by Brett Pierce

Is Digital Literacy as Important as Textual Literacy?

pages of a book

I am a fanatically dedicated believer in the idea that reading and writing form the basis for intelligence that will allow students to command a presence in the world after their formal education. Reading and writing teach brains to organize thought; to playfully explore and command words and language; and to breakthrough to new ideas. It’s a pretty primary cause-and-effect model: if you know how to extract information from text and if you know how to communicate effectively in writing, the options you have to succeed are exponentially more numerous.

I am also a believer that digital literacy has now risen to a platform of equal importance to textual literacy. When our students must find something ‘academic’ quickly, they turn to Crash Course on YouTube. Kahn Academy and BrainPOP have excelled as vital learning centers because of their embrace of digital literacy. Been to a presentation lately? Straight up, bullet-point-driven PowerPoints invoke yawns as we demand and hope for moving pictures, music, and lively fonts to convey information.

The point is this: we have an obligation to teach our kids to communicate through both textual and digital literacy. They are not competitors: they are our newly prevalent forms – emphasis on the plural – of communication, the one born out of the other. And that is part of the fun of it: exploring how these two literacies are in dialogue with each other. Pure text can be explicit, direct, organized by the principles of argument creation. Moving text, on the other hand, is playful and surprising. Add music, sound and imagery, and the communication can become more abstract and nuanced: interpretive. They each have their place in our increasingly complex, multi-layered communication environment.

So, let’s not always write a report. It’s a disservice to the students. It’s like teaching  only the major chords of music and not the minor ones as well. Let’s create a PSA, a radio drama, a narrated Prezi, a how-to YouTube video, or a comic scene …about parabolas, the Civil War, literary heroes, and invasive species.