Incorporating digital literacies into an EAP curriculum Part 1 – What and Why?

What are digital literacies?  In his “What is digital literacy? A pragmatic investigation” (2011), Belshaw’s analyzes different dimensions of digital literacy. This includes the ability

  • to comprehend information presented in a variety of digital environments,
  • to create and remix content, to communicate appropriately in digital contexts,
  • to develop more confidence and comfort in online participation, and
  • to be able to evaluate and critique resources

Why should digital literacies be part of an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) curriculum?

According to Hockly (2012), given that language has become increasingly inseparable from digital contexts in which it is used, teaching digital literacies should be part of today’s language curriculum. In an EAP context, the content in university is no longer presented only in textbooks, but is often delivered on learning management systems and is in multimedia formats. Increasingly, information is also shared by peers through less formal channels, such as discussion forums and social networking platforms. From my observations as an EAP instructor, language learners are not often able to identify the platforms, i.e., personal blogs, Wikipedia, course management systems, news sites, government or other authorities’ websites, and social networks, on which the information is presented; hence, the importance of critical thinking and web evaluation skills. In fact, evaluating and critiquing resources may involve not only the application of critical thinking skills but also the skills to use digital tools and networks to filter and manage information.

University students are exposed to a diversity of learning platforms
University students are exposed to a diversity of learning platforms

In addition to receiving, filtering and evaluating the information given by others, to fully harness the advantages of a changing learning environment made possible by web 2.0 technologies, learners need to contribute to the knowledge network through creating and remixing content. But to create and, more importantly, to be creative, requires not only the ability to manipulate the tools but a certain degree of confidence and comfort. In an EAP context, even though the learners, given their demographics, may be computer literate and tech-savvy in their first language, they tend to be less familiar with the web in the target language. Also, students who are social network users in their own language may feel less confident participating online using a second language.

Facebook Study Group
Facebook Study Group

Teaching digital literacies then can help to narrow the linguistic and digital divide. In her study of the digital divide between high school students who have university-educated parents and those who do not, Robinson (2013), reported that the latter group lacks the background information that the former has acquired through informal exchanges with their parents as well as people in their parents’ social networks. When both groups are given an equal amount of time to search for information about preparing for a university application, the first generation university applicants tend to find fewer resources than students with university-educated parents. The first generation university applicants are also less likely to see the internet as a valuable resource. This suggests that in order to narrow the digital divide providing access to a tool or teaching how to use the tool is not enough. Rather, it involves creating an authentic environment for the learners to develop these abilities effectively.

The next post will examine how to create a learning environment that involves a certain degree of chaos in the cultivation of digital skills.

References

Belshaw, D. (2011). What is digital literacy? A pragmatic investigation. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Durham University. Retrieved from: http://neverendingthesis.com.

Hockly, N. (2012), Digital literacies. ELT Journal, 66(1), 108-112. Retrieved November 30, 2013 from http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/1/108.full.

Robinson, L. (2013, September 6). Inequality and digital engagement. CBC Sparks. Podcast. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/spark/episodes/2013/09/06/223-flipping-the-classroom-the-digital-skills-divide-inequality-and-digital-engagement-inequality-an/#3.

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