Digital literac(ies)

Work in progress here on exploring digital literacy (or more properly, literacies). The trip for me began with Howard Rheingold, his book Net Smart and the work he is doing teaching social media literacies at Stanford. I then came across the work of Doug Belshaw.

The following should be considered more as my notes than as any form of reflective analysis. Unless you consider what I pay attention to (or not) as constituting some judgement. In that case – well, good luck with that.

Belshaw’s dissertation and continuing work really goes much deeper into the meaning of “literacies” and contributes to the line of work (new to me) that treats the digital environment as requiring (?) a new set of literacies.

His Tedx talk (above) is not only entertaining but seems to provide a pretty approachable overview to his work. Two things struck me in my viewing. First, his emphasis on digital literacies (plural) upon which you should not presume some order. He notes that “they’re plural, they’re highly context dependent and they need to be socially negotiated” (emphasis mine). He repeats this thought in his talk to highlight the points.

The eight essential elements of digital literacies he proposes include (full discussion here):

  1. Cultural
  2. Cognitive
  3. Constructive
  4. Communicative
  5. Confident
  6. Creative
  7. Critical
  8. Civic

The second bit that struck me is his insight about developing or teaching digital literacies. Rather than try and start with some linear progression of skills (my paraphrasing) start by focusing on a person’s interests. Use those interests to motivate their development of digital literacies. Digitial literacies need to be developed all at once in context, he argues, and he provides a great analogy of what this looks like in his talk (about 12:40) by using the example of progressive vs. sequential downloading of a picture. In sequential downloads, you get detailed view of some small part before finally the picture all comes together. In progressive downloads you get a fuzzy full-picture first, then you get progressively more detail. Interest, passion, practice (as in “I am a practitioner”), context – all are themes that resonate with me.

I’ve started to scan through his dissertation wiki; all a great starting point for anyone (like me) who easily slides down a rabbit hole of interest. Again; take these as notes. But interesting to me is his working definition of digital literacies (emerging from his deeper look at literacy in general and digital/tech literacy in particular):

Literacies involve the mastery of simple cognitive and practical skills. To be ‘literate’ is only meaningful within a social context and involves having access to the cultural, economic and political structures of a society. In addition to providing the means and skills to deal with written texts, literacies bring about a transformation in human thinking capacities. This intellectual empowerment happens as a result of new cognitive tools (e.g. writing) or technical instruments (e.g. digital technologies).” – (From Bellshaw 2011, Chapt. 4)

I am sure I’ll be going back down the rabbit hole again soon. He’s tapped into my interest.

3 thoughts on “Digital literac(ies)

  1. Hi Jeff, glad I’ve piqued your interest! Do let me know if there’s anything I can help you with – would love to have your thoughts on this area. 🙂


    1. Appreciate the comment, Doug. This is definitely an area of interest for me in my instructional role (Master’s program student in learning and organizational change). Both developing the students’ literacy as well as awareness of the literacies as a frame for understanding digital/social activity.

      Great work. Still working through your dissertation – but it’s a tremendous resource for people like me.

      Best – Jeff


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