Literacy in a Digital Age

What does it mean to be literate in 2012? It used to be that we expected students to be able to read, write and speak effectively. We were concerned with both general communication skills and with workplace competence.

In the last two decades, however, technologies have transported our students and us to a new world. Students are using technology in ways that were unimaginable twenty years ago. Facebook, My Space, text-messaging, i-Movies, instant-messaging, wikis, blogs, Second Life, You Tube--just a few of the technologies that our students use on a daily basis. For what purpose are they using these technologies? Communication. Our students want to communicate with real audiences in their lives. Doesn't this bring us back to one of our central goals of literacy education: although the communication technologies have changed, we still want our students to be effective at communication.

Think about the competencies that students are expected to have in this new, digital age. Yes, we still value effective reading and writing skills. We still want students to be able to speak with confidence and clarity in public situations. These skills are no longer enough, however. So much more is expected of our students. They need to be able to show competence in the use of many digital literacies. Students will be expected by employers to be able to use email effectively (including understanding how word choice affects tone in any piece of writing). Students need to understand how to use a search engine to find information they need for school and for life; then they need to have the skills to sort through the results of that search. Students need to be able to navigate complex links within websites. A number of teachers expect students to be able to reflect on their learning using blogs. Students now have the ability to find out what movie is playing this evening at a specific movie theater in Berlin, Germany. This is a different world.

These changes make me wonder about what it means to be literate in 2012. It is definitely a different picture from when I started teaching in 1983. I watch my daughter text her friends, and I marvel at how deftly she can navigate that small keyboard. What is she doing? Communicating. She is utilizing her skills as a literate member of our society. This makes me wonder about how we are currently approaching literacy instruction in our schools. With all of the changes in how people communicate with each other, I am left wondering how our instruction is aligned with the world that our students will face when they leave our schools. Am I recommending that we begin to offer courses in Facebook page design and text-messaging? No. But I do worry that our current approach to literacy instruction might not align with the expecations that the world will place upon our graduates.

With these ideas in mind, I am designing a website that can be used as a resource for this big and important topic. I have done two things below. First, I am providing links that teachers can use to current resources regarding literacy topics. These resources encourage teachers to think about literacy in a broader way; it is not just about reading and writing anymore. Have a look:



Literacy Resources


With all of the technologies that are now available in our schools, we have a new and unique opportunity: to utilize these technologies to engage our students in a new kind of literacy learning. Can it be a scary thing? Absolutely. However, many teachers across the country are incorporating these new methods in their classrooms every day. Because of this high level of interest, wonderful resources have been developed and are, literally, just a mouse click away.

In this next section, I have provided some background information about a number of new technologies, including both a rationale for using them as well as some instructional ideas for how to begin using them.


Classroom Blogs
Use of Video in the Classroom
Wiki What?

To Blog or

Not to Blog

(YouTube Song)


Student Work - Sample 1 -

"Shark Rap," by Timothy Grover and Tanya Templer

Wikis for Classroom Use


Voice of Literacy Podcasts


Student Work - Sample 2 -

TV Production Class Promo Video


Practice Wiki

Let's practice using a wiki by sharing ideas about classroom literacy

User Name - NeilWitikko

Password - Teach2Day


Integrating Podcasting in Your Classroom

(YouTube Video)

Sample Classroom Blog


Student Work - Sample 3 -

"Ancient Youth" by Timothy Grover


Audacity Tutorial for Podcasting

(YouTube Video)


Our students live in a new world--one that is fast-paced and filled with shiny gadgets. In the midst of these changes, we do not want to lose those elements that drew many of us to literacy studies: the feel of opening a new book and turning its pages for the first time or the smell of a classic novel that has been on and off the library shelf for years. We don't have to lose these things, and our students should experience them too. In fairness to our students, however, it is also important that we acknowledge the extraordinary changes that have taken place in the last two decades. If we want our students to be ready for the global and technological world they will face, we need to put ourselves in that world also and learn alongside our students. Are we ready?