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Rethinking Digital Literacies – Nathan Filbert, Assistant Professor and Instruction and Research Services Librarian

by Samuel Willis on 2018-01-25T16:22:10-06:00 in Information & Digital Literacy | 0 Comments

“The new computer codes may have made us illiterate again.”

- Vilem Flusser, Does Writing Have a Future? -

In a world quickly saturating with awareness of “fake news,” corporate and government surveillance, algorithm accidents, wirelessly “wired” homes and bodies, and the exponential growth of online-only information, access, data, and entertainment, the concept of digital literacy has become a worldwide priority and concern.  Governments, institutions, and personal experiences indicate that whatever can be digitized probably will be – from work to resources, learning to relationships to play.  In only a few decades, the digital has become our primary form of communication, principle access to information, and crucial form of access to employment, health, and social lives.

In other words, the human decision to “go digital” is changing us, and fast. 

I recently took part in a 4-week course entitled “Rethinking Digital Literacy” with educators, librarians, and professionals from all over the world.  You guessed it – it was “online-only”!  Reviewing national policies, institutional and educational initiatives, global security and privacy issues, and studies of human-computer interaction, we made considerable effort to comprehend what “literacy” means for a technologizing process that threads through all aspects of our lives.

Here are a few international statements:

  • “Digital literacy is the interest, attitude, and ability of individuals to use digital technology and communication tools appropriately to access, manage, integrate, analyze and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, and create and communicate with others” (British Columbia, Ministry of Education, 2017).
  • “Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, understand, evaluate, create and communicate digital information” (American Library Association, Digital Literacy Task Force, 2011).
  • “Digital literacy has become much more than the ability to handle computers – just like traditional literacy and numeracy, it comprises a set of basic skills which include the use and production of digital media, information processing and retrieval, participation in social networks for creation and sharing of knowledge, and a wide range of professional computing skills” (UNESCO, Digital Literacy in Education, 2011).

These hefty, encompassing and abbreviated descriptions indicate that when we talk about literacy in a digital world – we are really addressing a significant range of literacies!  Doug Belshaw, an international consultant on new literacies, in his fantastic continuing study entitled What is Digital Literacy? ( – suggests 8 Essential Elements comprising digital literacies

8 elements of digital literacies: Cultural, Cognitive, Constructive, Communicative, Confident, Creative, Critical, and Civic.

As with the British Columbia definition – Belshaw’s elements point out that developing digital literacies are not only about skills and abilities to use digital technologies, but involve a slew of attitudes and dispositions as well. 

  • Cultural: We need to pay attention to cultural context in which the media is produced or situated.
  • Cognitive: We need to think differently when using digital technology – computational thinking built on branching logic requires new habits of mind to use effectively.
  • Constructive: Utilizing digital resources makes copying or remixing incredibly easy – we need to know how and to what purposes content can be reused, remixed, and built upon.
  • Communicative: The collaborative aspect of networked technology means all of our actions are communicative throughout the system.  We need to understand the norms and assumptions of the networks we use in order to use them for meaningful purposes.
  • Confident: Given the nature of change, speed, and scale of digital technologies, it is crucial we are willing to fail, seek to solve problems, and manage our own learning.
  • Creative: Digital technologies offer us a multitude of ways to do new things in new ways that are able to add value to our lives and the world.
  • Critical: Information engaged through digital technologies can be restructured, hyperlinked, non-linear, visual, audial and more – we need to evaluate all forms of data as to their purposes, audience, credibility, accuracy, sources, and trustworthiness.
  • Civic: We need to understand that participating in networked digital technologies involves a care and responsibility to society and ourselves, and opportunities to self-organize and act in beneficial ways.

I find it useful to consider digital literacies as an ongoing and unending process of developing abilities and knowledge necessary for meaningful participation in digital cultures.  These would include:

  • Computer Literacy – understanding digital technologies (how they work and what they can do) as well as acquiring skills of operation (hardware, software, networks, programs, devices, etc). 
  • Systems Literacy – comprehending systems of access (programming and politics of networked protocols) and issues around privacy, security, attribution and fair use.
  • Media Literacy – interpreting design and influence of audio, visual, and interactive content presented in digital environments, and the inherent reproducibility and re-mix capacities of digital code.
  • Critical Literacy – evaluating messages, meanings, and ideological influences of information communicated through digital technologies.
  • Participatory Literacy – learning to appropriately utilize, communicate, and create effectively in cultural contexts mediated digitally.

However we conceive of them – the range of literacies necessary for us to safely and effectively participate in our increasingly digital world can be daunting!  Technologies change by the minute, and there looks to be no slowing down – how do we develop these literacies?

Your libraries and librarians are here to help!  WSU Libraries provide “Digital Literacy Workshops” every semester, and we are trained to help you use, evaluate and create with digital resources and technologies:

…and more!



Belshaw, D. A. J. (2012). What is “digital literacy”? A Pragmatic investigation. Durham University, Durham, UK. Retrieved from :

Digital Literacy Definition | ALA Connect. (2011). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from

Education, M. of. (n.d.). Digital Literacy - Province of British Columbia. Retrieved January 10, 2018, from

Flusser, V., & Poster, M. (2011). Does writing have a future? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

UNESCO IITE | E-library | Digital literacy in education. (2011). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from

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