Proficiencies of Digital Literacy

Digital literacy can be given a wide variety of definitions, but how do we characterize it? What makes a student proficient in the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)?

In this post, I’d just like to share a resource that my research group found during our literature review on digital literacy.

The following excellent paper is a literature review conducted by Steve Covello who is now the media specialist at Granite State College. Covello was a Masters student at Syracuse University when he wrote the paper.

A Review of Digital Literacy Assessment Instruments by Steve Covello

The main item I’d like to point out in this reference are the proficiencies of digital (ICT) literacy that are based on the following report from the ETS:

Digital Transformation: A Framework for ICT Tools

First, the ETS report describes literacy in the following way:

To some “literacy” connotes functional literacy and implies basic or fundamental skills. To the panel, the term literacy implies a universal need, a condition that must be met to enable full and equitable economic and social participation. We view literacy as a tool that may be applied to simple or more complicated contexts — like a hammer that can be used to build a shelf, or a house. In its broadest sense, literacy is a dynamic tool that allows individuals to continuously learn and grow.

Later on, five components that reflect the wide range of skills that could be described as digital literacy:

  1. Access – knowing about and knowing how to collect and/or retrieve information.
  2. Manage – Applying an existing organizational or classification scheme.
  3. Integrate – interpreting and representing information. It involves summarizing, comparing and contrasting.
  4. Evaluate – making judgments about the quality, relevance, usefulness, or efficiency of information.
  5. Create – generating information by adapting, applying, designing, inventing, or authoring information.

For example, the ETS considers a scenario where you would like to find a variety of reliable online sources that provide treatment recommendations for a specific medical condition. Based on this scenario, the five components might be exhibited in the following ways:

  1. Access – Use a search engine to locate sites that have articles about the medical condition.
  2. Manage – Evaluate the sites and identify three that you would expect to provide reliable medical information.
  3. Integrate -Identify the treatment information in each article.
  4. Evaluate – Compare and contrast the treatment options suggested in the articles.
  5. Create – Develop a Word document with treatments listed (citing sources) to share with physician.

In our classes, a given problem or assignment might require some or even all of these proficiencies. In your classes, how do these five components appear in digital assignments? Could these be used to design resources or assignments that help grow digital literacy?


Access and Filters in Digital Literacy

This morning, Mary Helen shared a quote from Fr. Richard Rohr:

“When people have no appropriate filters, culture is susceptible to the whim of demagogues and sound bites. Education should teach us how to create good and helpful filters.”

I also encountered a long Facebook post from Patton Oswalt that included this advice for today, tomorrow, and the next four years:

“Leave your TV tuned to a channel like Turner Classic Movies or National Geographic or any channel that will have zero inaugural coverage. Then turn off your phone. Then shut down your computer.

And then — IF you can afford it — go find a struggling theater company and pay to see whatever play they’re putting on. Or a struggling art gallery or music club or museum. Leave ’em money and see what they’re about. Go see an indie film that’s got stellar reviews and no audience. Or a new restaurant or other small business that needs friends and customers. Download a new band. Go to an independent bookstore and buy something from a small press. Go to an open mike. Or see any comedian. Tip your barista or barkeep a little extra.”

Of course, since the election, I have been thinking a lot about what we should be teaching students–in first-year composition, in upper-division English classes, and in graduate seminars–about how to filter fake news from real news. In my own experience as a mother trying to sort fact from fiction about vaccines and autism, I encountered first hand how fake news and pseudo-science can complicate and cloud decision making. Information literacy–evaluating the quality and reliability of sources–represents one way of thinking about “filters” and their role in teaching and learning with and about technology. As Clay Shirky put it succinctly when talking about the “information economy” of the internet: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” One part of digital literacy is teaching students how to transform the flood of information pouring through the firehose of the web and social media into a manageable wellspring of relevant and reliable data they can use to make important academic, personal, and political choices.

When I read Rohr together with Oswalt, though, “to filter” takes on another meaning. One that has to do with knowing when we might be more productive if we turn off or turn away from technology. I think we’ve all probably seen arguments for banning technology in the classroom, as well as the responses they have prompted. While increasing access–to technology, to information, to a broader audience, to employment opportunities–is one benefit of technology, we need to balance that benefit against the potential harm of an “always on” culture in which privacy and offline interactions are devalued.

One of the problems we always encounter when we begin any discussion about interdisciplinary learning outcomes or best practices is that one-size-fits-all solutions rarely fit anyone very comfortably. As we continue our discussions this semester about learning outcomes and advice for teachers and students, I wonder if instead of focusing on exact language and measurability, it might be useful to think of general areas or categories that discipline-specific learning outcomes–generated locally within the discipline on a class-by-class basis–could be targeted to address. For example, drawing from the thinking I’ve been doing here, we might say that a “complete” set of digital literacy learning outcomes will include, among other things, both outcomes related to information literacy as well as outcomes related to making decisions about when and if particular technologies are appropriate for a given task or setting. The complete set doesn’t have to be taught in every class, or even in every discipline, but they would inform an “across the disciplines” approach to integrating digital literacy as part of the curriculum.

Further, I think any set of best practices needs to include decision-making guidance for prioritizing students and their needs over institutional budgets and administrative convenience. Decisions about implementing technology in the classroom (and perhaps even where students encounter it as part of their educational experience, e.g., enrollment, advisement) should rarely (maybe never?) be driven primarily by concern for what is most convenient or cost-effective for administration and faculty. The question, “What will our students gain from learning to use this technology during the course of their education?” should ideally always be part of the conversation.

Digital Literacy in Composition Studies

Colleagues – This is a late follow-up post on your last meeting, which I was unable to attend. Nonetheless, I wanted to share a statement I’ve found helpful related to how digital writing and digital literacy are defined in my area of study. I’ll link to the document so that you can review for more information, but I’ll highlight the parts I found useful in relation to our interdisciplinary work:

This is a statement by one of my field’s professional organizations that is meant to help administrators develop curricula for teaching writing in the first year of college. What I found interesting in revisiting this statement is the way the document very broadly defines “composing” to encompass digital texts, as well. This resonates with my approach to digital literacy, but I hadn’t realized one of my professional organizations defines this so much in line with my feelings about teaching writing. Here’s the excerpt from the statement, with some of my added bold-face:

In this Statement “composing” refers broadly to complex writing processes that are increasingly reliant on the use of digital technologies. Writers also attend to elements of design, incorporating images and graphical elements into texts intended for screens as well as printed pages. Writers’ composing activities have always been shaped by the technologies available to them, and digital technologies are changing writers’ relationships to their texts and audiences in evolving ways.

As our group continues to hone our own understandings of digital literacy in our respective disciplines (as well as across disciplines), I think it’s essential for us to think about how our students’ writing and work are shaped by technology and how that impacts their sense of audience and purpose.

Looking forward to talking with you all more about these issues in the near future!

~Ashley Holmes

GSU Conference on Digital Literacy, February 2-3, 2017


Here is more information about the conference I’ve mentioned that Mary Helen and I are helping to organize for early next semester. Please feel free to circulate this to anyone you feel might be interested. We’re hoping for broad participation across disciplines from faculty, staff, and students.


The GSU Conference on Digital Literacy is a faculty-organized event for Georgia State University faculty, students, staff, and administrators from any discipline or department who want to learn more about using and implementing digital tools to enhance teaching and learning. This open conference will provide an opportunity for professional development, community building, and critical conversation related to digital pedagogy and scholarship.

Please see the CFP ( if you’re interested in submitting a proposal for one of the Friday conference sessions. Proposals are due November 15, 2016, and participants will be notified of acceptance by December 1, 2016.

The conference will take place on February 2-3, 2017, and participants can attend either or both days:

WORKSHOPS: On Thursday, February 2, participants can register for one of four workshops. One workshop will provide an introduction to digital pedagogy tools and strategies. One will delve into how to get the most out of iCollege. One workshop will focus on data analysis for the humanities and social sciences, and one will guide participants interested in designing courses that make use of WordPress and student-owned websites. Detailed descriptions of and registration for the workshops will be available soon on our conference website:

STUDENT SHOWCASE: On Thursday evening, students will present innovative digital work. The showcase will include a poster-style session, and a live performance with a post-show “talk back” with the student presenters. If you and your students are interested in participating in the showcase, please contact me or Ryan Pine (

CONFERENCE: On Friday, instructors and students will share their insights and experience using technology in the classroom during hour-long concurrent roundtable and workshop presentations. The CFP for the Friday conference is available on the conference website:

We look forward to seeing you at GSU’s Conference on Digital Literacy.

Organizing committee:
Robin Wharton, Mary Helen O’Connor, Tracy Burge, and Ryan Pine
For any enquiries regarding the program, please contact Robin Wharton (
For all general enquiries, please contact Ryan Pine (

What is digital literacy?

I think we are finding that it might not be so easy to define “digital literacy.” Here are a few references that might help.

The Original Definition?

It seems that the original reference is the book “Digital Literacy” by Paul Glister, which has over 1000 citations according to Google. I couldn’t find a free online copy but here is a link to an excerpt.

This book was published in 1997 and is a bit dated. However, there are still a few relevant ideas. Glister is concerned with giving

“Internet novices the basic thinking skills and core competencies they’ll need to thrive in an interactive environment so fundamentally different from passive media such as television or print.”

Glister describes the internet as follows:

 “The web is about interactivity, the ability to choose information pathways and explore them with new-found ease. “

I really like this characterization. Tying it into some modern educational terminology, I think digital literacy might be defined as the ability to navigate and apply information pathways in the use of information and communication technology (ICT) tools. The definition is broad and doesn’t just mean that a student is proficient in a certain program, what many people would call “computer literacy.”

An Updated Reference

A more recent reference is: Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies) by Lankshear & Kobel (2006). I haven’t gotten my hands on a full copy of this book but it seems they define digital literacy as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide variety of sources when it is presented via computers and, particularly, through the medium of the Internet.” Digital literacy requires various abilities

  • the ability to use technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate, and communicate information.
  • Create: The ability to generate information by adapting, applying, designing or inventing information in ICT environments.
  • Communicate: The ability to communicate information properly in its context of use for ICT environments. This includes the ability to gear electronic information for a particular audience and to communicate knowledge in the appropriate venue.


A critique of this approach is the digital literacy should also have it’s own definition in each area. Information is not enough. A student must be able to apply these skills in whatever community they are attempting to engage in.

From the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL)

Another nice source is the ECDL Foundation, which apparently is “is the certifying authority of the leading international computer skills certification programme.”

Here is an article about how digital literacy is tricky to define. Something we find true ourselves!

Here is a nice, short article in which the ECDL actually defines all of the terms:

Specifically, digital literacy is a

“basic set of skills required to participate in essential ICT user activities. Typical skills would include the ability to work with numbers and documents (software such as word processors and spreadsheets) and the ability to use a web browser, e-mail and internet search engines securely and effectively.”

If we’re talking about a definition “across the curriculum,” this is a bit narrow in my view. Perhaps if we define digital literacy specific to certain areas, we can include specific programs. Perhaps they mean “numbers within documents.”

Is Coding the New Literacy?

There actually seems to be some debate as to whether or not the true modern literacy is actually coding. There are a fair number of academic and popular articles about this. Here are a few with some selected quotes:

Understanding Programming as a literacy – full text available

“Computer programming has a lot in common with textual literacy—historical trajectory, social shaping, affordances for communication, and connections to civic discourse. In this article, I argue that the refrain of “literacy” in reference to computer programming is not only apt because of these parallels, but that our definitions of literacy must shift to accommodate this new form of digital writing. Whether or not computer programming will be a mass literacy remains to be seen. But as code and computers have become central to our daily lives, programming has certainly become a powerful mode of written communication.”

Mother Jones: Is coding the new literacy?

‘”computational thinking,” and knowing all of the Java syntax in the world won’t help if you can’t think of good ways to apply it.’

“computational thinking begins with a feat of imagination, the ability to envision how digitized information – could be combined and changed into something new by applying various computational techniques.”

Readwrite: Kids need to learn digital literacy – not how to code

“If you want to be able to use the machine to do anything, whether it’s use an existing application or actually write your own code, you have to understand what the machines can do for you, and what they can’t, even if you’re never going to write code,” Ari Gesher, engineering ambassador at Palantir Technologies, said at the event.

Coding is not the new literacy

“Programming as it exists now forces us to model, but it does so in an unnatural way. And while teaching ourselves how to program will help us learn how to break systems down, it does so at the risk of focusing on the wrong things.7 We don’t want a generation of people forced to care about Unicode and UI toolkits. We want a generation of writers, biologists, and accountants that can leverage computers.”






Learning objectives for ENGL 1103

These are the  learning objectives that Jody and I are using for 1103 (DI) — I’m not sure if those outside of English have seen them. We are teaching a “synced” class–we share a syllabus and an Honors assistant, and work together to develop assignments.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • engage in writing and design as a process, including various invention heuristics (brainstorming, for example), gathering evidence, considering audience, drafting, revising, editing, and proofing.
  • engage in the collaborative, social aspects of writing, and use writing as a tool for learning.
  • use language, imagery, and sound to explore and analyze contemporary multicultural, global, and international questions.
  • demonstrate how to use writing aids such as handbooks, dictionaries, online platforms, and tutors.
  • gather, summarize, synthesize, and explain information from various sources.
  • use grammatical, stylistic, and mechanical formats and conventions appropriate for a variety of audiences.
  • critique their own and others’ work in written, oral, and digital formats.
  • produce coherent, organized, readable prose for a variety of rhetorical situations.
  • reflect on what contributed to their writing process and evaluate their own work.

Our students have: made an etymology timeline using Storymap JS, written a “significant objects” narrative and done online critique/presentation, and a narrative collage focusing on fragmentation/building cohesion through digital elements (sound, voiceover, HTML5, etc.). Next, they will make a persuasive film trailer (response to podcast). Their final project is a bit TBA–we know they’ll be presenting an argument on a cultural product/production and that they will use some of the skills we’ve covered/include at least one new one–we might have them choose between podcasts, websites, and longer films.

Sorry I had to miss the first meeting!

Digital Literacies on Language Learning

Raúl and I found some definitions on Digital Literacy on a journal published by CALICO (Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium) in the research and development of technology in second language acquisition.

Digital Literacies in L2 Learning.


“Digital literacy in the K-12 setting is often viewed as a set of skills that will be

learned over time as a student progresses through a state-designed curriculum that

includes checklists as the primary or sole evaluation of literacy-based competence

and performance. In higher education, the foreign language curriculum is usually

determined by textbooks, some of which seem to ignore the great potential for

integrating literacy into learning modules and projects.


The awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital

tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyze

and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions,

and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations,

in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect on this

process.(Martin, 2005).


According to Knobel and Lankshear (2008), digital literacies “quite simply, involve the use of digital

technologies for encoding and accessing texts by which we generate, communicate

and negotiate meanings in socially recognizable ways.” This definition ties up with the definition of communication (applied also to L2).”


We have the whole journal as well as an article on Digital Literacies and Language Learning that I will be happy to share with all.  ( I am not sure if I can post them or attach them to the blog).



Helping Students Take Control of Their Data and Intellectual Property

Because I ask students in all of my classes to do public-facing work, many people presume I don’t care about (or even don’t think about) student privacy. On the contrary, however, I am deeply concerned about students’ privacy and intellectual property rights. That is why I avoid–when it’s possible to do so–using tools like iCollege and, which deprive students of access to copies of their work when a course is over, require them to share or even relinquish their intellectual property, and which constantly collect and store and sell students’ personal data. iCollege and TurnItIn have their place; they can be extraordinarily useful tools. In the courses I teach, though, they are less useful, and therefore their benefits rarely counterbalance these drawbacks. I also think that, if schools did more to push back against the terms of service pursuant to which tools like iCollege are made available, we could (possibly?) work to minimize these problems and make such digital resources even more useful (and ethical) for pedagogical purposes.

Helping students (and also administrators and teachers) to understand the choices they make when they click “Agree” before installing software or signing up for a new social media service, and helping them to make more informed choices, has become an important component of digital literacy in my classroom. In addition to commercial learning management systems, I’ve also moved away from requiring students to use tools like Dropbox or Google Drive, toward using a modified “Domain of One’s Own” approach, where students use a GSU-provided WordPress site to host their work. On their sites, student get experience with creating and managing their own web content, while simultaneously developing their ability to filter content created by others. They learn to evaluate the credibility, reliability, and relevance of internet sources, and to author credible, reliable, relevant content themselves. When the course is over, or when they graduate from GSU, they can delete their sites, export their work, and if they choose, import it into a new site.

People often take the position that students don’t care about what happens to their work after the course is over, that they don’t care that e-books and course management systems are collecting and monetizing their data. Maybe they don’t. As an educator, I think they should, and I hope that at least some students see their work in my classes as meaningful beyond the immediate context of the class. My thinking on this issue has been heavily influenced by Audrey Watters and the Domain of One’s Own Project. Watters offers a persuasive argument for why we should be giving students ownership over their education data and their intellectual property in her essay, The Web We Need to Give Students. The Domain of One’s Own project at the University of Mary Washington has been another important resource for me.

What might be broadly defined as “information literacy”–learning to evaluate the credibility, reliability, and relevance of internet sources, and to author credible, reliable, relevant online content–is already included to some extent in core learning outcomes for courses such as ENGL1101/1102/1103 and the other upper-division courses I teach. It’s also a component of disciplinary best practices for courses in composition and rhetoric. Developing students’ personal agency and empowering them to take control over their data and intellectual property seems to go a step beyond both departmental and disciplinary practice, though it is definitely a subject of research and the scholarship of teaching and learning in my field. I’m interested in learning from the group if these are issues of concern in other disciplines, and if so, how they are discussed and addressed.