Defining Digital Literacy



okay I think I think we're going to begin thank you for coming to this session entitled digital literacy and libraries designing what's coming next my name is Renee Hobbs I'm the founding director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island and a professor of communication I'm delighted to welcome you to this session where we talk a little bit about defining digital literacy and we have on the panel of the panel today some distinguished participants who will help guide our inquiry and of course we're counting on your participation at this event as well I'm very delighted to be here as part of my work as a 2012 Oh ITP fellow working with the digital literacy task force and I'm so grateful to Larry Clark and marika Visser for inviting me to join you today before we turn it over to the panel and engage in a conversation about the emerging definitions of digital literacy I wanted to set the stage a little bit and give us something to provoke our conversation there's a lot of stakeholders in the concept of digital literacy the technology business government at the state and local level in the world of education both in k-12 and in higher education as well as stakeholders in the activist community a library community and the creative community everyone it seems has a reason to want all citizens in the United States and around the world to be capable confident users and creators using a full range of digital media tools and technologies so keeping in mind those diverse stakeholders is going to be a really important part of our conversation today as we think about what the concept of digital literacy means within these communities and across these communities because right now we're engaged in a conversation that's beginning to gain some momentum in part because so many different stakeholders are coming to recognize how vital and important these competencies really are but it's important to put the concept of digital literacy in some historical context and we can't really proceed with defining digital literacy until we understand where this phrase came from and why it has the traction that it has of course it starts with this term literacy which 3,000 years ago meant being an effective public speaker being able to use the rhetorical tools of persuasion to stir audiences and move them to action so literacy in its most fundamental sense is the sharing of meaning through language and then well the Gutenberg revolution happened and the concept of literacy got redefined to include reading and writing by the 20th century those brave and bold educators up in Rochester New York were among the first to start using the term visual literacy and my word they a group of radicals as they were exploring how to use the radical new technology of the portable camera because images were now more and more easy for us ordinary people to create ourselves and easier to distribute as a result of printing technologies and so visual literacy educators started talking about how important it was to be able to learn how to look and understand and how images communicate and carry meaning in the complex ways that they do then came your community librarians and you had another new illiteracy back in the 1970s when you had a brand new way cool technology that was reshaping the nature of literacy that technology was powerful and unfamiliar to most of us and so we needed new competencies and skills to be able to manage it what was that new technology of the 1970s that gave librarians the impetus to invent the concept of information literacy it was the database whoa because the database requires new kinds of skills and competencies new kinds of strategies for searching finding and evaluating information then in the 80s came the media literacy educators media literacy educators started to gain some traction after the cable revolution brought us 500 channels and nothing to watch as we started to realize that messages were being distributed to us within a political and economic context that meant that some kinds of TV shows were plentiful and others were scarce and hard to find then in the 90s rose the computer literacy folks these were the folks who recognized that when you have a microprocessor at your desktop you needed a set of skills to be able to use that tool but if you didn't know file management and weren't sure exactly where you are saving things to that if you weren't sure of the difference between hardware and software you are going to be at a profound disadvantage in using that powerful tool and so computer educators came together to think about the competencies required to master this communications technology also in the 90s we saw the rise of critical literacy the educators who were helping us understand how embedded in the exchange of ideas the exchange of information and ideas to share meaning we're fundamental power relationships power relationships that maintain the status quo or provide opportunities to transform the world and that be a effective reader and writer when needed to be able to understood understand how power is embodied in messages and how inequalities may get reproduced through the way messages flow in a culture recently we've seen the rise of a group of educators who identify with the news literacy concept as we've seen a fundamental sort of rethinking of what journalism is now that it might not be that paper copy of the New York Times thinking about how readers and users of information need a set of skills to be able to decide what to believe in when it comes to news and current events and that brings us to digital literacy and to tell you the truth what it means well that's why we're here it's an emerging concept and so in some senses it's a contested idea and in a way it's an idea that's built on this long legacy this expansion of the concept of literacy so in order to provoke the panelists into discussion and to engage your curiosity as well I thought I would could uh I don't know what's that called put a stake in the ground and say Renee thinks digital literacy is this and see what you think of it what why don't you agree with or what you disagree with right what parts of this definition you you like or what's omitted and that'll be the subject of our discussion today all right let's begin well let's take it on the authority of the digital literacy task force raise your hand if you're a member of this group have been involved in this conversation look around thank you thank you thank you thank you well you guys said I think it was last year right you guys said digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find evaluate create and communicate information requiring both cognitive and technical skills that's okay doesn't get me very far as a person who tries to work at the grassroots level to do things so let's bring it down down to where we live in our work as academic librarians school librarians public librarians and special librarians and let's think about the concept of digital era see broadly to include those other stakeholders who care about this topic creative people technology businesses government activists let's think about them as well I'm going to argue that there are four definitions of digital literacy that revolve around clusters of competencies use and share create and collaborate analyze and evaluate and apply ethical judgment let's talk about the first one tool use and access skills we're definitely aware how keyboard and mouse skills and hardware storage and file management practices and understanding hyperlinking and digital space are important fundamental competencies to being able to use the tools at all we also know that it's important to gain competence with software applications and use social media mobile peripheral and cloud computing tools and to do any of that you have to have access to broadband we think part of tool use and access skill includes being able to identify your information needs and use effective search and find strategies and more metacognitive than that is the ability to troubleshoot and problem-solve when things go wrong and to engage in that cycle that we're all on right now the continuing lifelong learning how to learn that is a fundamental practice to participating in a digital media culture today but let's not leave this last set of ideas out of this this quadrant of digital literacy if you don't have listening skills the Khan Academy videos are going to do you no good at all and if you don't have reading comprehension skills you're not going to be able to do very much at all when it comes to accessing information so fundamentally this cluster of digital literacy competencies is about using the tools and being able to access information ideas and resources let's talk about the second quadrant the quadrant I'm calling authorship and creative competencies by this I mean all of the ways in which digital technology is making us writers in every sense of that word at the fundamental level that's recognizing the need for communication and self-expression and we know that right now in the new digital divide we have folks who recognize the importance of communication and Express expression and step fully into that sphere and other folks who really don't feel so comfortable expressing and communicating in online context and prefer just to read the web instead of write it then there's a whole cluster of creative competencies at the heart of multimedia composition identifying your purpose your target audience your medium and your genre being able to brainstorm and generate ideas compose creatively not just that cut and paste stuff but compose creatively to work collaboratively to edit and revise to use appropriate distribution promotion and marketing channels and to receive audience feedback this is the fundamental process of creating or composing and I used to call it production but I don't anymore why production sounds so cookbook ish so mechanical when in fact this is a creative authorship competence and we have to understand it at its root as that kind of creativity what's exciting is now the concept of authorship and creative competencies are being expanded to include the ability to play and interact to comment to curate and to remix so the concept of authorship is undergoing this expansion itself as we think about what it means to make messages that's partly why you're here it's so exciting to be able to create in this way in these ways in these many ways let's talk about the third quadrant that I've identified which I call understanding issues of representation of course even the words I choose reflect my disciplinary background in communication and that those concepts that that phrasing might be different in different disciplines and fields but here's what I mean by it at the fundamental level it's something new librarians know well and we in order to understand how symbols work in a society you have to understand the relationship between the symbol and the thing the symbol stands for you have to recognize right that all of the knowledge products that we create our representations of something something else but then to do that job of analyzing and evaluating means identifying the author the genre and the purpose and the point of view of a message compare and contrast sources evaluate credibility and quality and understand one's own biases and worldview we're starting to come to understand just how powerfully we seek information to confirm what we already believe and we disregard information the challenges are contradicts our beliefs so a more metacognitive and reflective physician understanding our own biases and worldview is an essential part of being digitally literate more abstractly is understanding how information flows in culture recognizing power relationships that shape how information and ideas circulate in our society understanding the economic context of information and entertainment production and examining the political and social ramifications of inequalities in information flows to truly analyze and evaluate the digital culture that we live in we need to reflect on those the ways in which power is represented through information flows in our culture and finally the quadrant I call online social responsibility and digital citizenship not sure which of those I like so I put them both in all right maybe there's a better term all together add some at some level I see this quadrant as acknowledging the power of communication to either maintain the status quo or change the world the idea that communication matters and that it has consequences at the personal level at the interpersonal level in the neighborhood level in the at the national and international level is at the heart of understanding why digital literacy matters to so many stakeholders but for sure this quadrant wants to help people understand how differences in values and life experience shape people's media use and their message interpretation that this part of digital literacy wants us to appreciate the risks and the potential harms of digital media and to apply ethical judgment and social responsibility to online communication situations and finally to understand how concepts of private and public are being reshaped by digital media and to appreciate and respect legal rights and responsibilities like copyright intellectual freedom and the list could go on and on so there in a nutshell is a definition of digital literacy you can see why we have a lot to talk about what a gigantic elephant of a definition so we're here to talk a little bit about what digital literacy means in the context and situations we work in and for

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