Sunday, April 08, 2007

Reading, Writing,...Hey! - What About The NEW Literacy Skills?

OK, we are all acquainted with the 3Rs - Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. They have been the foundation of our educational system for, well forever. Unfortunately I think that the foundation is cracked. A large majority of the learners I see coming out of the K-12 system lack the literacy skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic to be successful at the post-secondary level. So much so that we spend a lot of valuable time during the first year of their diploma programmes trying to improve these essential skills.

But it's not as simple as just improving the 3R literacy skills and it's about to get worse - there are a whole new set of literacy skills that are just as important or in some cases more important for learners to be successful in this new information age. From my perspective we have to add the following skills to the set of basic literacy skills needed by all learners beyond the 3Rs:
  • Typing
  • Information gathering
  • Information analysis
  • Safety and security
  • Privacy
If you lack typing skills in the ever-increasing synchronous (and asynchronous) online world, you cannot communicate. If you cannot communicate, you will have difficulty learning. E-mail, chats, IM, games, virtual worlds - they all require an ability to type to keep up with and follow multi-threaded conversations - typing is the new talking.

The Internet has become the single largest source of information ever known to man - the amount of information is staggering and learners need to not only know how to find information, but how to analyze it for veracity and accuracy as well. These two skills are just as important (or more so in some cases) than reading and writing are. If information cannot be found, and analyzed for accuracy, relevancy and currency, then learning will not happen.

Learners (all users of the Internet actually) need to have skills that will keep them safe and secure. Security of personal information, who to trust, what to reveal about your self are all important issues as we move forward in an increasingly Web-centric educational world - this also ties into Privacy skills - what should be private, and what should be public is an essential and basic question that every user of the Internet must answer. In order to answer that question, learners must have the skills to make informed decisions about their online presence.

So what can we do as educators? We cannot ignore the 3Rs - they are still required skills, but we must also be aware of the the "new literacy" skills as well. If our learners are not adequately prepared and practiced in all of these literacy skills, how can they truly be life-long learners which is ultimately what as educators we are preparing them to become? Hmmm...

(Photo - Keyboard ~ Blur by Striatic) (Photo - Reading by Maxey)

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