life?

 [Image courtesy of Leigh Blackall and a Creative Commons licence]

ADDITION - This evening, while reading a blog post about social networks, I was pointed to this video by Alex Samuel. She describes what the Internet means to her and in the process nails digital literacy. She describes a key aspect that both Colin Lankshear and Doug Belshaw talk about in their contributions to Digital Literacy Awareness Week, that digital literacy is about people doing things that have context for them and communicating meaning and learning in social ways. The Internet is what we make of it - by understanding this we take a giant step towards the condition that is digital literacy.

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