Maha Bali: Digital Skills, Digital Literacies

What is digital literacy?

I think my best introductory post on this is this one clarifying differences between digital skills and digital literacies.  Lately I have been working on writing up an article (due soon and can share it once published) about empathetic approaches to digital literacy versus skeptical ones (the more dominant ones). This article on digital citizenship as Empathy and Social Justice gives you the basic direction I am coming from.

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

Digital literacy is essential to me. The most important part of digital literacies to me is to connect with people in deep ways… Particularly people I don’t meet. And this is on a personal level but also on a professional personal level. As in, I want to develop personal (affective) relationships with people I work with professionally online. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Am I good at this because I have digital literacies and I’m mindful of it… Or did I develop digital literacies out of my need/hunger for this continual learning and building of relationships? Spiritual is an interesting question. When I see people talk about digital detox as part of digital wellbeing it confuses me. The digital is what connects me to people and I don’t understand why I would want to detach myself from them. I was a child back in the day where I grew up far away from my grandparents and we could barely call them once a week because home phones could not make international calls. Right now, I have lots of friends and colleagues I meet face to face but I also have many friends and colleagues I met online whom i talk to regularly on Twitter, Slack, Zoom or hangouts. Why on earth would I want to become unreachable to them? It would be traumatic for me. And I know because I spent a few weeks without internet during 2011. Another spiritual dimension as a Muslim is that there is a lot of stuff about Islam online and the digital literacies to figure out which of it is credible and which not (whether on social media or websites) is as important as of course generally stuff on the internet. It is just trickier because many people view info about religion as authoritative and naively follow it without checking credibility of who is doing it and what their agenda is. But that problem honestly existed way before the internet. It’s just more distributed and wide-reaching with internet and viral social media

Who are you? (context matters)

I am an Egyptian who works as a faculty developer at the American University in Cairo and who also teaches. I wish you had asked this question befrre the other. I am a mom of a young child trying to live a full academic life without possibility of frequent travel. My digital literacy allows me to grow professionally in ways unprecedented before. I meet people on Twitter or via live video conversations. I co-author articles with people I have never met. My classes become open to the world and my students meet people from all over the world in my course. Most recently I co-created Equity Unbound, an equity-focused open connected online learning experience. There is not a single article defining digital literacies but my course is about digital literacies in an intercultural context. Equity Unbound tackles the elements of identity, empathy, bias and equity before we ever talk about Fake News, privacy, algorithms or digital wellbeing.

All my own text is CC-BY-NC. The articles have their own licenses.

2 thoughts on “Maha Bali: Digital Skills, Digital Literacies”

  1. Maha, I’m not sure of the best way to comment to you so I’ll post on here for reference and tweet you.
    In your article about empathy you mention building relationships over time rather than following # and how your engagement with events is shaped by those developed relationships. Have you developed or found particular ways to not be overwhelmed by the emotional impact of the # conversation and stayed rooted in the more specific relationships (and their specific emotional response)? With various # events I’ve often found myself disengaging rather than engaging with a particular network (who may get lost in the # noise).

    1. Hi there. I am almost always just focusing on the relationships and not the #. For example, the Florida Pulse incident, I focused on a gay friend who lived in Florida. Or Black Lives Matter, I focused on my African American friends. Sure, I see the # but its impact is more what impact it has on my friends. Otherwise, it’s just news and you don’t feel it as much…if that makes sense? Of course we should care and empathize even if we know no one involved. We should care about human beings everywhere who suffer. But it’s a very different engagement when it’s something personal rather than generic. For example, the Muslim ban in early Trump days angered me in general but in more specific ways for friends of mine whose families or careers suffered directly from this. When you have that insider perspective you see the problem differently than what you would assume on the surface. What we see on public Twitter is always surface. What we talk about in private with trusted others is another story altogether. But we wouldn’t know necessarily to reach out to our friends if we didn’t get the news, and not always from regular media sources… dunno if that is what you were asking? My engagement with hashtags is often to amplify but not interfere because the hashtag is often not about *me* so I want to amplify voices of those for whom the hashtag is made. If it raises my curiosity, I ask privately or ask friends, because my own experience sometimes is that strangers asking questions on public Twitter can be offensive. Happens to me occasionally that someone I don’t know at all asks a challenging question about, say, gender and Islam, and I’m like, you don’t even know me ,how do you expect to have a deep and respectful conversation on Twitter on this? It’s a social skill and digital literacy to recognize where to hold conversations and with whom and how to handle it sensitively and how to recover when you’ve offended someone unintentionally. And I guess another (sinister) digital literacy to learn how to do it in ways that intimidate or threaten others – which is why I advocate for an empathetic approach to digital literacies.

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