It’s easy for those of us that live on the Web. We know all the tricks. We spend hours, days, months, years, discussing and analyzing and thinking and applying. We not only know how to use the tools, we understand the implications. We get that there’s a revolution taking place. In part, we’re all creating it. And what we don’t understand, we are able to figure out, because we are comfortable moving and weaving inside this virtual space.

It’s not like that for everyone. In fact, it’s not like that for most people.

We’re the anomaly. We’re on the fringes. It’s hard to tell because people talk in vast numbers. Not millions. Hundreds of millions. Billions, even. Everyone is doing it…but not everyone understands it.

On Friday I attended the Canadian Internet Forum, put on by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), keepers of .ca, and representatives of Canada on the world stage when it comes to Internet governance.

It was a fascinating day, full of insightful speakers and thoughtful, open dialogue. It’s a great thing that CIRA is consulting with Canadians, discussing important topics such as governance, IPv6, and digital literacy.

As a teacher, it’s digital literacy that is closest to my heart. There’s a common misconception that people these days, particularly the younger generation, have a high level of digital literacy. Sure, your three-year old knows how to use an iPad, and the average 20 year old sends 5000 text messages a month, but that doesn’t mean that they are digitally “literate”.

One of the best talks of the day was given by Dr. Gerri Sinclair, who is an esteemed expert on Digital Media and in particular, literacy as it pertains to the digital world.

She said one thing during her talk that really struck home with me. Digital literacy is not just about knowing how to use the tools – and I’m paraphrasing – it’s about understanding the implications of digital technology and the impact it is having, and will have, on every aspect of our lives.

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on teaching computer skills at all levels, from K-12 through post-secondary. The terrain has changed significantly in a very short amount of time. It’s a fact that curricula need be adjusted across the board to include more emphasis on digital technologies.

In the old days, Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic were the staples of a good education. Documentaries like “Waiting for Superman”, which highlight the failing U.S. school system, suggest that perhaps the old methods of teaching don’t work anymore for today’s connected youth. Young peoples’ brains work differently now than they did back in the 50’s. We are connected to our world in a completely different way. In the 50’s, students interacted with the books in the library (which were often outdated), their teacher, and the 20 or 30 classmates in the desks around them. Today, they interact with the entire world, instantaneously, and all the time. Interaction has forever changed, but unfortunately, the education system has remained largely the same. Today, we are students of the world. We are not just consumers of information; we are publishers, creators, broadcasters, and yes, influencers.

There’s a great, wide, gigantic disconnect between what we’re teaching our students and what is reality.

The truth is, though most people think kids these days get the digital world, we are actually breeding a generation of digital illiterates. How? We are not teaching them how to really understand and use the tools. We are only teaching them how to click buttons.

We need to be teaching our students, at all levels, not just how to click and poke, but how to communicate, and interact, and build relationships in a connected world. We need to be teaching how to tell a story that compels people to pay attention, and to act. We need to be showing them how to leverage the connectedness of our planet to seek new opportunities, open career paths, and make real change in the world.

Clicking buttons does not equal success. We are doing a great disservice to our students by continuing to teach them only the how’s. We need to be teaching them the why’s.

The solution to this crisis begins with teachers, and this is where the gap widens even more. Teachers are in a terrible predicament, because they are in a position where they’re still trying to figure this stuff out themselves. The Web is still so young. None of us has more than 15 years of experience at it. The technology, trends, and philosophies behind the Web change at lightning speed. Teachers are simply not equipped to bridge the gap of digital literacy, because they have fallen into the gap.

It’s time to make some changes. If we’re going to solve this, we need to start by demanding that our education systems put more emphasis on training teachers about not just HOW to function in a digital world, but WHY it’s important. We need to take the average educator from button-pushing to truly understanding the fundamental changes that are happening in the way we communicate, connect, market, and build relationships with one another.

And it’s those of us who have lived and breathed the Web for the past several years who are in a position to lead this charge. We’re the ones who can set the wheels in motion. We have the resources, experience, strength, and most importantly, the understanding. We can help.

Who’s with me?

[photo credit: vaXzine on Flickr]