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Technology is an integral part of our life and how we move through the world, and has been magnified as we have navigated our way through the Covid-19 pandemic. Our reliance on technology can be great: it allows us to connect more easily, and has opened up many different ways of doing things, from attending meetings across the world, to discovering Zoom for endless quiz nights online. We can easily transfer money to pay back a friend, order a pizza, and adjust the thermostat at home in just a few clicks, and without even moving from the chair.

The UK is facing a fourth industrial revolution with technology at the core, likely to transform how many industries and sectors operate, and has been accelerated as we’ve navigated the pandemic, particularly in education, for example. Students of all ages, teachers and support staff have all had to transfer online and operate in a completely new way. Although not always easy, it’s been a real opportunity to think about how we use technology and the benefits it has to allow us to work smarter. It is with these opportunities however, that the need to know how to use technology is more important than ever, but the ability to do so effectively, safely and responsibly, even more so.

What is Computer Literacy?

Computer Literacy is the knowledge and ability to use technology. For example, the ability to switch on your computer, know how to access the internet, or send an email – these are all building blocks of computer literacy. Being able to use the tools available in a way that is effective and fit for purpose is the first step, and an important foundation of technological competence, or literacy. Computer Literacy is knowledge of the programmes and tools which are available, but also an understanding of their uses and capabilities in order to get the best from them.

What is Digital Literacy, and how is it different?

Digital literacy is the ability to use technology effectively and safely. It is not simply about being able to use the tools and platforms technology requires (though this is important). Instead, Digital Literacy requires this knowledge to be combined with the ability to think critically about how to use it, as well as the ability to use it safely and responsibly for yourself and others.

It also requires an element of participation and co-production, whereby you would be able to engage actively with technology beyond the passive consumption of it. An example of computer literacy might be performing a Google search, whereas Digital Literacy would be knowing which search terms would produce the best results, and knowing how to evaluate which sources were most trustworthy.

Digital Literacy and Computer Literacy are two separate things, but they go together and in order to be effective, responsible technology users, we need to have both.

Why is Digital Literacy important?

Being digitally literate is an important part of becoming digital citizens: those who use technology to interact and engage with the world around them in a responsible way. As we live in an internet-dominated world, arguably, that is pretty much everyone. 

Spending so much time online can have a negative impact, and therefore being digitally literate provides an awareness of this, and allows us to take stock of when we might need a break. This does not simply refer to physical implications from time on screen, which can impact things like posture, eye strain and sleep patterns, but also the psychological implications too.

These can range from problems with body image by being exposed to multiple filtered and photoshopped images which portray an unrealistic ideal, being susceptible to false information from irreputable sources, right up to more serious outcomes such as cyberbullying, radicalisation or abuse.

For these reasons, it is important that we all develop our digital literacy to ensure that we are keeping ourselves and others safe online, making the best use of its opportunities, and are confident users who can adapt to different platforms and environments wherever needed. 

How to develop Digital Literacy

Although we have talked about how important it is to be digitally literate, it can be difficult to know how to do this effectively, or where to start.

Being regular users of technology does not mean that we are necessarily digitally literate. We have therefore put together some useful links for developing your own digital literacy, and some helpful resources for developing others’ too.

Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum (National Foundation for Education Research)

Department for Education Essential Digital Skills Framework

HM Government Skills Toolkit

Microsoft Digital Literacy Course

The Complete Guide to Digital Skills, FutureLearn (Blog)

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