What is digital literacy?
Digital literacy is an important part of information literacy because so much of the information available now is from digital media. The Center for Digital Media in California describes digital media as a combination of technology and content. Today, digital media play significant roles in our everyday lives. Here are just some of the fields that are now being influenced by digital media:
- Academic research
- Online education
- Online games
- News & entertainment media
- Public information
- Political debate and activism
Digital literacy skills begin with learning to operate technological devices, but more importantly, they focus on intelligently analyzing, using, and creating information that is contained or accessed from various digital resources.
Digital resources are sources of information that are available in electronic or digital format. Basically any information stored on the Internet or stored in an electronic device is considered a digital resource. Below are some types of digital resources:
1. Multimedia Resources
These are digital resources that use more than one medium. The most common multimedia resources are those that combine audio and video like YouTube videos, livestreams, and web series.
2. Interactive Resources
Interactive resources are those that allow users to manipulate their content. They are considered more sophisticated digital resources because they are “reader-centered”—they enable the reader to interact with their material. According to Epigeum, an online education website acquired by the Oxford University Press, interactive resources “change following a response from the user.” One good example is virtual reality, which responds to the movement of the reader/user. Virtual reality also has features like search, index, and annotate that allow the user to personalize their experience as they navigate through the information.
3. Emerging Technology
Emerging technology simply refers to the latest advancements in technology which impact media and society. Digital resources are sure to change, develop, or be replaced at an astonishing pace, and digital literacy requires you to have the necessary skills to keep up. In “Information Literacy as a Liberal Art,” Jeremy J. Shapiro and Shelley K. Hughes define emerging technology literacy as “the ability to continuously adapt to, understand, evaluate, and make use of the continually emerging innovations in information technology so as not to be a prisoner of prior tools and resources, and to make intelligent decisions about the adoption of new ones.” Some of the most recent emerging technologies include autonomous cars, nanosensors, and optogenetics.
The Importance of Digital Literacy
According to Barbara Combes of the Curtin University of Technology, Australia, digital literacy has three competencies: use, understand, and create.
Use refers to one’s competency in operating software, digital devices, and navigating the Internet.
This is the basic competency most young people may already have. After all, the youth of today are also referred to as “digital natives” because they grew up in a world where everything is digital. Digital natives like you are proven to be better than your elders at adapting to ever-changing technologies like instant messaging, social networking, video streaming, and online publishing. The digital literacy skills you must focus on learning are the Understand and Create competencies.
Understand is the all-important set of digital literacy skills referred to as survival skills in digital environments. These are the thinking skills that allow you to “comprehend, contextualize, and critically evaluate digital media so you can make informed decisions about what you do and encounter online.” Through education and guidance, you will not remain “amateur users” of information and communications technology (ICT). According to Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, understanding how technology works, how copyright works, and how identity works in cyberspace are very important in the digital world.
Some aspects of digital literacy that need to be considered are socio- emotional literacy and branching literacy.
According to Yoram Eshlat-Alkalai of the Tel Hai Academic College in Israel, a smart and safe user of digital media possesses socio-emotional literacy skills. These are complex skills that require critical and analytical thinking, as well as some level of maturity in order to navigate through the social and emotional aspects of cyberspace. Understanding helps you avoid traps (e.g. trolling, cyberbullying, fake news, catfish or fake identities), while reaping the benefits of digital communication.
Another important aspect of digital literacy is branching literacy, which Eshlat-Alkalai describes as the ability to reap the benefits of hypermedia or the abundance of information from various resources. By accessing and using information, you can make intelligent connections among different, even seemingly unrelated resources. For example, a digital literate person may come up with a very helpful, personalized itinerary for a trip by accessing various resources about the place’s weather, history, culture, as well as consulting consumer reviews, travel blogs, news sites, and even basic online language tutorials.
Understand also serves as the foundation to becoming an intelligent and responsible contributor to the learning community, enabling you with skills in “finding, evaluating, and effectively using information to communicate, collaborate, and solve problems.”
Create refers to the social utility of digital literacy. If you can understand information, you must know how to use technology to share information. This competency involves judging how to produce content to suit various contexts and audiences, always with an aim to positively contribute to the community. “Creation—whether through blogs, tweets, or any of the hundreds of avenues for expression and sharing online—is at the heart of citizenship and innovation.”
Mediasmarts.com, Canada’s Center for Digital and Media Literacy, sees this competency as an extension of being media literate. As you are taught to become “critically engaged consumers of media,” so should you have the sense of responsibility and ethical behavior when creating content. This is why you are being taught good journalistic practices and the importance of information in a democracy, for example. These, and other ethical practices you are about to learn in detail, will enable you to participate in a digital world in a wise, safe, and responsible manner.
To participate in digital media is to participate in a networked world. When you access or upload content on the Internet, you connect with people from all over the world in ways no previous generation of humans has ever experienced before. Suddenly, we are no longer confined to a citizenship limited to where we were born or where we live. Digital citizenship gives us access to a new kind of global connectedness. This connectedness has tremendous benefits for all of us if we connect with one another as digital citizens who:
- Promote understanding across different types of people (pluralism and diversity)
- Pursue truth and knowledge
- Build a peaceful world through positive online interactions
But just like the real world, our digital world is far from perfect. Although the digital world has widened people’s horizons, it also gave rise to new forms of dangers and challenges. Hence, rules are put in place and basic etiquette must be applied when dealing with non-physical neighbors.
Digital citizenship is not exclusive to people who have access to the wealth of information and knowledge on the Internet. “Digital divide,” which refers to a world that is divided between those who have and don’t have access to the Internet, is an urgent concern that digital citizens must address. As responsible digital citizens, you must help promote everyone’s right to Internet access, recognizing the infinite potential of technology.
Digital citizenship is based on character education. Here are some of its basic concepts:
- Everything boils down to good character.
- Treat others the way we want others to treat us.
- Use technology to build relationships, not create divisions.
- Use technology to pursue truth in information, not to deceive.
In relation to civic values, here are some of the principles that digital citizens must follow:
- Knowing one’s rights and responsibilities
- Civic participation, informed political debate and activism
- Sense of belonging and membership
- Multi-cultural sensitivity
- And norms of behavior and etiquette
As students of media and information literacy, you must learn how to combine all the different literacies that you have learned in the first two modules of this subject and keep them in mind every time you use media and technology to communicate with, interact with, and share information with other people.