Report: Digital Literacy Is 'Hot' but Not Important

In education there's hot, and then there's important. In the category of K-12 reading and writing, digital literacy may be hot, but it's hardly important. That's just one of the many conclusions shared in this year's "What's Hot in Literacy Report" from the International Literacy Association.

The results were pulled from 2,097 respondents in 91 countries and territories, with the United States most highly represented. The majority of people who took the survey were either classroom teachers (27 percent) or reading and literacy specialists (26 percent); most of the rest were literacy coaches, coordinators or supervisors, or school and district administrators.

Participants were asked to rank how "hot" 17 different literacy topics were, and then to designate how important they were. As the report explained, "Hot topics are those trending and receiving the most attention among educators, policymakers, and the media, whereas important topics are those that are most critical to advancing literacy for all learners."

Digital literacy — "the ability to participate safely, critically, meaningfully and justly in the production and consumption of content online," as Teaching Tolerance defines the concept — was No. 1 on the hot list, but No. 13 on the importance list, down from No. 8 last year. In other words, respondents seemed to be saying, we give it too much attention for the value it has in the classroom.

As one literacy coordinator from Cameroon put it, "Digital literacy is being overemphasized .... Modeling, moving from support to independence, and critical thinking are far more important than the mode of presentation."

The most important topic was early literacy, chosen by 87 percent of respondents; it was also a hot topic, coming in second after digital literacy, specified by 57 percent.

Also hot: summative assessments (57 percent), ranked dead last in importance, and formative assessments (56 percent), ending up in position No. 8 in terms of importance. This reflects a desire, according to one American educator, "to get literacy back in the hands of those who are passionate about reading, not passionate about testing."

The report gave a closer look at the building of 21st century skills, which not only covers digital literacy, but also disciplinary literacy and critical literacy. As an article about the survey findings in the ILA's member magazine explained, all three subjects share a "common goal": to improve how students "consume and evaluate information and communicate their ideas." Disciplinary literacy, which came to the forefront with the Common Core State Standards, refers to the idea that literacy is unique from one field to another and that each teacher in a subject area should be teaching reading as part of the discipline. Similarly, critical literacy is a way of teaching that encourages the student to analyze the text for deep understanding of the author's viewpoint and motivations. Neither topic bubbled to the top as particularly important.

Topics that ranked more important to respondents, after early literacy, were equity in literacy education, teacher preparation, strategies for differentiating instruction, and access to books and content.

"We learned that many educators, working with increasingly diverse student bodies, do not have sufficient training, parental support or resources to respond to student needs," said ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post, in a prepared statement. "This survey helps us to identify where more support is needed so we can provide solutions."

The full report for "What's Hot in Literacy," as well as other resources related to the study, are available on the ILA website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.