What is this thing called Digital Literacy?

So you say, what is this idiot on about I thought this blog was supposed to be about digital literacy. And there lies the rub, what you mean by digital literacy is something quite different from what I mean and probably what everyone else means. We have no really solid handle on this phrase, digital literacy. I wonder sometimes if it is a literacy – isn’t it more of a culture? Certainly we need to be literate and numerate in whatever culture we live in. If we are not literate and numerate we are partially blocked off from our culture but people can still talk to us and draw pictures to help inform us. If we are outside the culture however, we are totally blocked off from society.

Cut off

Cut off

We cannot engage in anyway with society, we are completely disenfranchised. In a very few years if people are not “digitally literate” this is the sort of situation they will find themselves in.

If we call this concept Digital Culturization will anyone be less confused – I think not. If anything people might feel even more confused – at least people have a feeling for what literacy is. What does matter is what happens to the man in the street if we don’t do something about Digital Literacy.

Being digitally literate is not just about being able to use Information Technology (IT) or a particular programme really well. It is about feeling comfortable communicating in many different ways using digital technologies. Using a range of different communication devices/methods should not cause any disruption to our eqilibrium just as moving from walking to running to sitting down doesn’t (generally) cause us any problems.

The question we should be asking is, how do we ensure no one is left behind?

2 responses to “What is this thing called Digital Literacy?

  1. “Being digitally literate is not just about being able to use Information Technology (IT) or a particular programme really well. It is about feeling comfortable communicating in many different ways using digital technologies.”
    err – these amount to the same thing. But its mostly about an ability to deal with new stuff through a problem solving attitude which is essential in science and critical in the arts.

  2. timjohnson

    Hi Mike, thanks for the comment. Yes I totally agree with you that the ability to solve problems and think critically are very important. It is especially important if you are an academic, in a “Profession” or in business/commerce.

    I also know there are a lot of computer scientists and IT folk who agree with your first statement. Some go even go further and say digital literacy is just about using computers, and if we just made everyone in the Britain do the ECDL that would be Digital Literacy covered.

    Only a minority of people go to university but everyone has to learn to cope with digital technologies and the way they affects their lives. If people are to continue to engage with the rest of society – such as being able to vote they will have to be digitally literate. In 2009 it was established that there were 7.5 million people in Britain who had never used the Internet (DfCMS and DfBIS 2009) – these people are now actively disadvantaged from both a financial and an information point of view.

    I think may be you missed the word, “just” in my post. IT skills and ICT skills are a part of Digital Literacy. However, you can have people who are very skilled with IT and ICT but who remain digitally illiterate. Equally, just because you are digitally literate does not mean you are capable of becoming a computer programmer.

    I can give you a some examples of definitions of Digital Literacy – such as the following definition from the Digital Literacies Research Briefing by the Technology Enhanced Learning phase of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme states that Digital Literacy is:

    “… the constantly changing practices through which people make traceable meanings using digital technologies.”

    Gillen and Barton (2010 p9)

    the E-Inclusion Initiative definition is;

    “Digital literacy involves the confident and critical use of Information Society Technology (IST) for work, leisure and communication. It is underpinned by basic skills in ICT: the use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the Internet.”

    Danish Technology Institute, European
    Commission E-Inclusion Initiatives 2008

    and this definition is from The eLearning Programme of the European Commission.

    “Digital Literacy is the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse 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 upon this process.”
    DigEuLit Project 2006

    I think the one I like best is from Davies and Merchant (2009), they consider Digital Literacy to be,

    “a set of social practices that are interwoven with contemporary ways of being” p83

    Digital Literacy is about being able to live and work in a world that is rapidly moving from an industrial to a digital conceptual basis.

    Gillen J and Barton D (2010) Digital Literacies: A Research Briefing by the Technology Enhanced Learning phase of the Learning and Teaching Research Programme, London Knowledge Lab, London

    Danish Technology Institute (2008) What is Digital Literacy? European Commission E-Inclusion,
    Accessed 2010.03.06

    DigEuLit Project (2006) Progress Report,
    Accessed 2010.03.14

    Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (2009a) About Digital Britain, http://interactive.bis.gov.uk/digitalbritain/about-digital-britain/
    Accessed 2010.03.14

    Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2009a) Digital Britain Final Report, The Stationary Office, Norwich. Cm 7650

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