Digital literacy–the ability to use technology to interact with others and to recognize conventions of digital communication–is an important skill for everyone. For this reason, the subject is often taught to students starting in grade school up through the undergraduate level. However, as many academics like Russell Hazard, Director of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation at NIT Education Group, contend, there is not enough emphasis placed on teaching digital literacy to English language learners throughout the world. This is in part because an increasing dominance of English in global cross-cultural communication and because English language learners may be linguistically marginalized while living within English speaking countries.
In a recent paper, English as an Additional Language: Enhancing Critical Digital Literacy, Russell Hazard argues that providing instruction in digital literacy to English language learners is paramount not only for students’ ability to use technology in an English-language job setting in their careers, but also for their ability to participate fully as citizens, given the ongoing shift from traditional communication to digital and online communication.
“Digital media provide the vector of communication for a tremendous number of communicative acts … but communication in the digital medium carries special attributes that are not necessarily obvious or transparent,” Hazard writes. “Therefore, it seems imperative to arm language users with an understanding of communication issues the digital realm as well as an understanding of the implication of communication in this space.”
Russell Hazard discussed the new Digital Intelligence Quotient (DQ)framework with Dr. Yuhyun Park, who is the developer of the new DQ Framework and DQWorld training platform at the 2019 Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. The DQ Framework has recently been adopted as the new global framework for digital literacy by the Coalition for Digital Literacy, which is composed of the IEEE standards association, the World Economic Forum, and the DQ Institute. The frameworks is simultaneously being adopted by the OECD and targets all students, whether they are language learners or not.
During the interview, Hazard asked Park about why parents should ensure their children have DQ training, and Park responded, “DQ is a holistic competency for individuals to function in the digital age…The first level is digital citizenship, which is the foundational life skill for living in the digital world. A life skill means that it is not optional. You must have it. Children need to know the nature of online communication. Once they put something online it can become permanent or it can go viral.”
Hazard concurred with Park’s assessment and offered some insight into well rounded digital literacy initiatives for English language learners specifically. “[W]e are making a tremendous effort to embed the DQ program within our curriculum, and support it with in-class learning activities such as language support, discussions, and individual reflective projects. We are also using it to engage in a broader whole-school discussion on digital literacy and citizenship.”This indicates that digital literacy programming may be best developed in a rich, constructivist learning space that combines understanding concepts with practical projects such as the production of digital artifacts.
Other experts in the field have reached similar conclusions to Hazard. Rob Jenkins, associate professor of English as a second language at Santa Ana College, states in the introduction to Integrating Digital Literacy Into English Language Instruction, that teaching digital literacy to English language learners is important because “[i]t includes what people do with technology, how they solve problems, and how they communicate effectively. Students must experience, practice, and apply tasks within the classroom that will lead to their ability to function in a digital world.” Jenkins agrees with Russell Hazard on the conclusion that teaching digital literacy must go beyond basic computer skills.
Kathy Harris, assistant professor of applied linguistics at Portland State University, teaches within Portland State’s master’s program in teaching English as a second language. She wrote an article recently for the Oxford University Press blog about the increasing need to incorporate digital literacy instruction in English language learning programs.
Harris echoes Russell Hazard’s point that teaching digital literacy to English language learners is crucial for their overall success in the modern world.
“Finding and evaluating information is a critical aspect of digital literacy,” she writes. “[English language learners] need to be able to get accurate health information, communicate and collaborate using the Internet for school or work, communicate with their children’s schools, apply for jobs, among many other things.”
Russell Hazard concludes his paper with a strong moral point about why teaching digital literacy to English language learners is so important in the 21st century.
“There is an ethical responsibility to empower language users from a variety of backgrounds with equal agency and therefore equal voice,” he writes. “Doing so requires more than just technical skills, but also the skills of critique and critical language awareness, productive ability, and an understanding of agency and rights claims that stretch from the linguistic to the economic and political.”