Digital Literacy

As defined on Wikipedia, digital literacy is “the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and create information using digital technologies,” (Digital literacy). If we are to work with this community definition of digital literacy, then we must next define those who are digitally literate.

Digital Natives

One of the current New Media misnomers is that of using “digital native” to mean someone who is digitally literate. The term, digital native, was coined by Marc Prensky in his paper, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001). Prensky refers to the new generation of college students as Digital Natives because they grew up with computers, the Internet, cell phones and MP3. However, it is important to distinguish the presence of these with a knowledge of how to use them. Access to these technologies range across socioeconomic status (SES). To assume every native is digitally fluent would be dangerous, and could deepen digital divides between users. There are, however, certain aspects of digital nativity that are generalizable. For example, most of the technologies are very user-friendly designed. Natives are often used to parallel processing and multitasking. Also, natives should be generally familiar with the language of the technologies and their customs. For example, anyone who IMs would understand what “brb” means and how it can be used to not just take a break to do something, but also to avoid uncomfortable moments, taking a pause to regroup or carefully phrase a sentence, something that would be more difficult to do in a face-to-face interaction. The subtlety of “brb” (or “be right back” for those of you who Prensky would refer to as Digital Immigrants) is a learned process through its use in online social spaces. If you did not know what “brb” meant until it was explained, you are a Digital Immigrant and Prensky would probably agree that your accent is showing right now. For those who did not grow up with these digital technologies, you have to make an effort to acculturate yourself to the new customs while the natives ROTFL at your accents. In case you did not understand the last initialism, ROTFL stands for “roll(ing) on the floor laughing.”

Towards a Bilingual Campus

If we are comfortable with the definitions of digital native, literacy and immigrant, then where do we go? How can faculty and staff work towards a bilingual campus? The notion of a bilingual campus suggest that the natives and immigrants have become literate enough in both languages to create a new campus community. One way in which faculty and staff can move towards a bilingual campus is through incorporating digital technologies into the curriculum. Another way is for campus offices to incorporate them into their administrative processes and their interactions with students.