Literacy in the Digital Age

Nov 10, 2016 12:36:50 PM Emily Jensen

The definition of literacy has been contested in the digital age in large part due to the plurality in which lettered representation is being transformed. The emergence of technology has been a catapult for this evolving definition and increase in educational opportunities, and presents opportunities in the field of literacy for educators and schools. Over the past decade there has been a significant transformation in the availability of digital learning tools, from Wonderopolis, a website about interesting phenomena, to BrainPop, a database of multidisciplinary videos. Research shows that students should use both print and digital texts when learning, to optimmize literacy gains. Yet as digital tools are incorporated into the classroom, the student’s construction of meaning of the online materials, as compared to print, is an important consideration as teachers expand instruction to incorporate electronic literacy.

A study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center of reading comprehension with print and e-books found that three to six year olds remembered less narrative details when reading the e-books, than when reading the print books. Another study from West Chester University found that students comprehended print books at a higher level than the same book on an e-reader. A subsequent study of students in 18 classrooms found that students often skipped over text with the e-reader, as compared to the print books.

However, digital reading provides an adventure style reading experience as students can click on an article, then click and continue on. With the advantages of digital literacy in the classroom comes the issue of access to digital devices. According to data collected by the 2015 National Assessment of Educational progress, one in ten 4th graders use computers either on a daily basis or nearly every day to access reading websites, and 30% hardly ever use computers to access reading materials at school, showing inequality in access to digital devices in the classroom.

Another barrier to utilizing digital tools in literacy is that the current policies do not promote digital reading. While standardized tests are taken on computers, these assessments do not measure digital skills. This is further compounded by the fact that reading tasks are not being assessed, so teachers are less likely to teach them.