The components of digital literacy

My notes on Eshet, Y. (2004). Digital literacy: A conceptual framework for survival skills in the digital era. Journal of educational multimedia and hypermedia, 13(1), 93-106.

There is widespread agreement that the ubiquity of digital technology presents a whole range of challenges to the people living within these newly digital environments, but there is little agreement about what competencies are involved in meeting those challenges. The term ‘digital literacy’ has often been used as a blanket term to cover a range of competencies (technical, cognitive, psychological, sociological) but this ambiguity about which it refers to has created problems. Eshet-Alkalai is seeking to address this problem, as described on pg 94:

Development of a more clear-cut conceptual framework may improve the understanding of the skills encompassed by the term “digital literacy,” and provide designers of digital environments with more precise guidelines for effective planning of learner-oriented digital work environments

His new conceptual framework incorporates five types of literacy which “encompass most of the cognitive skills applied when using digital environments” (pg 94). It’s interesting to note the studies he references that suggest young people show higher photo-visual literacy and branching literacy than adults but adults show higher reproduction literacy and information literacy.

– Photo-visual literacy: whereas writing became more abstract with time in its transition from visual symbols to abstract letters, the opposite trajectory is true with digital technology as text-based interfaces have led to increasingly sophisticated graphical user interfaces which rely on visual language which is familiar and resonant with the user. Photo-visual literacy is what is necessary to “‘read’ intuitively and freely, and to understand the instructions and messages represented visually” (pg 95). It’s a responsiveness to visual cues for practical action and a capacity to form associations on this basis. In its most pronounced form this is a synchronic literacy, in which different modalities contribute simultaneously to the understanding of a multimedia text
– Reproduction literacy: reproduction became possible in a meaningful way with the invention of the printing press, as opposed to simple manual copying or oral reproduction. This went through its next revolution with digitalisation, leading to “new and unlimited possibilities for reproducing and distributing digital information have opened new horizons for scholars and artists, but they have also required the development of a new set of criteria for originality, creativity, and talent in art or academic work” (pg 97). This literacy involves “the ability to create a meaningful, authentic, and creative work or interpretation, by integrating existing independent pieces of information” (pg 98).
– Branching literacy: the replacement of the scroll with the codex book changed how information could be processed, facilitating navigating to particular points in the text rather than being confined to reading it through row-by-row as in a scroll. It made non-linear reading possible for the first time. Digital media offers a radicalisation of this process, providing users ” with a high degree of freedom in navigating through different domains of knowledge, but also presents them with problems arising from the need to construct knowledge from large quantities of independent pieces of information, reached in a nonlinear, “unordered” manner” (pg 99). It should be stressed this is a function of a particular digital environment, as opposed the technology itself. Early computing imposed a linearity on information retrieval (e.g. absence of hypertext, insularity of databases, paucity of metadata) which seems remarkable in the contemporary digital environment. Branching literacy is the skill at retaining orientation when navigating a complex information environment in a multidimensional way.
– Information literacy: even if the challenge of evaluating information isn’t unique to digital technology, the quantity of information which individuals have to evaluative is. As he puts it, “the unlimited exposure to digital information, which can be published easily and manipulated without difficulty, the ability to evaluate and assess information properly has become a ‘survival skill’ for scholars and information consumers” (pg 101). This involves assessing the credibility, originality and presentational integrity of information encountered online. Information literacy encompasses the cognitive skills used to evaluate information and their efficacy at filtering the torrents of information online for that which is biased, untrustworthy or erroneous.
– Socio-emotional literacy: the capacities for communication and collaboration opened up by digital media also present all manner of challenges about managing interactions through these new means. As he puts it, “Socially-literate users of the cyberspace know how to avoid “traps” as well as derive benefits from the advantages of digital communication” who he suggests are those “who are willing to share data and knowledge with others, capable of information evaluation and abstract thinking, and able to collaboratively construct knowledge” (pg 102).

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