Digital Literacy: The New Digital Divide

Wordle by Mark Pullen via Angela Maiers

Wordle by Mark Pullen via Angela Maiers

I just read this extremely thought-provoking blog post about an emerging digital divide within our own communities. Although they are talking about the Academic Graduate world, the experience is very close to what we live in our own school. There are some teachers who are so tech savvy they can code their own pages (Mr. Math teach, I’m talking to you). Others, like me,   are proficient enough to navigate the online world, but know only a few lines of code and would have to do some major figuring out before being able to create a website (though I have enough confidence in my ability with tech, if not the inclination, to feel like I could figure out the basics), to those who are very good at their job but who resent having to email, let alone collaborate on a google doc:

But there are various shades of complexity before we even get to that divide between those who “build” and those who don’t. New digital divides created by the great diversity of digital skill sets amongst most arts and humanities scholars. The recent popularity of the digital humanities (or rather, of the term “digital humanities”) has meant that many propose that in the near future everyone in the humanities will be a digital humanist, and that the adjective “digital’ will have to be dropped soon. It is more and more common to see job adverts seeking scholars with PhDs in very specialised arts and humanities themes who can also code (for example, PhP, Python, whatever). In general, these are skills that are not formally included in most postgraduate humanities degrees. As an educated guess one might be able to generalise that many if not most humanities scholars who possess some level of coding skills often acquired them through alternative methods, taught themselves or have backgrounds in disciplines that until very recently were not part of the humanities curricula.

The job descriptions out there seem to tell a different story. It is as if suddenly, in some section of the academic world, we were witnessing the rise of a super-humanist, who is not only an expert in Aramean manuscripts but can also develop XML schemas, tweak APIs, design WordPress templates, who is a master of custom CSS design for ebooks and blogs, tweets, curates data sets and visualises online networks and quantifies her open access journal articles webometrics and altmetrics. This prototype scholar seems to be some kind of mutant 21stcentury super-powered being who simultaneously designs and maintains algorithmic architectures and deconstructs the history of literary theory and textual scholarship by heart.

It never occurred to me to think of the  the digital divide between creators (those who can build a website using a coding language, e.g.. PhP) and consumers (those who use the interface but never look behind the curtain to see how it works.
It makes me wonder about our current definitions of digital literacy, most of which confine themselves to navigation and use. Is it time we start thinking about teaching our students code? Will this be an essential skill in the future?
Food for thought.
Note on academics who teach themselves code: I have a good friend who has a degree in linguistics who taught herself code and now works as a taxonomist and web designer. In fact, her story is not unique- I just met another linguist turned coder the other day. They were both self-taught and both make the parallel between spoken languages and coding language. 

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