Digital Literacy Concepts and Definitions: Implications for Educational Assessment and Practice

Digital Literacy Concepts and Definitions: Implications for Educational Assessment and Practice

Patricia Boechler, Karon Dragon, Ewa Wasniewski
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/ijdldc.2014100101
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This article presents a scan of the concept of “digital literacy” and discusses issues encountered in the literature, including: a) challenges in the research base for conceptualizing digital literacy, b) the multiplicity of frameworks which attempt to situate digital literacy but lack sound theoretical origins, and c) wide disagreement among stakeholder disciplines, including education, media studies, library information studies and computing/ICT studies as to what specific skills or knowledge should fall under the umbrella term of digital literacy. The review focuses on the field of education and briefly examines the inconsistent local, national, and international curriculum standards used to both instruct and assess students. It concludes with a presentation of a brief assessment tool, the Software Recognition Test, which preliminary research suggests has predictive validity for educational use and could, with further development, be used for low stakes assessment of digital literacy for K-12 or post-secondary settings.
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2. The Evolution Of Digital Literacy Terminology

Although the definitions of digital literacy share some common elements, at present, there is no overall consensus on the skill sets or knowledge base that might fully characterize the overall scope of digital literacy. The term and concepts related to digital literacy have emerged from prior conceptualizations and terms such as computer literacy, information literacy, and network literacy. Currently, the term digital literacy is being applied to, e-literacy, digital competency and multimodal literacy which all describe different aspects of fluency within reading and navigation of digital materials (Beetham, 2010). Figure 1 below presents a chronological depiction of the evolution of terms and definitions intended to capture the essence of learners’ capacities to interact with diverse technologies in a variety of contexts. This is followed by a more detailed description of each term.

Figure 1.

Evolution of digital literacy terminology


2.1. Computer Literacy

According to Childers (2003), the first article on computer literacy was published in the late 1970’s with the use of the term peaking in the mid 1980’s, followed by a steady decline until the late 1990’s. Computer literacy was traditionally defined as the ability to use tools to manipulate data and write small codes (Leahy & Dolan, 2010). Koehler and Mishra, (2009) shifted, “…beyond traditional notions of computer literacy to require that persons understand information technology broadly enough to apply it productively at work and in their everyday lives, to recognize when information technology can assist or impede the achievement of goals, and continually adapt to changes in information technology” (p. 64). The ongoing changes in information technology make defining the skills and knowledge in computer literacy a moving target. Simonson, Maurer, Montag-Torardi and Whitaker [30] defined computer literacy as ‘an understanding of computer characteristics, capabilities and application, as well as an ability to implement this knowledge in the skillful and productive use of computer application’”(Ferrari, Punie & Redecker, 2012, p. 81). When computers were less common in everyday life, computer literacy was defined as being able to write computer programs. This definition now has moved away from specific computer skills and towards a more general understanding of being able to use computer applications to solve everyday problems (Barthomew, 2004).

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