What are Digital Literacies?

By Amanda Moody.

There is no doubt in my mind that digital literacy is plural.  It is expansive, it doesn’t have clearly defined edges, it is changeable, personal, collective, political.  It is online life activity.  As we explore digital tools and technologies, we develop digital literacies.  We create digital identities, we mindfully use digital tools for our own agendas, we engage with social networks, and when we feel truly connected, we are actors in participatory cultures.

What follows is my definition of digital literacies, grounded in relevant literature.  I have defined digital literacies via an infographic.  To create this infographic, I drew from many literacies: reading and taking notes on digital literacies via a Google doc, reorganizing my notes into categories, locating a website to create an infographic (Piktochart.com), selecting an infographic template that would suit my needs, finding appropriate photos and icons to represent each digital literacy, condensing my thoughts into easy to read bullet points, manipulating the icons, text boxes, colors, and fonts, creating a reference page, and figuring out how to display the infographic on a Google doc.  You will notice that I took screenshots of each section to be able to comment on it.  After reflecting on the literacies I used to create this infographic, it is evident that digital literacies were at work here.  

First, here is the title section. I tried to capture digital activities, solo and collaborative.

 

Moody - image 1
Next, I collapsed my digital literacies categories into four major topics to capture the user, use, and reasons for using digital tools: digital identity, tool use, social networking, and participation.  I believe that a decision to do anything involves identity-creation, which is why I included that.

Moody - image 2

The following three sections reflect my attempt to expand on the four digital literacies topics.  Here, I included specific competencies within digital literacies, and I provided examples in bullet points with citations.

Moody - image 3Moody - image 4Moody - image 5


In the final section, I created a reference page.  It is not 100% APA 6.0 accurate because Piktochart would not allow me to italicize or indent.  Sometimes, digital tools cannot do everything.  I have to creatively work around imperfections to produce an acceptable version of what I want.  The beauty of using digital tools is that they are always being improved through user feedback.

Moody - image 6Moody - image 7
Speaking of feedback, this post allows me to share my work with you and await your feedback so I can improve it.  That is digital literacies in action!  

 

Amanda Moody is an adolescent ESL/ENL teacher and doctoral student in the Contemporary Learning and Interdisciplinary Research program at Fordham University Graduate School of Education.

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.  

References

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

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: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/reinventing_k12_learning/2016/07/how_many_educators_are_really_literate.html

What is digital literacy?

by Veronica Szczygiel

Here you are reading a blog entry posted by a doctoral student in education. Whatever led you to this particular blog post took a certain set of skills and cognitive processes. You as a reader and I as a writer are interconnected in the very fabric of this digital language that you see on the screen, even though we may be sitting far apart from each other, and even though we may never meet in person. What you and I are doing here, in this moment, is exercising and practicing our digital literacy.

But before we can consider what exactly digital literacy is, especially in terms of education, we have to define the overarching term “literacy.” Literacy, in my mind, does not mean “outdated” or “traditional” or “twentieth century,” and it by no means sits a rung lower in terms of hierarchy compared with digital literacy. Rather, I believe literacy is the umbrella, all-encompassing term, and digital literacy is its offshoot or subtopic, akin to a Darwinian evolutionary tree where homo sapiens branched off from gorillas, baboons, and macaques in the primate tree limb. My broad, holistic definition of literacy is the following: the ability to effectively excise meaning, make meaning, and exchange meaning with various audiences (Kajder, 2010, p. 15 and New Media Consortium, 2005, p. 8). When we “excise” meaning, we read the “text” in front of us—which can be words, data visualizations, graphs, symbols, film, music—and analyze, interpret, and connect the meaning we draw out of the text to ourselves and the world around us. As Gilster (2007) says, literacy “has always meant the ability to read with meaning, and to understand. It is the fundamental act of cognition” (p. 2). When we “make” meaning we use our own distinct voices to create texts and respond to them, to fully express ourselves and to make our opinions and ideas known. And when we “exchange” or communicate meaning, we craft our voices, our words, and our ideas according to our audience; perhaps our audience needs a more informative text, or perhaps, in a call to action, a more persuasive one. Literacy can be print-text based; it can be visual; auditory; social; and so forth.

This is where the term “literacies” comes into play—it denotes the fact that there are different media and modes of expression in which one can excise, make, and exchange meaning. According to the “Adolescent Literacy” Policy Research Brief produced by the National Council for Teachers of English (2007), “[l]iteracy encompasses reading, writing, and a variety of social and intellectual practices that call upon the voice as well as the eye and hand” (p. 2). When someone who practices literacy uses voice, eye, and hand to construct and communicate meaning, he or she is able to “participate fully in the community and wider society” (UNESCO Education Sector, 2004, p. 13). Because the term “literacies” denotes learning and communicating in different and often multiple media and modes of expression, we must consider digital literacy as equally important as print, visual, and audio literacies, especially in the constantly evolving landscape of our educational system.

Because digital literacy is a subset or branch from the root, holistic term literacy, it relies on the same core principles and cognitive skill sets that are embedded in print (and audio, visual, social) literacy noted above. Jenkins, et. al. (2006) state that “textual literacy”—by which they mean print literacy—“remains a central skill in the twenty-first century. Before students can engage with the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write” (p. 19). Digital literacy uses these core competencies of reading and writing as well as the multifaceted, multidimensional, and multimodal means of expression noted above with one distinction: digital literacy has the ability to connect to a wider, more globalized audience. Whereas storytelling, reporting, poetry writing, filmmaking, songwriting, and other forms of expression utilized in the classroom generally heralded readers/audiences of the teacher, peers, parents, at times the school student and parent body, maybe at times the wider community, now students are able to tap into communities where the audience is not always seen, identified, or recognized. Because the meanings we make can be spread farther than the classroom, school auditorium, or community center, students have to acquire additional or slightly modified cognitive skills and habits of mind to be literate in the digital world. I have identified five criteria that help define digital literacy (there may be more). Some of these criteria overlap with other literacies, but I will look into each one specifically for the digital sphere.

  1. Students who are digitally literate interpret meaning effectively. This means that not only is the student analyzing and excising meaning from words, images, and film, but the student is also considering the authorial intention of the “text” that is analyzed. That is, the student “must acquire a basic understanding of the ways media representations structure our perceptions of the world [and] the economic and cultural contexts within which mass media is produced and circulated” (Jenkins, et. al., 2006, p. 20).
  2. Students who are digitally literate must evaluate meaning judiciously. There is an overwhelming amount of information provided on the internet, much of which is unfiltered and unedited. Students must learn to decipher fact from fiction and credible from unreliable resources. Research requires not only locating information but also “assess[ing] the reliability of the data…[and] distinguish[ing] between fact and fiction, fact and opinion” (Jenkins, et. al., 2006, p. 19). Students must “make informed judgments about what [they] find online, for unlike conventional media, much of the Net is unfiltered by editors and open to the contributions of all” (Gilster, 2007, p. 2).
  3. Students who are digitally literate must synthesize meaning in an organized and salient fashion. When reading online, texts are often really hypertexts, as words are mixed with ads, pictures, film, and words that are links to other articles about related topics. Not only must students organize this data, but they must also distill their ideas and topics into concise word choices for subsequent effective searches. This exercises and hones (and sometimes taxes) executive functioning skills. Students must “take notes on and integrate secondary sources…construct arguments and marshal evidence” (Jenkins, et. al., 2006, p. 19-20). They must also “build a reliable information horde from diverse sources” (Gilster, 2007, p. 3).
  4. Students who are digitally literate must contribute meaning purposefully. There are a myriad of different ways in which students can participate and make meaning in the digital sphere; a student must think critically about his or her medium of choice and what meaning that choice advertently or inadvertently gives. Why post a vlog instead of a blog? Why write a petition letter instead of a 30-second promotional ad? Students must reflect on the choices they make, and how those choices reflect author intentionality as well as the audience’s perceived meaning. Kajder (2010) supports this notion by saying, “I aim at creating a new space for more students to find success and to be intentional in choosing the media through which to express their thinking” (p. 19). And of course, students must also contribute meaning effectively, following standards and criteria placed upon any written or oral text.
  5. Students who are digitally literate must contribute meaning with a hyperawareness of the intended (and unintended) audience, simultaneously understanding safety and navigating digital space responsibly. When students are present in the classroom, they see their audience in front of them; when a teacher gives a student feedback on his or her work, the student can follow up with the teacher in a face-to-face interaction. Online, an audience may not be so intimate or physically present. The internet is not just a powerful place, but it can also be a dangerous place, if an individual does not understand how to protect him or herself. Cybersecurity and cyberbullying are serious matters that must not be taken lightly, as are issues of copyright and plagiarism. Students must become aware that not only need they be responsible with how they handle found information, but that they must safeguard their ideas, meanings, and identities from being mishandled by other users.

In the end, digital literacy does not replace or trump other literacies but rather deepens our already established notion of literacy as a whole in which meaning is excised, made, and exchanged (References).

Defining Digital Literacy/ies

By Jane Ragno, CLAIR PhD candidate

 

In his groundbreaking book, Digital Literacy, Paul Gilster (1997) highlighted the key to digital literacy:

Acquiring digital literacy for Internet use involves mastering a set of core competencies.  The most essential of these is the ability to make informed judgments about what you find on-line, for unlike conventional media, much of the NET is unfiltered by editors and open to the contributions of all.  This art of critical thinking governs how you use what you find on-line, for with the tools of electronic publishing dispersed globally, the Net is a study in the myriad uses of rhetoric.  Forming a balanced assessment by distinguishing between content and its presentation is the key (p. 2).

The key points Gilster (1997) made here are: a.) engaging in digital technology requires multiple skills; b.) anyone with access can contribute to the digital information pool; and c.) being a critical consumer of digital information is a requisite skill embedded in digital literacy.

Defining and understanding digital literacy/ies might be easier to do if we compare it with what we know as traditional literacy.  When we (especially teachers) think of literacy, we think of decoding and encoding using a phonetic alphabetic system to glean or express a message or meaning.  Succinctly put, literacy involves using a code to express or gain meaning.

Let’s now take a look at digital literacy.  According to Gilster (1997), digital literacy is “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers” (p. 1).  So, similar to traditional literacy, digital literacy involves making meaning, understanding, comprehending.  But, Gilster (1997) reminded us that digital literacy is understanding from ‘multiple formats’ and a ‘range of sources,’ which leads us to believe that there may be more skills involved than merely decoding a set of phonemes.

Kajder (2010) pointed out that digital literacies allow us to “examine practices tied to constructing and critically understanding the modes made possible by digital tools” (p. 8).  Here, Kajder (2010) sees digital literacies as involving a meta-awareness of the separate modes and skills involved in digital literacy.  Rheingold (2012) used the term literacies to encompass the social skills involved in using digital technologies.  “We need to know how to behave in an online community, grow a personal learning network, and ethically share cultural productions” (Rheingold, 2012, p. 53).  While Rheingold’s take on digital literacies is different from Kajder’s, they both, nonetheless, emphasize the need for a spectrum of literacies in order to fully engage with digital technology.

Gilster (1997) pointed out a critical difference between traditional literacy and digital literacy when he wrote, “the journey through text becomes enriched with choices” (p. 3).  When we read a book, we choose to turn the page or not; when we interact with a webpage, we are faced with choices that force us to be critical consumers of digital information, that challenge our notions of attention, and that offer us opportunities for autonomy and agency—all of which require specific literacy skills.

Like traditional forms of literacy, digital literacy presents us with the opportunity to make change.  Though, unlike the exclusive publication process of print, it is much easier for people to publish on the internet.  “We presently have many examples from around the globe of people, especially young people, using digital tools to publish texts that challenge the status quo and push back against powerful monopolies on representations of our world” (Gainer, 2012).  Rheingold (2012) cleverly called these roadblocks, “gatekeepers of magazine and book editors” (p. 53).  In the unguarded and participatory digital world, critical literacy becomes an embedded skill within digital literacy for the many out there who choose to use digital technologies as a space for collaborative systemic change.

I believe that digital literacies is the more appropriate term for what we do when we engage with digital technology.  This engagement involves multiple skills and multiple literacies to navigate digital resources, understand information, and critique that information.  Not only is decoding and encoding required of users of digital literacy, but so is media literacy (understanding graphic messages), technological literacy (understanding how to use digital technologies), critical literacy (understanding and acting against implicit messages that attempt to oppress and marginalize), and more.  And as more of the world becomes connected and the range of digital modes increases, so will the skill set required to understand, process, and create using those modes.  By broadening our conception of what is required of us to fully engage in digital technology, we are allowing room for growth along the way.

References

Gainer, J. (2012). Critical thinking: foundational for digital literacies and democracy. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 56(1), 14-17. doi: 10.1002/JAAL.00096

Gilster, P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York, NY: Wiley Computer Publishing.

Kajder, S. (2010). Adolescents and digital literacies: Learning alongside our students. Urbana,IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Stewards of digital literacies. Knowledge Quest, 41(1), 52-55. Retrievedfrom: http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.avoserv.library.fordham.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer ?sid=e960f1f7-44c4-4216-bca0-f76da2dda3c%40sessionmgr4001&vid=11&hid=4208