Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy

Anirban Ray (UNC Wilmington, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch193


The essay provides a comprehensive overview of digital literacy, looking at the theoretical and ideological construct of the term from functional and critical perspectives. Digital literacy as a heterogeneous concept, its scope and application is claimed by diverse stakeholder disciplines such as education, communication studies, English, media studies, library information studies and computing. The essay underlines the complementary notions of digital literacy couched in both “conceptual” as well as “standardized operational” definitions (Lankshear & Knobel 2008) and sheds light on the shifting implications of global digital literacy. From this perspective, it scans the global landscape to understand the diffusion of digital literacy and to show how the concept is tackled within a disparate contexts of use. The essay also highlights contemporary issues associated with the spread of digital literacy, including challenges of cross-cultural digital literacy and digital divide.
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In 1981 The Washington Post first pioneered the concept that demanded “special skills” to use and manage computers (Warschauer 111) and invented the term “computer literacy.” Later, extension of the term “literacy” included “information literacy,” “digital literacy,” and “media literacy” to broaden the idea of skills. Paul Gilster (1997) in his pioneering book, Digital Literacy, popularized digital literacy as a shorthand for understanding and using information in multiple formats “from a wide range of sources presented via computers” (p.33). He operationalized and extended the term throughout the book, postulating that “digital literacy is about mastering ideas, not keystrokes” (p.1)—a call to attention between a “special kind of mindset or thinking” and “limited technical skills” (Bawden, 2008, p.19) premised on tasks and performances on the other. According to Gilster, digital literacy is about developing a critical approach toward using digital sources and forming awareness about our “expanded ability” (p.31) to connect with people and information using these sources. Over the years, digital literacy has addressed the split through skill and knowledge perspectives. Evidently, the skill construct affirms the neutrality thesis of technologies in which technologies are understood as means or instruments that need to be learned; conversely, the knowledge model ascertains technologies as more complex systems, not free of social, cultural, and political biases.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Reproduction Literacy: Abilities to recreate and repurpose existing digital contents including text, sound, images, graphics, and videos into a new format using digital production capabilities.

Hyperliteracy: A systematic process of finding, linking, and retrieving information by developing both critical and functional knowledge of the non-sequential structure of the Web. The primary focus is on understanding the structure of the Web as providing freedom of organizing information by means of linking of ideas in a nonlinear way.

Information Literacy: A set of competencies associated with identifying the need for information, locating appropriate information, evaluating information, and utilizing information to participate effectively in cultural and social contexts. Recognized as a lifelong process of self-directed learning, information literacy underlies the role of informed citizenship through a proper understanding and use of digital technologies for fulfilling academic, professional, and personal goals.

Digital Native: A post-millennial term describing individuals who are part of the digital age from birth.

Digital Divide: Disparities among individuals, generations, societies, and cultures resulting from unequal access to and use of computer and Internet technologies and digital infrastructures. Besides suggesting a physical quantity of presence or absence of technologies within a context, the divide implies a difference in quality of use of digital technologies within the same context.

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