Why Digital Literacy Is Important for Science Teaching and Learning

By Ng, Wan | Teaching Science, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Why Digital Literacy Is Important for Science Teaching and Learning


Ng, Wan, Teaching Science


In recent years, the Australian Government has invested heavily ($2.4 b) into the Digital Education Revolution with initiatives that aim at increasing ICT proficiencies in teachers and school leaders and equipping Years 9-12 students with a laptop each. Such initiatives should be welcomed by the science education community as ICT offers affordances that could benefit enormously the teaching and learning of science. This paper argues that as part of the sustainable changes to using ICT in science education, is the need to develop digital literacy in teachers and students.

INTRODUCTION

We live in a science and technologically driven society. If we look around us, the impact of science and technology on our everyday lives is undeniably huge. The evidence suggests that their influence forms the basis of all human activities - from the houses that we live in, the food that we eat, the transportation that we take, the entertainment that we relax with and the range of information and communication technologies (ICT) that keep us connected and informed, while enabling us to learn about almost all subject matter in our own time. Hence, being scientifically and technologically literate would help people live better-informed lives and enable them to make appropriate decisions and choices for themselves and their families.

The technological dimension of interest in this paper is that of ICT - the digital perspective of technology. The literacy associated with it is digital literacy, the topic of interest of this paper. The availability of Web 2.0 technologies has meant that individual learners are able to create learning and social spaces that they control in terms of dissemination, collaboration and content creation. The availability of ubiquitous computing means that learning could take place both within formal learning environments and on the move (informally) with mobile devices. The multiple places in which learning can occur opens up questions about the relationship between the empowerment of the learners and the roles that teachers could/should play. An implication is that both teachers and students need to be digitally literate in this society where technological advancements in business, social and educational settings do not seem to be slowing down. Within the scope of this paper, it will define digital literacy, discuss why digital literacy is important for science teaching and learning, and the implications for teachers.

DIGITAL LITERACY

Digital technologies

Digital technologies that are associated with digital literacy include hardware and software that are used by students for educational, social and/or entertainment purposes at school and at home.

These technologies include desktops, mobile devices (laptops, tablets, mobile phones, smartphones, PDAs, games consoles), resources on the Internet (information, multimedia and communication resources, Web 2.0 technologies), digital recording devices (data logging equipment, digital microscopes, flipcams, smartpens, cameras, voice and video recorders), interactive white boards and the range of software that fosters learning and recreation.

Defining digital literacy

As discussed in Ng (2010), the definitions for digital literacy in the literature cover, singly or in combination, meanings that are technical, cognitive, psychological and/or sociological (Aviram & Eshet-Alkalai, 2006; Eshet-Alkalai, 2004). Eshet-Alkalai (2004) further suggested that encompassing digital literacy are five types of literacies: photo-visual literacy, reproduction literacy, information literacy, branching literacy and socio-emotional literacy. Within the scope of this paper, a more general definition of digital literacy formulated by the European Information Society is adopted. The definition (Martin, 2005, p. 135) states that:

  Digital Literacy is the awareness, attitude and ability of
  individuals to appropriately use digital tools and
  facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate,
  evaluate, analyse and synthesize digital resources,
  construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and
  communicate with others, in the context of specific life
  situations, in order to enable constructive social action;
  and to reflect upon this process. … 

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