Digital literacy is a fact of life. Does this mean that everybody knows how to find the information needed?

Whenever I travel I spend some time learning a few facts about the new place; I also try to learn some phrases so as to be able to say Hello, Good-bye, Please and Thank you in various languages. Today all this is easy, any information is just a click away. Look around you, and you will see most people, especially the young ones, practically glued to a device. Does this mean that everybody is digitally literate? Not necessarily so. I first worked as a translator at a scientific conference at the age of 16. I proudly showed the participants around our academic research town, enumerated the 25 institutes, the university and boasted about the celebrated scientists. Then I got one question: "Why were they exiled to Siberia?" I was appalled. My father explained to me that indeed the image most people had of Siberia was still simple, that of eternal cold and the place of exile. Well, my sweet sixteen was quite a number of years ago when there was no internet and nobody clicked. Has anything changed? Here is a recent question: "Oh, you are from Siberia! Is it always winter there? Is there any civilization, or do you still live in caves?" Or I read in a book or magazine, again, " Only in the caves of Siberia..." No, not much has changed with the advent of the internet. "Novosibirsk, is it up north, do you have permafrost? Is it a small village?" No, actually it is a city of 1,500,000 located in the south-west of Siberia, roughly above China on the map. Our academic town is one of the city's districts; the population is mostly researchers, teachers, students. Since there are more than 5,000 Ph.D.s among the town's 40,000 residents, a family like mine, with the parents both holding advanced Ph.D. degrees and all the children going on to universities after school is typical. In fact 100% school leavers continue their education at a university or college.
By the way summer in the south-west of Siberia is usually very warm, with the temperatures rising up to +40C in July.
It is said in my town that an educated person today is the one who knows how, where and when to find the information needed. Thus when I was attending a large meeting with the European delegation presenting various scholarship programs to the local students I read about Erasmus Mundus scholarship and double-checked the names of the visitors from several countries. When there was a large discussion with the creators of some social networks like Twitter and the group included not only the USA ambassador to Russia but also the Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher, I made sure I knew their names and positions. All the data can be found on the web.
As most educators today I have a great respect for ICT. The more we use the new technologies the better. It is relatively easy to teach anyone how to use a device, which buttons to click, what to do if something does not work ( consult a specialist). I don't think age is a great factor. It used to be more difficult to explain to older teachers why they should learn to use the computers, how a smart board could make their work easier. Now we see the new technologies in any sphere of life. Board a bus or a train, and you will notice that everybody is affixed to a smartphone or an ebook. Walk along a street in any country and you will notice that lots of people use some navigation system. Well maybe you won't notice that because your own nose would be in your own GPS. I have seen tourists click on their smartphones and iPads to communicate with a waiter or a bus driver.
Picture a hammer. One can use it to put a nail into a wall and then hang up a beautiful picture on that nail. One can also use it to demolish not only the picture but the wall itself. The same principle works with any advanced technology. One can click thoughtlessly and never think of using the vast opportunities to learn, to educate oneself. Or one can use the wonderful new devices to get a few basic facts about the people and places one has to work with. This can be done a couple minutes before the actual meeting!
Naturally the special atmosphere of the academic town I grew up in played a great role in my approach to anything new, unfamiliar and/or difficult. A lot comes from my family. My mother worked at the university library for twenty five years; she taught me how to find the information needed and encouraged my quest for knowledge. My father has an insatiable curiosity, he is always eager to learn and use the new things. A long time ago he taught me how to use the typewriter; when the computers came into everyday life it was just a step from one keyboard to another. I taught him how to use the computer and the internet when he was 70; he is turning 90 soon, and he is still going strong. No, it is not age which may impede a person in their desire to learn and to study.
I believe that we teachers can give our students the know-how, not only in terms of which buttons to click, but rather in terms of explaining and demonstrating why they should click those buttons. The benefits of digital literacy are enormous.

Google me!
Nina MK, Ph.D.

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