Words can be slippery.
- Jargon is used to obscure or elevate language (see: Education Jargon Generator)
- Terms are applied too broadly or misappropriated (see: Gardner Campbell tries to recapture the idea of “open” in MOOCs, KQED’s Project-based Learning article)
- Words may only have meaning to the person saying them (for a brilliant example see: Monty Python and more Monty Python-slightly NSWF, also the ds106 Daily Create Assignment by Guilia Forsythe ).
As part of our #etmooc task, I needed to define digital literacy. Fortuitously, I stumbled across this Twitter conversation that highlighted the problematic nature of definitions (as an aside, if anyone knows a better way to document a Twitter conversation, please let me know). John Seely Brown states that understanding is socially constructed. A problem arises when your understanding and the rest of society don’t get along.
In this struggle to craft a definition of digital literacy, I was reminded of a quote by Stuart Kauffman, “definitions are neither true nor false; they are useful or useless.” A central is issue is how will we use our definition of digital literacy? Will it help define a set of skills or a particular disposition? Will it categorize things that fit the definition and those that do not? Will it inspire learners to understand and interact with greater facility.
We know literacy is changing. It will continue to be invented and reinvented as technology changes. Nobody knows, not even the people creating it, what it will look like when it is done. We had the printing press for six hundred years. People could spend their entire lives becoming literate. With technology reinventing itself every six months, how on earth do you come up with a useful definition of digital literacy?