What is digital literacy?

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

That question popped into my inbox(es) today, from my former colleague John Robertson and his colleague Cindy, who are teaching a course called Digital Literacy and Life.   John and Cindy wrote:

As we’ve prepared for this course, we’ve been struck by the wide variety of definitions of digital literacy. It’s perhaps not surprising that there are different answers to this question and every answer we’ve found has limits and challenges. We want to try to introduce our students to the richness of the question, ask how this plays out in all of life, and help them work out their own definitions. . . .

Answer by email, Google form, link a blog post, a link to something else you’ve written, a video, a soundbite, or whatever you would like. We’ll create a post for each response. We hope to have responses by the first week of January but will post on the blog in small groups as we get them.

  • What is digital literacy?

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

  • Who are you? (context matters)

  • License – our intent is to post responses to this on a wordpress site for our course to explore. We’re asking for permission to publish or link to it there (with Copyright remaining yours). If this is something that y’all think would be of wider use we can looking into pulling this into a pressbooks site as some form of open text. If you want to give us text with an open license we’ll record that accordingly.

So here is my attempt to answer these not so simple questions.

1 – What is digital literacy.

I tend now to talk and think more in terms of digital capabilities, as I think it provides a more accurate description of all the “stuff” in my life intertwined with digital literacy.  The Jisc definition is my go to one:  “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society” 

2 – What impact does digital literacy have on your personal, professional, and spiritual life?

Well this is quite a broad and deep question, so I’ll probably only be able to come up with something narrow and superficial 🙂  For me I think the initial impact has been driven by my professional practice.  Working within an educational technology context, my interactions with technology have been professionally driven. That goes for my growing interest in digital literacy in general too.

I still see Information Literacy  as an overarching lens to think about digital literacy, and increasingly all the other digital stuff. (Shameless plug, this is explored more in a forthcoming book I’ve written with Keith Smyth and Bill Johnston).  I’ve always been more curious and concerned around why people want to use technology and for what purposes.  Just now it is more important than ever that people understanding the cost/benefits of using technology particularly in relation to use of data.

Of course over the past decade and probably more, digital stuff, in particular social media has become more infused with my non work life . The boundaries have been blurry around where “professional” Sheila exits and how much “real” Sheila is shared. I regularly reflect and blog about this blurry-ness and my evolving relationship with my online presence.  I feel quite lucky that I have to understand what my friends/family often refer to as “techy stuff”.  I am aware of the potential impact of what I put online and I also know where to find stuff and find out about stuff.

My own digital literacy and digital capabilities are constantly evolving.  I do get concerned when there are conversations around digital literacy training. To my mind that implies that you trained at a functional level to do something and then that’s it, the evolving literacy/capability is forgotten.  A key role for any educator is around criticality, and we need to ensure we are providing our students, staff opportunities to question the use of technology.  Technology is not a neutral. We should always be asking, who owns the technology, what are their drivers/political contexts (again something we explore in much more detail in the book).  The serendipity of twitter threw this on my timeline this morning and I think it encapsulates why digital literacy is so important.

I don’t know if there is a spiritual part to my life. I’m not religious, however I hope I have a sense of morality that allows me to respect everyone and everything on the planet.  However there are moments that I want to capture and share with, well anyone.  Mainly these are photos/images – a l cloud, a flower. some chalk marks on a wall . . .  These are moments of peace, joy, wonder and the odd WTF in the world around me.   I also know when to let go and I am comfortable being off line and don’t feel the need to try and keep up with everything. If something is important it will find me one way or another.

3 –  Who are you?

Now that is quite a big question!  But for the purpose of this blog, I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Digital Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University.  I am part of the Academic Development team so my work is primarily around staff development and support in academic development.



3 thoughts on “What is digital literacy?

  1. Hi Sheila, thank you again for contributing! the first set of contributions are up https://scholars.spu.edu/digitalliteracy/ .

    Two questions:
    1) do you think that there’s any aspect of digital literacy that is not easily addressed by information literacy?
    2) I’m not sure I’m going to capture this well but for the last section when you talk about sharing, how important is a response or known (if random) community? Is there a minimum viable community or do you think you would you publish to the ether? For example, I’ll happily blog purely for myself but have struggled to engage with Mastadon vs Twitter (even though Mastadon often seems to have richer conversations).

  2. Hi John

    Great to see this discussion and your patch work growing. I’ll try to answer your questions.

    1) This probably gets to the crux of what you are trying to do, and highlight the differences between information and digital literacy. For me they are very intertwined and I like the Jisc Digital Capabilities model for that reason. Again it’s all very contextual. At times you need more traditional information literacy skills and at times more digital ones. I think a growing difference currently is around ethics, data and knowing who owns/controls information channels you are using.

    2) Again a bit fuzzy. Like you I primarily blog for me but getting comments from my known community is really gratifying. I have failed entirely with Mastadon and I guess I am stuck in my own little social media twitter rut. Need to think more about this too.

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