Digital Literacy? But I Can’t Even Read Good on Paper!

Happy Sunday, everyone! 

I hope that you’ve all had a wonderful weekend and are ready to jump back into the pond of academia. As I geared up to write this week’s post to the faint sound of the base from my neighbor’s polka music playing three floors below me, I kept stopping to wonder whether all of you also struggle with the concepts we’ll be tackling in just a moment. 

So, if you get to the end of this post and find yourself ready to say, “wow, mood,” and share your struggles or feel the need to offer advice, please do so in the comments section! I’m always looking for feedback and other perspectives to incorporate into my own pedagogy as I begin to shape my identity as a teacher, and this blog is the perfect platform to open up spaces in which that kind of dialog can happen.Now, without further ado – and in the same tone as Rick Sanchez – awayyyyyy we go!

Picture of Rick, Morty, and Summer from Rick & Morty. Rick is saying, "And awayyy we go!" as he is about to un-pause time.
Photo taken from TV Quotes

This week, as I discovered that digital skills and digital literacy are not the same thing, I found myself at a sort of stand-still. Actually, called out is a much better and more accurate choice of words: “Unfortunately, many focus on skills rather than literacies. Digital skills focus on what and how. Digital literacy focuses on whywhenwho, and for whom” (Bali 24). Up until this point, I was building my identity as a teacher around the idea of exposing my students to multi-modal platforms; however, I had no “so what” to come after that exposure. 

Essentially, I wanted my students to have digital skills, but had no way to teach them digital literacy. My plan was to tell them, “yes, learning how to use multiple digital platforms is important because you have to know how to write in many different styles.” However, I hadn’t thought about how I could teach them to question when to use certain types of writing or why one platform might be more effective than another depending on the context of the writing. The reason I italicize question is to emphasize the idea that a good teacher/scholar should never take anything at face value; we should constantly be thinking about and analyzing who we are, how (and how much) we present ourselves to others, and the perspective of the audience that we’re trying to reach. 

If I didn’t teach my students to question whether twitter or a blog site would be a better place to make direct connections – and also why knowing the differences and risks associated with both platforms is important – I would be an irresponsible teacher who focused only on skills without teaching my students how to use them effectively for communication. I myself know these risks going in, and it’s not fair of me to assume my students do too because they’re growing up in the “digital age.” Luckily, we’re life-long learners, so it’s not too late to begin incorporating this type of questioning into our pedagogy. As the world becomes more and more digital and multi-modal, we just have to try our hardest to keep up so that we can teach our students to function in it better than we can. 

Speaking of multi-modal, yet another aspect I hadn’t thought deeply about until now was how I was using the definition of multi-modal rather than the actual the implications of the word. This is why I was surprised when I finally looked up the definition of multi-modal, which “distribut[es] equal emphasis on how meanings are created, delivered, and circulated through choices in design, material composition, tools and technologies, delivery systems, and interpretive senses… mode isn’t just words but sound, texture, movement, and all other communicative acts that contribute to the making of meaning” (Ball & Charlton 42). Up until this point, I was defining multi-modal solely as different digital types/platforms of writing. As the realization that I was wrong hit me, I felt like the confused anime guy (just replace “pigeon” with “multi-modal” and the butterfly with social media logos).

Picture of the Confused Anime Guy meme.
Guy = Me.
Butterfly = Social Media logos.
"Is this a pigeon?" = "Is this multi-modal?"
Photo taken from The Guardian

Of course, multi-modal doesn’t just mean different social media platforms – it also incorporates hyperlinks, pictures, music, design, and even linguistic signifiers! Multi-modal also applies to non-digital texts! Mind. Blown. My writing has been multi-modal all along, yet here I was thinking it meant I knew the difference between press releases and tweets. However, I’m actually glad that I came across this definition, as it gave me a great idea for a lesson plan! I could show my future students this blog after introducing them to the concept of multi-modality and begin asking them where the multi-modal content in the blog is. We could talk about the importance of hyperlinks and accessibility, the incorporation of memes and why it’s okay in the blog genre, and even the design of my blog and why it’s plain except for the blue moon (shameless info plug: comment down below for design backstory!). We could then compare the blog to other digital modes, and then to non-digital modes like art and literature. Being able to come up with that tentative plan on the spot make me feel like I’m finally getting the hang of being a teacher; the most important thing now is to not get comfortable in that groove so much so that I stop questioning and exploring in order to improve my content.

In my last post, I stated that I had to start teaching myself to question what’s being said vs. what’s left unsaid when working with Po-Co and Indigenous texts, and I’m beginning to think that I’m going to have to do the same thing here in order to effectively teach digital literacy and multi-modal texts. I think Bali puts it best when she says, “Digital literacy is not about the skills of using technologies, but how we use our judgment to maintain awareness of what we are reading and writing, why we are doing it, and whom we are addressing” (25). We as teachers and scholars have to continue asking ourselves moral/ethical questions as we write to make sure that we’re treating both the subject matter (including the mode and genre) and our audiences with respect, and we have to teach our students to do the same as they begin to transition from our students to our peers.

While students today may learn how to write differently than us (modern computers and tablet look very different from typewriters and MS-DOS, am I right?), they should still be learning the same fundamental skills: to write for their audience, to write for their genre, and to write for themselves.

Until next time.


Published by taemove94

Soon-to-be master's degree holder. Lover of Japanese culture. Career Coach and student advocate.

2 thoughts on “Digital Literacy? But I Can’t Even Read Good on Paper!

  1. Good idea! I’ll go back and post this explanation of moon imagery in my first post titled “Introduction” so that readers don’t have to trek through the comments.

    The reason I chose the blue moon over water as a background is two-fold. The first is more impersonal:

    Because it’s something that connects all of us. Every single person on this entire earth has seen the moon (or heard of it, for those who are visually impaired) at some point in their lives; however, the moon is never the same when we see/hear of it. It has different colors, phases, cycles, etc (just like people). It affects the waves of the oceans, which also connect all of the continents together. But, while the moon does connect us, it simultaenously serves as a reminder that each and every one of us is different. We all have different paths, we encounter people of different colors, and no two of us will ever live the exact same life. So when I look at the moon, I know that there are other people out there doing the exact same thing, but in vastly different times and places – this knowing feels sort of like a bond, like me and these other people are the only people in the world and we owe it to each other to keep this bond. The only other time I feel this deep of a connection is when I write and share my work with others, which is exactly what I’m doing in this blog space.

    The second reason is very personal:

    One of my favorite idols of over ten years, Kim Jong-Hyun of SHINee, committed suicide on December 18, 2017. His music and lyrics kept me going through my own periods of suicide ideation, and so I’ve always felt a very deep connection to him. One of the very last activities he did while he was alive was participate in Blue Night, a radio show during which he always encouraged his listeners and told us not to give up, offering whatever advice he could and quoting words of encouragement from whatever literature or music he was exploring. The SHINee fandom (Shawols) collectively came to associate him with a blue moon, and this imagery became stronger after his death. Now whenever I see or think of the moon, especially a blue moon, I’m reminded not to give up on myself and on my dreams because I’ve worked so hard and I know that he would want better for me. So, I carry on and continue to spread suicide awareness both inside and outside of the fandom with the image of the blue moon. I’ve since tattooed something similar to this picture on my body to carry the moon with me wherever I go, reminding myself that I’m not alone because the moon connects me to him, to my fandom, and (as mentioned above) to everyone else.


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