Digital Literacy as a New Basic Literacy

On June 8th, the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (JGCC) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) convened more than 50 of the nation’s leading scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers to discuss the state of our knowledge of the role and implications of digital technologies in the lives of Hispanic-Latino families.

As a graduate student intern at the Cooney Center, I helped conduct a literature review and write a corresponding background paper for the Hispanic-Latino Families and Digital Technologies Forum, and also attended the event which was held at PNC Place in Washington, DC.  Many questions and needs were voiced and discussed throughout the day.  The discussion was rich, included many diverse perspectives, and helped set an agenda which has the potential to move the needle on research, practice, resources, and policy with regards to Hispanic-Latino families and digital technologies in the US.

In this series of three blog posts, I will parse some of the most powerful threads from the day’s rich discussions, beginning by addressing digital literacy as the new basic form of literacy and the intricacies and challenges of achieving personalized learning while maintaining high quality content. The second posting will discuss the complexity of shifting a deficit model of thinking and communicating as it relates to Hispanic-Latino families and their rich cultural heritage. In my final blog posting I will describe some of the issues with current research methods in studying and conceptualizing Hispanic-Latino families and the possibilities of digital media for learning, with particular focus on the potential for new forms of user-centered research to disrupt more traditional methods.

In post one I begin with commentary regarding a key re-definition of gaps in literacy, access, and equality.

Knowledge is Power: Digital Literacy as a New Basic Literacy

Monica Lozano of impreMedia kicked off the forum with a presentation on “Transforming Latino communities through digital literacy,” which proved a compelling start to the day’s proceedings. Where once there existed an access gap now exists a participation gap. More and more Hispanic-Latino families have access to digital technologies at home, in schools or in community and shared locations, but not all families yet have the knowledge and capacity to interpret and harness the potential of these technologies. Monica noted that the digital divide is now a digital literacy divide—increased equity in access surfaces issues of equity in understanding. In her considerations of shifting models of education, and the push for increased personalization, self-centered learning, and access, Monica was spot on: digital literacy not only facilitates these educational transformations but will be a key component of both the delivery of new education and also the content of education, so we must assist in the understanding of these materials.

Throughout the day, participants on the panels delved further into topics introduced in Monica’s presentation—including perceptions of community engagement in various fields, the complexities and beauty of Hispanic-Latino culture and the socio-cultural context of the family, and feasible changes in policies and research that will help drive the field forward. Particularly striking were calls–heard from numerous panelists, across various fields—for maintaining a standard of high quality digital content and instruction as part of the new, essential world of personalized learning.

Monica Lozano, CEO of impreMedia, discusses her company’s ongoing initiatives to boost digital literacy and connect Hispanic-Latino families to quality media content:


Watch-dogs of Quality: Pushing Personalization in the Era of Common Core

The opportunities for using technology to provide personalized learning experiences were emphasized consistently throughout the forum. Diane August from American Institutes for Research articulately brought the strength of a bilingual education and parent-child learning bonds to the forefront of our discussion and mentioned the potential for digital versions of text in boosting the feasibility of bilingual learning for Spanish-dominant students. Karen Cator of the US Department of Education noted that many wonderful online learning opportunities exist to assist differentiated learning and the need for parent guidance of children engaging in these opportunities. Even though sites like Khan Academy will not replace teachers, they do open up possibilities for having online, personalized “explainers,” as she referred to them.

And, that is certainly a start. However, Cator also acknowledged the expenses and challenges associated with implementation of personalized education. In the midst of an educational and cultural movement towards self-centered learning, how can we balance the need for both personalization and increased access? Cator mentioned that the US Department of Education is striving towards universal access to information, with a goal of implementing full broadband coverage in 98% of the United States within the next four years – certainly a great start in ensuring equal access, but ensuring quality is a more complex issue.

While many people are working to digitize textbooks and create online, shared curricula, and other educational content, the question of how to make these sources of information credible places of learning looms. With the prevalence of digital tools and idealized schools of the future that aim to integrate these tools, how do we make sure that teachers can still comply with the Common Core Standards and that parents can support their children to meet these standards? Also imperative is ensuring that some measure of quality for learning materials and dissemination of those materials still exists. A crucial and challenging charge is to constantly work to align the proliferation of new media learning materials with quality, well-tested, and honed modes of instruction and evaluation. Robert Torres of the Gates Foundation said that the researchers, policy-makers and practitioners gathered in the room need to be the “watch dogs” of quality.

However, an essential piece of ensuring quality involves understanding the communities, families, and children we are serving. Before we can create well-honed, personalized learning curricula and opportunities in general, we must pay attention to the intricacies of Hispanic-Latino families, their histories, various means of communicating, giving particular attention to the looming question – how and when and why do they really use the technologies they use?  My second posting will focus on the forum discussions regarding the need to re-frame our research, practice, and policy approaches such that they do not come from a “deficit” perspective, but rather place Hispanic-Latino families within their unique socio-cultural context.


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