Education Week - November 9, 2016 - 5
Digital Literacy: Forging
Agreement on a Definition
> By Liana Heitin
What is digital literacy?
hile the word "literacy" alone generally refers to reading and writing
skills, when you tack on the word
"digital" before it, the term encompasses much, much more.
Sure, reading and writing are still very much at the
heart of digital literacy. But given the new and everchanging ways we use technology to receive and communicate information, digital literacy also encompasses a broader range of skills-everything from
reading on a Kindle to gauging the validity of a website
or creating and sharing YouTube videos.
The term is so broad that some experts even stay
away from it, preferring to speak more specifically
about particular skills at the intersection of technology and literacy.
The American Library Association's digital-literacy
task force offers this definition: "Digital literacy is the
ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate
information, requiring both cognitive and technical
More simply, Hiller Spires, a professor of literacy and
technology at North Carolina State University, views
digital literacy as having three buckets: 1) finding and
consuming digital content; 2) creating digital content;
and 3) communicating or sharing it.
The added skills needed for this kind of reading take
just a few minutes to teach.
In comparison, what Leu calls "online reading," in
which a digital text is read through the internet, requires a host of additional skills. For instance, a New
York Times piece viewed on the web may contain
hyperlinks, videos, audio clips, images, interactive
graphics, share buttons, or a comments section-features that force the reader to stop and make decisions
rather than simply reading from top to bottom.
"The text is designed so that no two readers experience it in the exact same way," said Troy Hicks, a professor of literacy and technology at Central Michigan
The reader determines, among other things, when to
click on videos or hyperlinks, how long to stray from
the initial text, and whether and how to pass the information along to others.
The process of finding digital content to read also
necessitates different skills than finding print texts. In
seeking print materials, students might flip through
Finding and Consuming
In some formats, "consuming" digital content looks
pretty much the same as reading print. Reading a novel
on a basic e-reader requires knowing how to turn the
device on and flip pages back and forth, but other than
that, it isn't so different from reading a book. A PDF of
a New York Times article looks a lot like the page of a
print newspaper, except that it appears on a screen.
Donald Leu, an education professor at the University
of Connecticut and a recognized authority on literacy
and technology, describes this sort of digital reading
as "offline reading."
"It's not interactive, ... there's one screen, and you
just have to read it," he explained. "It's the same as
reading a [paper] page."
The Changing Face of Literacy / www.edweek.org/go/changing-literacy
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