Digital Literacy: Writing, Typewriting, Typing, One Finger Knowledge?

Few weeks after moving to Finland from Novi Sad, I received a message from an unknown Finnish lady trough the well-known social media called Facebook. After I changed information about my new location, she could find me through a search engine. She was looking for her old friend: ”… I am now sending a message to everyone in Facebook who seem to have lived in Novi Sad at the same time as her, to find her. We were pen pals about 20 years.”

Wikipedia says: Pen pals are people who regularly write to each other, particularly via postal mail. Pen pals are usually strangers whose relationship is based primarily, or even solely, on their exchange of letters.”

I was lucky with my “spying” contacts in Novi Sad and these pen pals were back in touch. This was a year 2016 when handwriting was already “passe” in Finland. Indeed, the BBC journal published an interesting text reporting about decision: Finnish students will no longer be taught handwriting at school, with typing lessons taking its place.

For many generations born before the new Millennium handwriting was a part of identity, personal character, or a testimony of ability to manifest knowledge (+ express oneself) and respect the reader (from parents and teachers up to bureaucratic services). Today, digital literacy shapes our daily life, and many are still struggling to manage even basic online services without assistance or start up help – but those born in last 15 years own digital literacy’s purpose. Owning and carrying it beyond the digital education system has planned it for them. Today, the young ones might never experience writing and sending a physical letter but, surely, they can read and learn about it on internet. Maybe one day they can visit a museum or a gallery with exhibited handwritten letters.

Still, switch from the “basic” literacy to digital literacy takes a lot of researchers’ attention. Science is not relaxed about it and many debates are active among sociologists, pedagogists, psychologists, etc.

”The act of writing is a complex cognitive process relying on intricate perceptual sensorimotor combinations. As a highly sophisticated and comprehensive way of externalizing our thoughts, giving shape to memories as well as future and dreams, sharing our stories and communicating our emotions and affections, writing always involves the skillful handling of some mechanical/technical device, and necessarily results in a visuographic representation – some kind of (more or less) readable text, in the form of a string of letters or symbols. As mentioned, in studies of literacy in general, and of writing (as well as of reading) in particular, the role and potential impact of the technologies employed – whether pen and paper, or keyboard and computer screen – is rarely addressed.

Changing the technologies of writing has profound implications, at least in part, because different technologies are materially configured in profoundly different ways. That is, different writing technologies set up radically different spatial, tactile, visual, and even temporal relations between the writer’s material body and his or her material text.”

Digitizing literacy: Reflections on the haptics of writing,
Anne Mangen & Jean-Luc Velay

During my research journey capturing the digital “sunrise” of Serbia, I am trying to reach understanding of this particular progress in education, to see if there are obstacles and limitations in a simple human “hunger” for knowledge. Of course, I ponder teachers’ roles and ways they re-prepare to “serve” knowledge in new clothes, trough new a medium with reconstructed methodologies and praxis. Teachers were first to be prepared for implementation of digital education what considers a new knowledge for themselves also. Digital literacy is one of them. Many countries worldwide, same as Serbia, are still longing to catch up with modern societies like Finland is. Serbia, as I mentioned in my previous blog writings, is doing her best to prepare for changes and start with digital education system as soon as it is possible. Materials and guiders for teachers already exist and the focus on their preparation is now into play. Latest research article for this topic point on – The importance of teachers’ digital literacy (Milena M. Vidosavljevic & Sladjana T. Vidosavljevic 2019):

”Teacher’s role started to be more complex in this changing world where knowledge is unlimited. Weinberger, Fischer and Mandl (2002, in Amin 2016) explained that today teachers are expected to become technologically oriented, to be more co-operators, to be more co-operators minded, critical independent professionals, and facilitators who will help students to analyze the quality of new sources and how to learn in a digital environment.  Therefore, no Wonder that, in this digital age, teachers are confronting with new challenges every day in respect of students, their individual needs, new hardware and software and their own developmental needs. ”(Sharma 2017.) Sharma (2017) explains that as a first challenge are diverse students who became more competitive, interrogative, knowledgeable, and more demanding from their teachers. Further, Sharma adds that modern students are always ”on”, and as digital natives, who learn and think differently, every moment use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other applications on their mobile phones and tablets, so, because of that reason they do not pay attention to classes too much which the job of teachers makes harder. As other challenges for all teachers in the digital age, Sharma points out the knowledge-based job market, lifelong learning, and job issues and give an explanation that the job of teachers is very tough to prepare students for future job market where are necessary technological skills.  Above all, this modern education represents a lifelong learning market where seminars and courses become more meaningful for teachers and students to get to know with the changing technologies in teaching learning. Taking into account that teachers are more engages in multiple tasking at college, school, university, the challenge is bigger for them to keep up with advanced technologies (Sharma 2017). The successful integration of new technologies into the classroom depends on the ability of modern teachers to develop classes and collaborative work, to create new learning environments, to link new pedagogy with technology.  For all of these, it is necessary to have a different set of teachers’ skills that includes frequent use of technologies with the aim to encourage digital literacy, knowledge deepening and knowledge creation in the teaching-learning process (UNESCO 2013).”

Before the new changes come, I hope we all will have an equal opportunity to adopt needed skills and routines for this switch in literacy. As a reward maybe Pen Pals’ museums will bloom all over the world. Our toddlers will scan them with age adopted gadgets which turns handwritten text into audio narration. Everything will be fine, won’t it?

Biljana Stankovic, Project Researcher