Ed Tech, Reading and Literacy

Digital Literacy: What does it mean to you?

Digital Literacy: What does it mean to you?

Originally published in TEACH Magazine, March/April 2012 Issue

As part of TEACH Magazine’s Digital Literacy Initiative, we asked our readers, What Does Digital Literacy mean to you? Readers wrote in and explained how being digitally literate impacts them as educators, librarians, administrators, or principals.

At one end of the spectrum digital literacy means basic comfort and competence in using computers, smart phones, electronic tablets, and other web-accessible devices. Toward the other end it means what some call information literacy, the ability to judge the quality of information one receives through electronic means. If literacy is getting meaning from print, then digital literacy is getting basic meaning from what you read — or have read out loud to you – through the use of a digital electronic device. It is also, at the higher end of the spectrum, sorting out wheat from chaff, using the higher order thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

For me digital literacy involves reading widely, keeping informed, knowing when and how to be critical and when to embrace new information, new ideas. It also means how to approach new technologies – hardware and software – skeptically, fearlessly, and with enthusiasm. It means being limber in how one thinks, agile in using technology, expecting as normal seismic shifts in new information and communication tools.

Digital literacy is also fun. Unlike print literacy, we expect through digital literacy to be offered visual and sound embellishments of text. Digital magazines should be beautiful to see and hear. They should be interactive, with opportunities for talking and writing about what we read with others.

Digital literacy opens a door to digital learning. We are seeing the dawn of online courses, digital chautauquas and online study circles. We are also seeing the early stages of using digital technologies to learn anywhere, anytime, and as fast or slowly as one wants, with more easily accessible and better learning resources.

David J. Rosen, Ed.D. is President of Newsome Associates in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. His interests include integrating technology in the adult education classroom, using technology for learning outside the classroom, and education and employment for out-of-school youth. He is an implementation advisor for the Learner Web, a major national adult learner support initiative.

Every time there is a buzzword in the education world, we look for definitions. Internet search engines show a neat set of no more than 30 words describing terms such as digital literacy in no less than 20 different ways. The basic definition of literacy remains the same: the ability to read and write. But to be literate in any given field is the ability to comprehend and to be well versed in it. I shall define digital literacy by sharing the different contexts it exists within the world of education. I write as an educator, a graduate student, and a job applicant.


As an educator, I have applied digital literacy skills in my secondary school science classrooms. I have used instructional media like iClickers and SMART boards for interactive activities and virtual laboratories. I have also used grade management software like MarkBook to deduce and analyze trends for individual students and whole classes. Online instructional tools such as Wikis empower digitally smart educators to collaboratively design and deliver resources to nurture young minds.

For students to be digitally literate, they not only need to learn how to use technology, but to be critical of the information they gather. Students are exposed to information digitally—articles, statistics, videos. They require explicit instruction that information might be old, biased, fake, illegal, or discriminatory. The Ontario provincial curriculum, like many others, talks about imparting 21st century skills, and digital literacy falls under that category. Educators are evolving instruction to teach students to discern information by being analytical thinkers.

The need for this evolution has been evident during my master’s degree in Educational Studies, which I recently completed at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The course assignments emphasized technology integration. And despite being familiar with e-databases like ERIC, I got a lesson in digital literacy as I worked entirely from online libraries to conduct literature reviews. My digital knowledge base kept expanding.

Just as I was beginning to think that I am digitally savvy enough, I ventured back into the arena of job-hunting. Not only did I have to learn where to look for job postings requiring my new skills, I needed to understand the digitally focused language of these postings. Applications submitted electronically often go through a preliminary scan and the use of correct keywords in my cover letters is critical. A considerable number of jobs also ask for the ability to develop courses for web-based instruction. The need to improve digital literacy and grow my digital skills has only just begun.

Yes, literacy is the ability to read and write, but it is also the ability to understand. It is this understanding that has allowed me to be educated, to be scientifically literate, and to teach. It is this understanding that now allows me to be digitally literate, to learn and employ instructive and assistive educational technology, to search and critique information, and to learn more and apply further in this century of e-learning.

Mudita Kundra is a secondary science educator formerly based in Toronto. Her academic background in chemistry and interest in stargazing led her to pursue a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in teaching earth and space science.