Lawrie Merz: skills in ethical and appropriate contexts

What is Digital Literacy?

I think of digital literacy as more than skill alone, though digital skills is included. I think digital literacy are those skills in context–ethical use of digital technologies, awareness of pitfalls and vulnerabilities in using those technologies, even how those technologies relate to other earlier technologies. These could include everything from  recognizing and refraining from cyberbullying to relating online creation of art to earlier analog artforms (what makes art art,e.g.).

What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life? (*However you interpret this.)

It really does impact in the expected ways—I am much more cautious about protecting my online information; I am aware of and can put in context the miserable comments people make in social media about those with whom they disagree; I recognize that I need to ask myself what are appropriate places for airing opinions or personal issues, medical histories, etc. (e.g., NOT on Facebook).  It even affects how I store my info at work (e.g., on a shared drive vs. a personal drive; should any personal info be stored at work or not).

Who are you?

[ Lawrie Merz is the Public Services Coordinator / Interim Co-Director and a librarian at Messiah College, PA. ]

Matthias Melcher: basic skills, new affordances, thoughtful engagement

What is digital literacy?

Like traditional literacy, it is not only the mastery of the tools, such as reading and writing. Rather, there is a connotation of higher abilities which are arising from being intensively exposed to books, or to the digital, respectively, and I will talk about them in the second section. Mastering the new tools with confidence means losing the discomfort which mostly comes from either disinformation or IT insecurity. Both have in common that most users cannot evaluate the trustworthiness of systems and sources on their own. In both cases, one can try to rely on central authorities, or ask a friend. If you trust a friend’s email attachment in too naive a way, their imprudence may ripple across your circles because you may be trusting their virus who really sent it. Similarly, the friend may have retweeted a falsehood from a false central authority because evaluating the authority, too, is difficult. But if your friend is aware of you trusting them, they might be more cautious. So, it is important to ask the right friend who, in turn, relies on the right friends, too, rather than on questionable central mass sources. Of course there is not always enough time to ask a friend, so, the first skill is to decide whether I feel safe enough without the friend or if I should stop and wait for him or her — for example, to install some app or to change some settings. And there are some minimal questions that a digitally literate person should be able to answer for themselves. Most prominently, this involves a permanent awareness of one’s logins and of one’s backups, i.e. what would happen if a file was lost or if a password got stolen. Once the basic confidence is achieved, it is important to be aware of the big temptations of a depersonalized communication: that email can contain much sharper attacks than face-to-face, that social media can be used to evangelize and anonymously promote some agenda, or that the smartphone can be used to interact with friends as if it were a remote control.

What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life? (*However you interpret this.)

The exposure to the web has the most impact, IMHO, through the following affordances: asynchronous exchanges that foster reflectivity, the opportunity of serendipitous breadth, the practice of individual picking and unlimited depth, and encounters with resources and people of unprecedented diversity — in short: it fosters open minds. And digital tools are more than a new format for reading and writing. If you look beyond their being a new form of a typewriter and of a library card catalog, you will find truly new affordances, many of which simply enhance our capability of sorting and rearranging our thoughts — in short, they foster flexible minds. Focusing literacy too much on digitized reading and writing, by contrast, may mislead us to damn it, to waste attention, and to trust paper sources more than a general critical thinking would warrant.

Who are you? (context matters)

My name is Matthias Melcher, by training a mathematician, and while I am not a digital native, I would not call me a digital immigrant, either, but rather count myself to the pioneers. From 1981, I have worked in a university computer center and e-learning center, and now I am retired, and blogging and developing a think tool.



Stephen Downes: Embodied Critical Literacies

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy is a type of literacy, specifically, the type of literacy that arises in the digital context. By ‘the digital context’ we mean the multimedia and inter-networked context enabled by digital technology.

What’s significant is how it advances beyond traditional literacy, which is essentially the ability to read and write well. By ‘well’ in this context we mean rather more that rote ability, but rather, to be able to find meaning, to be able to evaluate critically, to be able to communicate with intent, and similar capacities.

In the digital world we look at these abilities as applying to more than just text. The initial result is that people have defined a whole set of literacies, such as visual literacy, mathematical literacy, social literacy, emotional literacy, or which digital literacy is only one type. But these literacies also challenge the idea that literacy is itself a semiotic concept, that is, it challenges the idea that literacy is (merely) about symbols, meanings and representation.

For my part, I think that ‘literacy’, understood in this wider context, applies to what we might call pre-symbolic, or sub-symbolic, concepts. That is, the normal ideas of meaning, representation and truth are one small part of of literacy, rather than definitive of it.

What I have done over the years is identify a set of six ‘critical literacies’ that capture pre-symbolic literacy. These are core skills that enable a person to be ‘literate’ in whatever domain – language, mathematics, video, whatever. These include pattern recognition, semantics, context-awareness, use or application, explanation and inference, and change.

So Digital Literacy, properly so called, would involve being able to apply these skills to digital media and digital technology – from being able to identify patters, rule-sets and principles, to being able to represent meaning, value and truth, to being able to understand and work with technological change, and the rest.

What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life? (*However you interpret this.)

The basis for the definition of critical literacies (and therefore, digital literacy) I outlined above comes from my understanding that I am essentially an embodied neural network that experiences and interacts with the world.

So in an important sense, there isn’t really a distinction between ‘what makes me literate’ and ‘who I am’. In another paper, I argue that “consciousness is experience”, and the literacies I describe are various aspects of my consciousness.

Developing myself both personally and professionally means engagement in environments that stimulate a wide range of experiences that will create and foster the development of my neural network (ie., the development of myself) with more refined and effective literacies – that is, making myself a better and more nuanced perceiver.

One might think of it as tuning my capacities to my environment, the way you might tune an instrument, so that it captures and expresses itself harmoniously with everything around it. So (for example) I can see patterns others don’t see, express myself in interesting ways, be able to predict events, etc. This allows me to assist others who do not have these particular capacities (because they have given themselves different experiences and different abilities).

Who are you? (context matters)

My name is Stephen Downes, I work as a researcher for the National Research Council of Canada, and I work in that area where philosophy, education, media and technology intersect with each other. I will be 60 years old this year, and have been fortunate enough to do this work for that last 25 years.

I grew up in a small town in eastern Ontario (which is where I now live), worked hard (as a dishwasher, janitor, 7-Eleven clerk, security guard, etc), studied philosophy (BA, MA, almost a PhD), taught college and university classes, taught myself computing technology, edited a newspaper, produced another, and have lived (to the best of my ability) an idealistic and progressive life.


CC By-NC-SA (but it doesn’t matter)

Tianhong Shi, Clint LaLonde, Geoffrey Gevalt, Janet Hauck : Snippets

A few folk replied with quick definitions or suggestions:

Tianhong Shi (@tianhongshi ) suggested “Literacy Is NOT Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age” by Crockett, Jukes, and Churches (2012).

Clint LaLonde (@edtechfactotum ) “I am partial to the phrase digital fluency vs digital literacy.”

Geoffory Gevalt (@ggevalt) “Digital literacy is the ability to express, in digital media and spaces, with respect, clarity, skill and imagination and to discern the difference between fiction and truth.”

Janet Hauck [SPU’s new business, govenerment, and economics librarian] emailed us a reflection “I find that I, as a librarian, tend to go right to the “literacy” aspect of digital literacy, and focus on making sure users are able to evaluate digital sources for appropriateness (read: “Authority is Constructed and Contextual”) while the non-librarians I’ve asked tend to focus more on the “digital” piece. To them, this means the ability to effectively use a wide variety of digital tools and platforms. “

Mark Brown: Meta-analyses of Digital Literacy

What is Digital Literacy?

In a quick tweet Mark Brown pointed us to a blog post he wrote about different conceptions of digital literacies and two other meta-analyses.

Critically Reading and Deconstructing Different Conceptions of Digital Literacies

A Global Framework to Measure Digital Literacy
By Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report, and Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Maria Spante, Sylvana Sofkova Hashemi, Mona Lundin, Anne Algers & Shuyan Wang (2018) Digital competence and digital literacy in higher education research: Systematic review of concept use, Cogent Education, 5:1, 1-21, DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2018.1519143 

Who are you?

“Professor Mark Brown is Ireland’s first Chair in Digital Learning and Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL).” Bio from Dublin City University

Chenjerai Kumanyika: Hip-Hop activist digital literacy pedagogy: Pittsburgh’s 1Hood Media Academy

What is Digital Literacy?

[Excerpted from the below article, sent in response to our email]

Dr. Kumanyika asserts that digital literacy involves “issues of social justice, representation, production, and surveillance.” Further, he says, “In a society that is increasingly mediated by media and digital technologies, there are variety of economic, social, psychological and political stakes that surround issues of representation, production, and critical consumption of information. These stakes are particularly high for historically marginalized groups such as African-American males. Typically, calls for curricula and regulation that promote the critical consumption of media texts are understood as issues of media literacy, but in order to design policy and education that is responsive to the problems and potentials of the expansive contemporary digital environment, scholars, educators, politicians, and activists should focus on the specific competencies embedded in definitions of digital literacy. Stephanie Couch, director of CA STEM network, defines digital literacy as a life-long process of capacity building where people are using technologies and networks to create, access, evaluate, and manage information that is required in a knowledge society or knowledge economy (californiacio, 2010).”

“The importance of digital literacy must be understood in the broader context of media representation. In 2011, the Topos Partnership released a review of social science literature from a variety of disciplines and methods exploring media representations of African-American males. The research covered in this review and other similar studies reveal a consistent pattern of overrepresentation of African-American as criminals, entertainers, and athletes. Entman & Rojecki (2001) find that in popular media, Blacks are overrepresented as perpetrators of violent crime. Simultaneously, African-American males tend to be underrepresented in roles such as computer users or technical experts in television commercials, instead tending to appear in roles that put less emphasis on physical performance (Kinnick, White, & Washington, 2001).”

“…comprehensive definitions of digital literacy involve not simply producing texts and speech on digital platforms, or uploading content, but also being able to negotiate the specificities of digital contexts such as Twitter, Instagram, or email, and being able to tailor speech appropriately and participate in those contexts (californiacio, 2010).”

Dr. Kumanyika shares about the impact that Pittsburgh’s  1Hood Media Academy’s Hip-Hop digital literacy curriculum has on issues of social justice.

”From a digital literacy perspective, the process of producing and distributing video (“I am Troy Davis (T.R.O.Y.)”accomplished more than simply relaying facts about the case. When considered within the aforementioned landscape of media coverage of African-American males, and the posthumous criminalizing of African-American shooting victims, the affective and factual appeal of the video did important “re-humanizing” work.”

Kumanyika, C., & Paradise, G. (2016). Hip-Hop activist digital literacy pedagogy: Pittsburgh’s 1Hood Media Academy. In R. Williams  & J. W. Frechette (Eds.), Media Education for a Digital Generation New York, NY: Routledge.

Debbie Schachter: Critical Engagement

What is digital literacy?

I translated this question as: What does digital literacy mean to me? When I first heard the term ‘digital literacy’ I thought of it as the skills related to using technology to be able to access, retrieve, and contribute to digital communications. As I thought about it further, the implications for a digital environment mean that we are explicitly extending traditional ‘literacy’ beyond the print communications of our history (as digital communication can incorporate text, still and moving images, and other non-verbal communications). With digital literacy, we are identifying the need to first decode digital information, in whatever form it takes, and then create responses or contributions to the information, in a digital environment. In an educational environment, what is critical today is helping students to understand the different types of platforms and locations of digital conversations; understand how to evaluate and critique the information they are accessing including its context; and to develop the abilities to contribute to the discussions, in which ever digital forms they may be.

What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual* life? (*However you interpret this.)

Digital literacy is a daily concern for me as the head of a University Library in a teaching university. Digital literacy is an important aspect of the information literacy teaching that librarians undertake to help develop students’ critical perspectives to information they seek for their research, and as citizens of the world. In my personal world, I find myself educating others by encouraging people to take more critical approaches to the information they are retrieving and sharing. I also encourage others to take responsibility to educate themselves on the platforms and the means by which digital information is being disseminated, and to contribute accordingly. As a Canadian, I feel that digital literacy is a responsibility of all citizens for ensuring that our democracies work effectively now and in the future.

Who are you? (context matters)

I am Debbie Schachter, the University Librarian of Capilano University in North Vancouver, Canada, where I lead a department of librarians and staff in a teaching-focused university. I am also completing my research on the teaching of critical information literacy within my province, within a Doctor of Education program at the University of Edinburgh.

Simon Thomson: Digital Literacy as a graduate attribute

What is Digital Literacy?

[This was a response on twitter that doesn’t quite fit the questions but offers an interesting perspective on defining digital literacy and embedding it into a university’s courses]

“I helped lead defining digital literacy at Leeds Beckett Uni – you can find [the report] here” EMBEDDING DIGITAL LITERACY AS A GRADUATE ATTRIBUTE AT LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY. (Centre for Learning and Teaching, November 2014 )

“Key points:

  • Digital literacy is defined as the confident and critical use of information and digital technologies to enhance academic, personal and professional development.
  • Digital literacy can be viewed as a varied set of capabilities that include information literacy, media literacy, communication and collaboration, along with digital scholarship, professional development planning skills, all of which are underpinned by digital technologies and computer literacy.” (page 1)

Leeds Beckett University – Digital literacy: definition

The confident and critical use of information and digital technologies to enhance academic, personal and professional development.
● Computer literacy: the ability to identify, adopt and use digital devices, applications and services in the fulfilment of activities and tasks whether study, employment or leisure related.
● Information literacy: the ability to find, access, evaluate, manipulate, re-use, synthesise and record information whilst understanding issues of authority, reliability, provenance, citation and relevance in digitised resources.
● Media literacy: including, for example, visual literacy, multimedia literacy: the ability to critically read and creatively produce professional communications in the most appropriate media.
● Communication and collaboration: the ability to develop and engage in digital networks appropriate to the needs of the participants and context, using a range of digital communications tools and showing awareness of identity and reputation management.
● Digital scholarship: the ability to participate in academic and professional practices that depend on digital systems, including the use of virtual learning environments, open access repositories, resource discovery tools and emergent technologies whilst demonstrating an awareness of the issues around content discovery, authority, reliability, provenance, licence restrictions, adaption and re purposing of sources.
● Academic practice: the ability to study and learn effectively in formal and informal technology-rich environments, including: use of digital tools to support critical thinking, academic writing, note taking, reference management, time and task management; being assessed and attending to feedback in digital/digitised formats; independent study using digital resources and learning materials.
● Professional development planning: the ability to make informed decisions and achieve goals, through the effective use of digital tools and media, which may include e-portfolios, professional online communication & collaboration tools and networking facilities, demonstrating an awareness of identity and reputation management.” (page 5).

Who are you?

Simon Thomson. @digisim

Director, Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool, UK.  Previously at Leeds Beckett University.