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Foundational skills for a digital world

Digital Technology Literacy (DTL) is about fundamental learning that enables people to better understand and leverage technology for their own purposes and the good of society and is based on research undertaken by Dr. David Homa

A New Literacy

We need a world in which technology is developed to serve the needs of people and societies first. To do this, we must broaden the group of people involved in the creation process, and to this end prepare a wider group who can bring their own areas of domain expertise to the table. Digital Technology Literacy is one way to make this happen.

As with other forms of literacy there are underlying skills, knowledge, and activities on which learners build ability. For reading these might be phonics, vocabulary, and practice. This is also true of technology. Before you can manipulate data, leverage digital tools, or contribute substantially to the conversation about objectives, you must first learn the fundamentals. But what are the digital fundamental equivalents of vocabulary and phonics?

Learning Digital Technology Literacy Requires:

Gaining this knowledge:

  • Information and data confidence
    • What is data and information?
    • How to gather and manipulate it?
    • How to put data to work for you?
    • What are the pitfalls in this work?
  • Process and instruction set understanding
    • How to structure solving a problem
    • How to use a design lifecycle
    • How to directly give instructions to technology
  • Physical world appreciation
    • Limitations of tech based on how it works (like wifi or GPS)
    • Environment-suitable technology
    • How technology “sees” and “hears”

Developing these skills in a digital technology context:

  • Learning
    • Knowledge acquisition
    • Unstructured learning
    • Generalizing knowledge
    • Seeking out experts
    • Exploring metacognition
  • Sense-Making
    • Framing through experience
    • Dealing with abstraction
    • Curiosity
    • Experimentation
    • Rule building and heuristics
  • Motivation
    • Intrinsic motivation
    • Perseverance

Today’s Technology Learners

Today, the skills needed for digital technology literacy are mastered by those students who demonstrate a natural proclivity for such tasks, and choose to pursue such learning beyond the basics. Everyone else is excused from this learning, and yet is eventually required by society to perform technical tasks at a high level. This unnatural selection also means those who go on to create technology for everyone else are self-selected and not representative of all the people of the world. This can result in technology that is informed by a narrow segment of the world’s population. Also, if you are thinking digital natives don’t need formal learning in this area, consider the definition of digital natives.

Not Your Usual Math and Science

So why is it such a leap for some people to learn to leverage digital technology? To understand this we need to understated the roots of digital technology. Nearly all the disciplines that have arisen in the past few centuries are based on a foundation of the humanities, social science, or natural science. Applied science, such as engineering and computer science, have a strong basis in natural science, including math and logic. Digital technology however has been built on foundations of applied science. Most schooling does not require sufficient applied science learning, so digital technology is most accessible to those who seek out such training. For everyone else, they must attempt to engage without the benefit of proper foundational skills.

The Research

A collection of knowledge and skills, as outlined above, are being uncovered as part of qualitative research into the abilities of those who can successfully leverage digital technology. It appears so far that the required foundations are more than simply an introduction to the applied sciences as currently taught. Current applied science programs have a long history of advancing the skills of mostly self-selected learners who may already possess specific skill sets. This research seeks to discover the combination of skills needed for everyone to attain basic Digital Technology Literacy. Fieldwork is ongoing in workshop format to assess the usefulness of the learning as currently outlined above.