Digital Literacy: Empower and Protect

By: Kelli Sciarra

An essential question for the Developing Digital Literacies Module at Fordham University Graduate School of Education asked about measuring digital literacy.  As I continued reading the syllabus, I learned that I would attend a “Digital Literacies Conference” as part of the module.  

Wait. What exactly is digital literacy?

(Do you want to know the truth?)

As a mathematics teacher, I do not know much about literacy, let alone digital literacy (in my opinion).  However, I have an interest in technology and the impact technology can have on teacher instruction and student achievement, so, I can figure out digital literacy, right?

#inspired #motivated

I read articles about digital natives and digital literacy before the conference.  I was looking forward to it, however, I was unsure of what to expect from the conference.  I enjoyed the keynote speaker (and learned a lot!).  I listened to the author talk titled 140 Twitter Tips for Educators by Brad Currie.  Who knew Twitter could be so inspirational?

During his talk, I continued to think about the meaning of digital literacy.  Mr. Currie discussed that Twitter offers the opportunity to share, connect, learn, and evolve as an educator.  Is this digital literacy?

After lunch, I attended the second author talk of the conference, Dr. Kristen Turner (my professor and advisor).  Although the target audience was elementary teachers, as a mom of a seven year old and a curious secondary teacher, I decided to attend the sharing reading talk.  

Dr. Turner stressed that “connections must be meaningful” when reading via a digital space.  Dr. Turner grabbed my attention when she spoke about the usage rights of images.

This talk was motivating and helped me to continue to define digital literacy.

The next morning, I tweeted my thoughts about the digital literacies conference. I thanked my #inspirational and #motivational speakers and was sure to use the conference hashtag #FordhamDLC in my tweet.

Later, to my surprise, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at the school I work for, James Yap, replied to my tweet.   

Yap Tweet

Wait a minute.  Is literacy exclusive to teachers of English and Social Studies?  Do not misunderstand my reaction.  I was (very) moved that Mr. Yap was inspired by my inspired tweet.  At the same time, his response continued to develop my definition and understanding of digital literacy.

A Teacher of Literacy

Here is what I know about digital literacy so far:

  • Ability to share, connect, learn, and evolve
  • Meaningful connections
  • Usage rights
  • Not exclusive to particular disciplines

To further develop my understanding of digital literacy, I turned to Twitter and searched digital literacy hashtags recommended by Mr. Currie.  [I could spend hours (and hours) searching, reading, and retweeting my findings.]

                           “Every educator is a teacher of literacy.” Shaelynn Farnsworth   

Every kindergarten teacher is a teacher of literacy.  Every English teacher is a teacher of literacy.  Every mathematics teacher is a teacher of literacy.

I am a teacher of literacy.  This statement is powerful and the responsibility is substantial.

I know the essence of literacy (read, write, think, know), but what about this digital aspect?

Digital Literacy in the Thesaurus

Themes emerged as I read anything and everything about digital literacy.  I read articles, tweets, and blog posts from Renee Hobbs, Steven W. Anderson, and Patrick Larkin.  I read excerpts from Paul Gilster’s book Digital Literacy, published in 1997, and chapters from Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies, and Practices (Lankshear & Knobel, 2008) and Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students (Kajder, 2010).

To illustrate the emergent themes, I created and designed the word cloud shown below.   

digital literacy wordle

Digital literacy is more powerful and important than understanding how to use the tools of technology.  While understanding what a hashtag is used for is relevant, providing students with the knowledge tools and experiences to critically, thoughtfully, purposefully, and ethically engage in a digital space is crucial and vital (Hobbs, 2010; Kajder, 2010; Larkin, 2016)

An Understanding [Literacy] of Online [Digital] Practices

According to Kajder (2010), the online practices of adolescents can be described in three categories:

  • Creating content
  • Producing and using information
  • Relationships within a community and/or network

Recall the word cloud. Can each word or phrase in the cloud be placed into at least one of these categories? My answer is yes. In fact, most words and phrases from the word cloud can be grouped into multiple categories.

This is digital literacy.  

Digital literacy is many (important) things.  Digital literacy is the idea of sharing and engaging within a community.  Digital literacy is thinking critically with information.  Digital literacy includes ethical and lawful responsibilities.  Digital literacy calls for creation, analysis, and evaluation of content in a collaborative environment.  

In a digital world, teachers must:

  • Empower students to think and create critically
  • Teach students to engage safely and protect themselves
  • Show students to participate and act responsibly

Using digital literacy as a tool, teachers have the opportunity to empower and protect students.
Kelli Sciarra (@sciarramathgeek) is a high school math teacher and doctoral student in the Contemporary Learning and Interdisciplinary Research program in the Fordham Graduate School of Education.  


Farnsworth, S. (2016, July 21). Having a conversation with @web20classroom #musings do your part! #edchat #engchat [Tweet] Retrieved from:

Gilster, P. (1997).  Digital literacy.  NY: Wiley.

Hobbs, R. (2016, August). Literacy: Understanding media and how they work. In R. G. Picard (Ed.), What Society Needs from Media in the Age of Digital Communication (pp. 131 – 160)., Porto: Media XXI.

Hobbs, R. (2010). Digital and media literacy: A plan of action. Washington, DC: Aspen

Kajder, S. (2010).  Adolescents and digital literacies.  Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2008).  Digital literacies: Concepts, policies, and practices. NY: Peter Lang.

Larkin, P. (2016, July 13). How many educators are really literate? [Blog post] Retrieved from:


Author: drkhturner

I am a teacher, a learner, and a writer. I am also the mother of twins. My Wordpress blogs allow my students and I to interact outside the walls of our classroom, and in some cases, Wordpress is our classroom space! My personal blog can be found at

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