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  • In Other Words

The Journey from Digital Literacy to Digital Fluency

by Karen Lirenman
April 23, 2012
Those who know me personally know that the 2011-2012 school year has been quite a journey for me. I have made so many drastic changes with my teaching, most of which I attribute to the incredible educators I’ve interacted with on Twitter.

One of the biggest changes I’ve made is to integrate more technology into my practice. This does not mean that I’ve dumped the good teaching I’ve done without technology, but it does mean that I’ve changed the way I do many things because of technology. It’s been quite a journey for me, and through my journey I feel that I am now a lot closer to being digitally literate.

To me, being digitally literate means that I understand how to use technology in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes. It is not so much about the tool—iPod, iPad, laptop, or desktop—but more so about what I am able to do now because I am using more technology. I am trying to make the most with the technology that I have available to me, and see the impossible become possible because of it.

Digital literacy also means being able to get and share information through technology. I understand the lingo associated with Twitter, I can read articles online, and I can electronically interact with like-minded individuals. But can I fix a computer if it breaks down? Can I talk about gigabytes or ram? Most definitely not.

There are still many areas where I am not digitally literate, but every day I ask more questions, I learn a little bit more, and I feel more and more comfortable with technology. I am continually exploring new ground and it is exciting.

But am I content with my digital literacy? In some ways I’d say yes—but in many other ways I’d say no. Being digitally literate means that I can do things a bit differently with technology than I could previously do without it. However, at this stage in my professional growth, that’s not good enough for me. I want to be digitally fluent.

The best way for me to describe moving from being digitally literate to being digitally fluent is to compare it to learning a new language. When you learn a new language, you need to learn all the components of that language. With a lot of hard work it is possible to learn the components to the level that allows you to have a conversation with a native speaker. You can read, write, and speak in that language, but you still think in your original language. In my mind that is a comparison to being digitally literate.

But to be digitally fluent (in this analogy), not only can you read, write, and speak in the new language, but you can also THINK in the new language. It is the complete transformation of my thinking that I’m looking for to make me more digitally fluent.

In my mind, being digitally fluent means using the tools of technology to do things completely differently than I’ve ever done before. It is less about using technology to make a routine task more exciting, and more about transforming how I think about teaching and learning with technology and how it applies to my students.

I recently read a quote by Gord Holden:

Technology IS just a tool, like a stick. Many new technological developments made sticks more effective as a weapon (barbs, bows, attachments, etc) but as long as the stick was still being used to harm other people, I would argue that there was nothing truly transformational about the technology. But when sticks became a way to create fire, THAT was innovative and progressive. I would argue that the same could be said of modern technology.


I want to make fire with technology.

So how am I getting there?

To begin with, my Personal Learning Network (PLN) that I have found on Twitter continues to completely inspire me on a regular basis. As I watch them push their boundaries, I think about and act on ways that I can use technology to push my boundaries too. While they may not be making me digitally fluent, they are certainly helping me make my transformation towards it.

In addition, I have had countless deep-thinking conversations with fellow like-minded individuals. I am constantly questioning how and why I am doing what I’m doing with my students. If I find flaw in what I’m presently doing, I look for ways to change and improve. It’s a constant struggle, unfortunately, because as I fix one aspect of my program, I notice a flaw in another. But with changes and learning I am becoming closer to digitally fluent.

I am also ferociously reading blogs, gaining knowledge, and looking for ways to tweak the growth of others to better suit my own growth. I am trying to be the innovator instead of the follower. It isn’t an easy process.

I feel quite confident in the fact that it will be a slow and painful (although exciting and invigorating) process to move from being digitally literate to digitally fluent. And, to be perfectly honest I’m not sure if I’ll ever really get there. Things are changing so quickly these days that it pretty much is impossible to keep up. That’s not a bad thing, but it is what it is.

So, how are you becoming more digitally literate or digitally fluent?

Karen Lirenman (@klirenman) is a grade one teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. She has been teaching for 20 years and discovered Twitter for educational purposes in July 2011. Her interests include utilizing technology, improving her teaching, and sharing with others. Karen spent the 2009 school year teaching in Melbourne, Australia. She loves to travel and is a five-time Ironman finisher. Karen's professional blog can be found at LearningandSharingwithMsL.blogspot.com.

© 2012 Karen Lirenman. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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