Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy

Heidi Julien (The University at Buffalo, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch207

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Digital literacy, from a pragmatic point of view, is the set of skills, knowledge and attitudes required to access digital information effectively, efficiently, and ethically. It includes knowing how to evaluate digital information, and how to use it in decision-making. This definition is a useful one, but it is one among many. Jaeger, Bertot, Thompson, Katz, and DeCoster (2009), for example, suggest that “digital literacy encompasses the skills and abilities necessary for access once the technology is available, including a necessary understanding of the language and component hardware and software required to successfully navigate the technology” (p. 3). For Jaeger and colleagues, digital literacy expands notions of the digital divide (a continuing challenge, even in wealthy nations), to add the ability to use technology, in addition to having access to it. They note that “digital literacy” came into its own in the 1990s, and they give credit to Gilster (1997) for moving the concept beyond the lists of information-handling skills articulated by national library associations in various countries, and for emphasizing information understanding and use. For Jaeger et al. (2009), “information literacy” is a subset of digital literacy.

Another perspective is that information literacy is the broader concept, since “information” need not be digital in format. The concept of information literacy has usually emphasized the contextual nature of information seeking, as well as the importance of information quality (Koltay, 2011). For some (e.g., Hobbs, 2010), information creation is an important aspect of digital literacy; that additional aspect relates digital literacy to the term “media literacy” which is also a commonly used term. There is no doubt that conceptual confusion is evident in this area, in which ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) literacy, computer literacy, computational literacy, technological literacy, information literacy, information fluency, digital literacy, transliteracy, and media literacy overlap in their meanings, and are employed differently by different authors and agencies. As noted above, related concepts include literacy (basic reading and writing) and visual literacy, in addition to metaliteracy (a reframing of information literacy that emphasizes participatory online environments (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011)). Bawden (2008) focuses on competencies, suggesting that digital literacy consists of competency in Internet searching, hypertext navigation, knowledge assembly, and content evaluation. Koltay (2011) believes that these competencies include notions of critical thinking (a traditional conceptual foundation of information literacy), knowledge assembly (collecting quality information), as well as publishing and communicating information. A broad definition of digital literacy is offered by Martin (2006, p. 19):

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Literacy: The set of skills, knowledge and attitudes required to access, create, use, and evaluate digital information effectively, efficiently, and ethically.

Digital Divide: Inequalities between people with access to digital technologies and those without such access. Access may include access to hardware, software, Internet connections, and possessing the skill set needed to make use of these technologies.

Digital Native: A person who has interacted with digital technology for most of his or her life.

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