Toward a Working Definition of Digital Literacy

Toward a Working Definition of Digital Literacy

Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell (Louisiana State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7659-4.ch010


Literacy is generally understood to be the combined abilities to read and write, speak and listen; however, the advancement of technology has broadened what it means to be literate to encompass the notion of digital literacy. This chapter is divided into four major sections. First, a comprehensive definition of digital literacy will be presented. Then, digital literacy within a socio-cultural framework will be briefly highlighted. Next, three prominent issues that have surfaced around digital literacy will be examined: the dissonance between digital natives and digital immigrants, how and why some forms of digital literacy enjoy acceptance and legitimacy, and attaining and not gaining access to digital literacy formats – the digital divide. The final section of this chapter is devoted to a discussion of implications of digital literacy in K-12 education, college, and career.
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Digital literacy (Alkali & Amichai-Hamburger, 2004; Bawden, 2008; Buckingham, 2006; Gilster, 1997) is a broad, umbrella term that pertains to the use of literacy skills defined as reading, writing, listening, speaking, composing, communicating, and interacting within digital environments. For example, accessing information and sending information via the internet such as viewing and posting YouTube videos or creating, sending, and receiving e-mails is digital literacy. As well, anime, manga, blogging, fandom blogging, texting, tweeting, designing memes, sharing headcannons, and other forms of creating ideas and communicating perspectives through social media platforms such as Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, and myriad others ways to share thoughts and opinions over the internet or in cyberspace, all qualify as digital literacy (Beach, 2012; Black, 2005; Booth, 2012; Martin & Madigan, 2006; Kist, Tollafield, & Dagistan, 2014; Rodesiler, 2015).

Also referred to as new literacies (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2007; 2008; Hagood (2009), Knobel & Lankshear, 2014; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006; Street, 1998), digital literacy implies both the technical ability and emotional skill level needed to generate thought and communicate in multiple formats within digital environments (Elshet-Alkalai, 2004; Landham, 1995). In particular, both the consumption and generation of text and the practices used to create and consume them, formally and informally, both outside and within school, broadly define new literacies. According to Hagood,

New literacies consist of several characteristics: (1) multimodalities, which include linguistic as well as visual, gestural, and auditory texts, (2) situated social practices, which are culturally, linguistically, and textually based, and (3) identities, which connect text users to text uses. (2009, p. 1)

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