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.

Source: http://www.uio.no/studier/emner/matnat/ifi/INF3280/v13/undervisningsmateriale/literacy.pdf

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 TurnItIn.com, 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.