Course:ETEC540/2012WT1/Orality and Literacy/Characteristics of Digital Literacy

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Characteristics of Digital Literacy



Literacy at one point in time suggested “the ability to read and write”. Lanham expands on this previous notion to include “the ability to understand information however presented” (as cited in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008, p. 2)[1]. Another definition of what it now means to be literate comes from Kress - “taking meaning and making meaning from many sources of information, from many different sign-systems, will become the new common sense.”[2]

Computer-Mediated Communication

Traditionally, there have been five forms of computer-mediated communication:

  1. one-to-one dialogue with an identified interlocutor (e.g., electronic mail)[3]
  2. one-to-many dialogue with identified interlocutors (e.g., listservs or bulletin boards)[3]
  3. postings to the Internet (“finished” pieces made available for public consumption, e.g. Suite 101 articles)[3]
  4. joint composition (texts written in collaborative spaces, e.g. GoogleDocs, Wikipedia)[3]
  5. anonymous dialogue (real-time chat discussion, often within a fictional context in which interlocutors communicate under assumed identities).”[3]

Even though text messaging and instant messaging are not explicitly considered within these forms,[3] they are open enough to facilitate the inclusion of new manifestations of communication.

It is acknowledged that their "speed, convenience, and asynchronicity were the most appealing features of the medium" (as cited by Schaefermeyer and Sewell, 1988, in [3], p. 10).

"Increasing reliance on digital modes of communication and the linguistic shifts that such reliance promotes might eventuallay result in "print culture sans print" or even "print sans print culture" (as cited by Baron, 2005a, pp. 28,29 in [3], p. 11).

Digital Immigrant

As opposed to digital natives, this term is used to depict people who were born before the digital age and so learned to use the related technologies like the computer and Internet at some time later in life. While many individuals in this group may have adopted such technologies on an everyday basis, there are others who find it more difficult since they had learned and are more accustomed to utilizing alternative methods.

Digital Native

This term coined by Mark Prensky refers to individuals who were born in the age of digital technology such as the computers and the Internet. As such, people who fall into this category tend to have a greater understanding of its concepts and higher skill level in their use because they started using them at an early age and grew up learning with them. Digital natives were born into an environment saturated by technology, where the digital world interacts rather seamlessly with the ‘real’ world. Consequently as learners, digital natives are a generation of virtual learners who are accustomed to seeking and building knowledge in a technology-enhanced environment[4]

Digital Divide

Access to digital technology may vary from developed and developing countries and even within the people in the same country which may empower some people to engage in public life in comparison to others who do not have access to the same technology. Hence, "discrepancies in who had access to this technology became strikingly apparent" [3], p. 11.

A divide also exists, though some experts claim it is narrowing or,in some instances, even reversing itself[3], p. 12 in terms of gender equality in the realm of technology. With males being reported to have demonstrated a more fervent initial adoption of the computer and then the internet which ultimately led "to a shaping of the medium around their interest"[3], p. 12.

New Literacy Studies

"The 'screen' mat be becoming dominant" and the "visual mode may be coming to have priority over the written,"[3], p. 15. The importance being placed on the visual in our contemporary culture is undeniable. It has even penetrated traditional means of writing in the sense of emoticons. The page is rapidly being replaced by the screen.


This term refers to people coming together to share in the categorizing and indexing of online materials in order to aid in exchanging and managing information. ( i.e. social bookmarking ) [3]

Hypertext and Hypermedia

Hypertext as defined by Nelson in 1960 (as cited in Bolter, 2011, p. 34) is a system for interconnecting documents [5]. Hypertext and hypermedia form the foundation for how we interact with the World Wide Web (WWW). At the time of the WWW’s inception, text was the dominant media. However, as our technology progressed in terms of connectivity and in our web browsers, different types of media were introduced. The terminology used to describe content on the web gradually changed from Hypertext to Hypermedia (Bolter, 2011)[5]. Hypertext and hypermedia allow for the cross-referencing of a variety of different types of media (text, audio, video, and interactives).


Hypermedia is “is interactive, nonlinear, multimedia, and fluid”. Hypermedia does not always have a hierarchical structure. Instead, the material is organised by topic through relational links.[3] Considered to change the distinction between the writer and the reader. It is said to change education as it changes how students interact with teachers, other students, and provides access to new materials.[3]

Split Condition - digital text exists in a "split condition": when considering texts generated for arts and entertainment (especially narratives). At each end, there is avant-garde forms, like hypertext fiction, and narrative game worlds. The former challenges "conventional literary structures and often place a high processing demand on readers, resulting in limited appeal for the genre beyond circles of intellectual elite with an interest in the deconstruction of conventional aesthetic forms." The latter "holds wide appeal for popular culture audiences." There is little in between that appeals to audiences who read for pleasure.[3]


Described as the ability to narrow the focus and customize the information based on user preference (Kalantzis, Cope, & Harvey, 2003)[6]. A valuable component for remixing; pointcasting gives viewers the ability to become active receivers of information.


A focus on “modes of representation much broader than language alone” [7]. The idea that “mere literacy” can no longer negotiate the diversified and globalized contexts in which we live is a fact that has opened the door to integrated modes of meaning-making that include textual, visual, audio, spatial, behavioural etc. [7]. Another understanding of the term multiliteracies refers to the multiple Englishes, languages, and communication patterns that are part and parcel of a diverse society.

The term multiliteracies was coined by the New London Group as they wanted to highlight related aspects of the increasing complexity of texts such as the proliferation of multimodal ways of making meaning where the written word is increasingly part and parcel of visual, audio, and spatial patterns and the increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity characterized by local diversity and global connectedness [8]

The term multiliteracies is required because the way that people communicate has changed due to the many new technologies that have been created.

Semiotic systems and orders of discourse

Digital literacy includes understanding the use of semiotic systems like those of film, photography and gesture. It also includes the “order of discourse”, which is a sort of structured mix of semiotic systems. For example, the combination of language and visuals one would use to present the news on TV is an order of discourse.[7]

Picture Writing and the ICONIC

The ongoing negotiation of the visual image and the text means the properties of the image and text tend to blur and overlap. Icons blend properties of image and text and, as Bolter (2011) describes, become "energy units that focus the operative power of the machine into visible and manipulative symbols" (p.62). Oscillation becomes "a characteristic of reading in the late age of print" (p. 63).

Word Processing

Word processing is creating a written document through the use of a word processor. A word processor is a tool used to compose, edit, format, and print ones writing. What appears on the computer screen is a direct reflection of the letters that have been pressed on the keyboard. All this is done through the use of a computer, on which the word processor functions. Although it uses a computer it is not considered electronic writing because it does not employ hypertext. Rather, it is a transitional tool between print and true electronic writing.[3]



Digital information can be stored in multiple locations, it can be accessed from home, on a mobile device, at any time of day. Information is no longer bound inside the confines of a book nor buried in the archives of a library. Digital information can also be stored in multiple formats, easily translated, reworked, edited and saved, a process that may have taken a long time before digitalization.

Collaborative knowledge

Software, such as, chat platforms, and other discussion platforms, has provided the opportunity for individuals to collaborate and share with one another their knowledge, in effect increasing knowledge throughout, and rendering the accessibility of this knowledge instantaneous.[3] Collaboration also shows itself in the 'cognitive surplus' that Shirky (2010) talks about - mass collaboration projects like wikipedia, wikicommons, the linux operating system, and international development projects and news tracking, etc.


Computer-mediated communications are interactive, promoting dialogue and collaborations. They encourage relationship with people and connections among ideas. Due to the immediacy of this medium communication becomes less formal, creates new forms of short hand and changes how individuals interact with each other. According to Dobson and Willinsky, digital literacy also seems to increase literate participation and interactivity. [3]

Social Networking Spaces

The New London Group (1996) [7] suggests that we need to embed opportunities in student learning through access to new work spaces so they may develop advanced skills and modern language. Social networking is now available through computers, IPADS, smartphones and even on gaming consoles. These tools enable participants to communicate on a specific platform while evaluating responses and practicing current skills. A digitally literate person can gain much from intersecting conversations of social media tools and can narrow conversations to target audiences; communication literacy.

Increase in Speed and Quantity of Information

We are no longer bound by how much information is available at the local or university library. Users are now able to access articles and materials from anywhere in the world at the click of a mouse. Users are much more aware of what others are working on which facilitates better information gathering.[3]


Digital literacy capitalizes on and combines multiple modes of meaning such as visual, audio, spatial, gestural, and linguistic. The ability to navigate multimodal objects is grounded in cultural and linguistic diversity. These can become barriers to learning if they are not addressed in the educational environment.[7]Multimodal communication involves not only the delivery of a message, but an understanding that audiences may interpret a different message than that which was intended.

Literacy Pedagogy Renewal

With the event of new technologies, the demands in the working life has changed and it is now important to provide all students the skills they need in order to access successfully the worklife. It is the educators responsability to consider all implications it may means and ensure to fulfill the needs by renewing literacy pedagogy. "The emphases on innovation and creativity may fit well with a pedagogy that views language and other modes of representation as dynamic and constantly being remade by meaning-makers in changing and varied contexts" [7], p. 67.


Creation of a Digital Divide

There are four divides: gender, geographical, economic, and language.


The gender divide arose as a result of men embracing technology faster than women, and as a result, technology has been designed based on men's interests and not those of women. Computing was traditionally seen as a technical and mathematical activity that fit with the traditional gender socialization of boys that "favors boys learning the ways of control, heirarchy, and distance."[9] Hence, the dominant ideology of computer culture is not only cluttered with male-associated stereotypes, but it also "privileges the structured, heirarchical planners' style" which boys (more so than girls) had been socialized to adopt.[9]


A geographical divide exists as users in the developed world have better access to technology than users in the developing world. Rural users have also been disadvantaged compared to urban users, with rural areas generally having slower Internet access, and receiving high speed service at a later date.


An economic divide exists when some have more access as a result of having more money and resources to technology. Social exclusion as a result of low digital literacy has become a "barrier to social integration and personal development".[10] The excluded, in developing countries, are largely elderly, poor, unemployed and undereducated. The highly skilled are rewarded with good jobs, while those with low skills are left behind. This has contributed to income inequality in Western countries.[11]


Lastly, a language divide exists as English has surfaced as the most prevalent language, e.g. ASCII was developed using North American English only.[3]

Digital record resources still in development

Even that there are active initiatives looking to maintain digital archives like (i.e., it is still not possible to warrant 100% its permanence and later retrieval. [12] The systematic development and increased usership of the internet has allowed for digitization projects to develop over time[13]

Information Overload

Digital media is unstructured, this along with the limitless amount of information available implies that any student who struggles with attention, organization or a lack of structure may not benefit, and could shut down due to overstimulation and content overload. It has been shown that "user disorientation may increase in highly associative networks, particularly for novices in the content area" [3](p. 7).

Student and Teacher Literacy Divide

There are important distinctions between today’s digital native students and their traditional teachers. These instructors may follow traditional classrooms models that tend to encourage and reward knowledge that is individually stored. They understand traditional writing that follows linear conventional forms of paragraphs and is packaged as books, articles, stories, and novels that were authored as a solitary act [4]. Conversely, today’s students are regularly exposed to collaborative multimodal texts where the author presents themselves to the world. As writers today’s students use multimedia, online social networks, and routine multitasking to interact with the world [4]. Consequently, traditional teachers may fail to appreciate the skills and demonstrations of knowledge contained in today’s student’s literacy because it does not align well with traditional literature.

Digital Literacy Skills

Information Literacy

People must be able to know how to access information and then know how to use the information gathered. Navigating through the vast amounts of resources becomes a challenge and a skill worth learning.[3] Using the new collaboratively derived methods for organizing and accessing information using tagging, feeds, and social media sites like delicious become critical skills.

Collaborative Tools

People need to learn the proper skills and etiquette for using social media ( i.e weblogs, wikis, podcasting) in order to make it possible to collaborate and contribute information. [3]

Photo-Visual Literacy

Reading, interpreting, and negotiating information to comprehend material presented in visual and/or graphic form. Visual literacy represents the need for images to be read in addition to text. [14]

Synchronic Learning

Identified as a unique type of photo-visual learning, by which the learner receives synchronized text, audio, and video via interactive multimedia.[14]

Reproduction Literacy

Using digital tools to remix, edit and combine information into new forms.[14]

Branching Literacy

The ability to navigate hypertext and create spatial mental models.[14]

Associative Linking

Dobson and Willinsky (2009) state that associative linking enables a user to demonstrate connections between documents. Documents can now contain related concepts, adding glossaries, or including instructional components through hypertextual links.[3]

Social-Emotional Literacy

Being able to portray social and emotional presence in online communication and collaboration.[14]

Just-in-Time Literacy

Based upon James Paul Gee's (2008)[15] gaming theories, a way of reading and writing where the tools needed can be picked up during the activity, through concurrent Web searches and instructional videos, rather than learning an extensive set of skills beforehand.

Current Examples

( Storyjumper]: a place for students to create and publish their own narratives online. Sharing stories can be shared through emails or even published on hard cover.

( Storybird): much like Storyjumper, Storybird allows students to create and publish they own narratives by selecting from a bank of beautiful illustrations.

( Zooburst is a digital storytelling site that allows students and teachers to create 3D pop up books online. Images are available on the site and users can upload images as well.

( Comic Master allows students to design and create short graphic novels, selecting characters, props, backgrounds, dialogue, and captions.

( Make Beliefs Comix offers more choice in characters, backgrounds and captions than Comic Master, but users are limited to creating a smaller comic strip rather than a multi-page graphic novel. Educational resources, digital write-ables (writing prompts), lesson plans, and free printables are available on this site as well.


  1. Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). Introduction: digital literacies: concepts, policies and practices. In Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices (pp. 1–16). New York: Peter Lang Pub Incorporated.
  2. Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 22(1), 5–22. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2004.12.004
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 Dobson T, and Willinsky J. Digital Literacy
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Mabrito, M. & Medley, R. (2008) Why Professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts. Innovate. Vol. 4(6).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bolter, J. D. (2011). Hypertext and the remediation of print. In Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print (2nd ed., pp. 27–46). New York, NY: Routledge.
  6. Kalantzis, M., Cope, B., & Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing multiliteracies and the new basics. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 10(1), 15–26. doi:10.1080/09695940301692
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.
  8. The Multiliteracy Project. Retrieved from
  9. 9.0 9.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Turkle
  10. Digital Agenda for Europe. (n.d.) Pillar VI: enhancing digital literacy, skills, & inclusion. Retrieved from Digital Agenda for Europe website
  11. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named OECD
  12. O'Donnell, J. & Engell, J. (1999). "From papyrus to cyberspace" [radio broadcasts]. Cambridge Forum.
  13. Dobson and Willinsky (2009)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Eshet-Alkalai, Y. (2004). Digital literacy: A conceptual framework for survival skills in the digital era.Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 13(1),93–106. Retrieved from
  15. Gee, J. P. (2008). Learning and games. In The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. Cambridge: MIT Press. 21-40.

[1] [2]

  1. OECD. (2011). Divided we stand: why inequality keeps rising. Retrieved from
  2. Turkle, S. & Papert, S. (1990). Epistemological pluralism: styles and voices within computer culture. Signs, 16 (1), 128-157.