Course:ETEC540/2011WT1/Orality and Literacy/Characteristics of Digital Literacy

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Quick Links: Characteristics of Orality :: Characteristics of Literacy :: Characteristics of Digital Literacy

Characteristics of Digital Literacy

Reading and Writing

  • Reading is multimodal
  • Reading as design - defined as "taking meaning and making meaning from many sources of information, from many different sign-systems." (Kress, 2005, p. 17)
  • Readers "design" a complex understanding, based on current needs, that connects to the material presented on the page or screen. (Kress, 2005, p. 17)
  • Reading is a "process of gathering up signs while moving over the writing surface" while taking the reader "on a journey through symbolic space." (Bolter, 2001, p. 100)
  • reading and writing is designed using new media where the mode used is the most appropriate "for the purposes of representation and communication". (Kress, 2005 p. 19)
  • "To develop appropriate models for describing the process of reading complex print or digital narratives, it is necessary to examine how people engage these texts and to revise our perspectives of narrative structure, literary reading processes, and methods of teaching literature. This is work that remains to be done." (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009)
  • Digital literacy is malleable
  • Digital literacy constitutes an entirely new medium for reading and writing, it is but a further extension of what writing first made of language (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009)

• There are revealing changes in vocabulary....from write(and read) to design; from reader to visitor, from page and/or text to message. (Kress, 2005, p. 11)

  • Digital literacy carries with it the potential for a far wider, more global access to knowledge. (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009)

• words are (relatively empty entities- in a semiotic account they are signifiers to be filled with meaning rather than signs full of meaning. (Kress, 2005, p. 7)

  • "Unlike words, depictions are full of meaning." (Kress, 2005, p. 11)

• The traditional page had one entry point....Here, on the webpage, the presence of thirteen entry points speaks of a very different principle....visitors will come to this page from quite different cultural and social spaces, in differing ways and with differing interests, not necessarily known to or knowable by the maker(s) of the page....there is no no clearly discernible reading path. (Kress, 2005, p. 9)

  • Digital texts have yet to reach audiences in the “middle of the spectrum,” which she defines as the “educated public” who read for pleasure but who nevertheless pursue challenging literary fiction and nonfiction (Ryan, 2005).
  • It is now clear that in respect to the range of genres – from tabloids to scholarly treatises – the digital realm is similar to print, and is similarly engaged in all of the craft and care that has long gone into the production of knowledge (Johns, 1989)
  • As Marilyn Cochran-Smith (1991) notes in her review of the literature on word processing in education, which goes back to 1982, this form of digital literacy became a natural ally of the process-writing model, with its emphasis on student creativity,

consultation, revisions and sharing, and its emulation of how real writers write (Daiute, 1985; Edelsky, 1984).

  • Reading requires one to go beyond the text and activate prior knowledge
  • Comprehension will not take place unless the reader is able to link the new content with what was previously known
  • All writing entails method, the intention of the writer to arrange verbal ideas in a space for later examination by the reader. (Bolter, 2001, p. 16)
  • Electronic writing not the writing of a place, but rather a writing with places as spatially realized topics." (Bolter, 2009, p.36)
  • [I]n this new semiotic world, it is the readers who fashion their own knowledge, from information supplied by the makers of the site." (Kress, 2005 p. 5)
  • Digital literacy is superimposed on an electronic binary string of ones and zeros which is hidden from the reader of the viewable text (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009).
  • Research showed that the ability of students to readily see and comment on each others’ work led to improvements in the quality of writing (Bruce, Michaels, and Watson-Gegeo, 1985).
  • The “electronic writing”–by which Bolter is referring to writing intended to be read on computers involving various forms of hypertext, with more on this below–has certainly become a daily part of what is read and written (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009)

Global Reach

  • digital literacy affords greater access to knowledge as well as the ability to speak out and make one's views widely available (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, p.1).
  • digital literacy carries with it the potential for a far wider, more global access to knowledge (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, p.1).
  • digital literacy helps facilitate global, intercultural exchange which leads to the convergence of people and languages in online communities (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, p.15).
  • encompasses the concept of multiliteracies based on increased global connectedness and diversity of culture and linguistics (New London Group, 1996, p. 64)
  • As a new medium of expression with global participation, the essence of digital literacy needs to be studied to determine how it furthers or impedes educational, democratic, creative and literary ends. (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009)
  • "A strong sense of citizenship seems to be giving way to local fragmentation, and communities are breaking into ever more diverse and subculturally defined groupings." (New London Group, 1996, p. 61)


  • "The “electronic writing”–by which Bolter is referring to writing intended to be read on computers involving various forms of hypertext, with more on this below–has certainly become a daily part of what is read and written." (Dobson and Willinsky, 2009, p.3)
  • Hypertext is “the dynamic interconnection of a set of symbolic elements” (Bolter, 2001, p.38).
  • Hypertext is the “remediation of print” ( (Bolter, 2001, p.42).
  • links can be circular, associative and hierarchal (Bolter 2001, p. 28)
  • Hypermedia is interactive, nonlinear, multimedia, and fluid (McKenna, Labbo& Kieffer, 1998)
  • As stated by Vannevar Bush, hypertext was "a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of knowledge." (Bolter, 2001, p. 35)
  • Hypertext is a process as much as a product (Michael Joyce quoted by Bolter 2001, p.44)
  • Hypermedia mimics the associative processes of the [author's] mind. ( Delany & Gilbert, 1991)
  • “Dillon (1996) has pointed out that these notions are seriously flawed: first, there is no definitive evidence supporting the hypothesis that facilitating associative thinking might improve comprehension; second, even if we were to concede this premise, it does not follow that a given hypertext mimics or facilitates associative thinking for anyone save the author of that hypertext.” (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, p.7) Literacy.pdf
  • At first, word processing did not challenge Gelb's definition of writing as "markings on objects or any solid material", as it was seen as a method for producing documents on paper. Hypermedia has posed a more serious challenge, as it is not amenable to being replicated in print or on any solid surface (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, p.5).
  • Electronic writing. . . is not the writing of a place, but rather a writing with places as spatially realized topics” (Bolter, 2001p. 36).
  • Hayles (2003)observes, electronic text exists as a “distributed phenomenon,” particularly in a network environment, but even when it resides on a stand-alone machine.
  • Digital literacy, therefore, assumes visual literacy and entails both the ability to comprehend what is represented and the ability to comprehend the internal logics and encoding schemes of that representation (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, p. 16).
  • The author defines relationships between pages and texts by linking one thing to another using hypertext. (Bolter, 2001, p.35)


  • George Landow proposes that hypermedia revolutionizes education by freeing students from teacher-centred classrooms, promoting critical thinking,empowering students, easing the development and dissemination of instructional materials, facilitating interdisciplinary work and collaboration, breaking down arbitrary and elitist textual barriers by making all text worthy and immediately accessible, and introducing students to new forms of academic writing (Landow 1997, as cited by Dobson & Willinksy, 2009, p. 5).
  • Hypermedia encourages readers to apply knowledge in a more flexible manner (Dobson & Willinksy, 2009, p. 7).
  • Hypermedia extends in significant ways our notions of textuality and literacy (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009, p.5).
  • Hypermedia is best suited to tasks involving "substantial amounts of large document manipulation, searching through large texts for specific details and comparison of visual details among objects" (Dillon and Gabbard, 1998, p.331).
  • "...verbal text and image interpenetrate to such a degree that the writer and reader can no longer always know where the pictorial space ends and the verbal space begins" (Bolter, 2001, p. 66).

Digitally Literate

  • means "the ability to understand information, however presented” (Richard A. Lanham, as cited by Dobson & WIllinksy, 2009, p. 18).
  • someone who is digitally literate knows how to contribute to and organize information on the internet (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009)
  • digital literacy "assumes visual literacy" ie the ability to understand graphs, pictures and turn the information into graphs (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009).
  • digital literacy includes both the ability to comprehend what is represented and the "internal logical and encoding schemes of that representation". (Dobson & WIllinksy, 2009, p. 16).
  • Digital literacy incorporates locating, decoding and evaluating texts, as well as finding relationships between them. (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009)
  • That person should also be competent with digital devices and demonstrate the know-how to use their applications for various purposes.
  • Such an individual should be able to analyze, synthesize and think critically when using digital devices and applications
  • meaning making and communication means being "well-versed in different semiotic modes - visual, textual and verbal". (Dobson & WIllinksy, 2009, p. 15).
  • puts literacy in a socio-cultural context and considers literacy as a social practice rather than competence in specific skill-sets. (Dobson & WIllinksy, 2009).
  • e-literature does not have a mainstream audience (Ryan, 2005).
  • "Our students today are all "native speakers" of the digital language of computers video games and the Internet." (Prensky, 2001, p.1).
  • Digital natives are "virtual learners - learners accustomed to seeking and building knowledge in a technology-enhanced environment" (Mabrito and Medley, 2008).
  • Digital natives "interact with the world through multimedia, on-line social networking and routine multitasking" (Mabrito and Medley, 2008)
  • "...our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language." (Prensky, 2001, p.2).


  • extend traditional notion of literacy pedagogy restricted to formalized, monolingual and monocultural forms of language to new literacy pedagogy including negotiating a multiplicity of discourses (New London Group, 1996, pp. 1-2).
  • One of the key ideas informing the notion of multiliteracies is the increasing complexity and inter-relationship of different modes of meaning. (New London Group, 1996)

In pursuing multiliteracy, people are provided "access to the evolving language of work, power, and community," thereby enabling their "critical engagement [which is] necessary ... to design their social futures and achieve success through fulfilling employment" (New London Group, 1996,p. 1).

  • two main aspects of multiplicity of discourses are: 1. literacy pedagogy should be put into context of culturally and linguistically diverse and globalized societies reflected in the plurality of texts, 2. literacy pedagogy must account for the growing variey of text forms developed by new information and multimedia technologies. (New London Group, 1996, p. 2)
  • a pedagogy of multiliteracies will emphasize representational modes other than language alone. (New London Group, 1996)
  • multiliteracy includes information literacy, or the ability to evaluate and navigate through the data flow, collaborative knowledge-building, applications of folksonomy as well as utilization of social literacy tools. (Dobson & Willinksy, 2009, pp 19-21).
  • digital literacy can be considered as multiliteracy. Someone who is digitally literate can move around various digital media and tools, "reading" and understanding what they see, hear, read and create.
  • Multiliteracies encourage diverse viewpoints, learning styles, and approaches to knowledge, rather than requiring assimilation (New London Group, 1996).
  • Multiliteracy in gaming has resulted in a generation who are not content to be spectators. They want to be actors not audiences, agents rather than voyeurs and characters in narratives. They want to be engaged (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009, p. 172).
  • In a pedagogy of multiliteracies, all forms of representation should be regarded as dynamic processes processes rather than processes or reproduction (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009, p. 175).
  • Digital texts may be composed and edited collaboratively and are usually multimodal in that they integrate words, graphics, sound and video (Mabrito and Medley, 2008).


Cope B. & Kalantis M. (2009). "Multiliteracies:New Literacies, New Learning", Pedagogies:An International Journal(4), 164-165.

Dillon, A., & Gabbard, R. (1998). Hypermedia as an educational technology: A review of the quantitative research literature on learner comphrehension, control and style. Review of Educational Research, 68, 322-349.

Dobson, T. M.,& Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital literacy. Draft chapter for the Cambridge Handbook on Literacy.

Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition. p. 5–22.

Mabrito, M., and R. Medley. 2008. Why Professor Johnny can't read: Understanding the Net Generation's texts. Innovate, 4 (6). Retrieved from

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved from

Prensky, M. (2001). "Digital natives, digital immigrants". On the Horizon 9 (5). Retrieved online from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf