Digital Literacy and COVID-19

by alessiob

Some weeks ago, I have started to follow a course on Digital Literacies and Online Participation. The course is part of my mandatory pedagogical training towards becoming a professor in computer science. The course will touch upon several aspects related to the digital tools and how they can be used in modern teaching and learning so to favour open education, distance learning, life-long learning etc. What is more, it will discuss how digital tool can boost new teaching methods, too.

The first topic of the course is digital literacy in the context of teaching and learning. Digital literacy is essentially the ability to use ITC tools for constructing understanding. As a student and, most importantly as a lecturer, I have always found digital tools annoying as I felt they introduce accidental complexity and didn’t really contribute to an improved learning. In fact, quoting [1] and [2]: “Despite considerable investment in technology-enhanced teaching and learning, there is little evidence of profound changes in educational practice. In particular, the idea that the use of ICT would promote student-centred and collaborative approaches to teaching and learning has not been fulfilled “

Ironically enough, the course has started just a week before the COVID-19 has broken into most of our lives. As a result of its outbreak, many universities and institutions around the globe, including mine, have suspended traditional teaching activities in favour of digital or remote ones. Classes, meeting, labs, examinations, etc. everything has been or has to be switched to these forms. So, given the circumstances, I have decided (or rather I was forced) to keep an open mind and give digital tools another try. My first impression, is that digital tools are still overrated when it comes of teaching and learning. But I’ve to admit they came a long way and can help byproduct activities related to teaching and learning. Another surprising realisation is that even young people, which are often considered resident [3] (native) to digital tools in general often struggle with pedagogical digital tools.

[1] Strategic integration of open educational resources in higher education. In U-D. Ehlers & D. Schneckenberg (Eds.), Changing cultures in higher education: Moving ahead to future learning (pp. 119-131). Heidelberg: Springer

[2] Lai, Kwok-Wing. “Digital technology and the culture of teaching and learning in higher education.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 27.8 (2011)

[3] White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9) 

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1 comment

Daniel de Augustinis Silva 10 April 2020 - 15:25

Hi again, Alessio! It’s funny that I keep typing ‘Alession’ instead of just ‘Alessio’ LOL. This thing with the natives metaphor – and I’m not sure talking about residents helps much in that direction – is that it relies on a perception of technology as something that would be naturally acquired. Sure enough, our mother tongue is learned naturally, but then only the spoken part of it. Writing is an ability that needs to be learned through very hard work, usually through formal education. I would say the same happens with digital tools. There is a deal of what goes on in our connected lives that is just natural, but a great deal has to be learned through formal education.
Think of the following: it takes at least two years to begin talking (which is a natural skill) and we still make lots of ‘mistakes’. It takes us a lot longer than that to start writing at a basic level. As I watch my 3-year-old nephew, I see that he can already speak with great proficiency, but he can only recognize a few written letter of the people closest to him. Technologically, he’s able to touch a tablet’s skin to select his favorite Peppa videos. It will be a long time before he receives any formal education on writing and a lot longer before he receives any formal education on technology.


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