Digital Literacy:

In the 21st century, being able to create quality projects using digital technologies is important for academic, professional, and personal success.

On a daily basis, individuals use digital technologies to create content each time they send an e-mail or text message or post to Facebook. Yet, the ability to use technology does not mean that the individual uses technology well or is able to demonstrate digital literacy skills. When I talk about creating content, I am referring to content created after investigation and evaluation.

In October 2011, when a friend posted a photograph of an Occupy Wall Street protester defecating on an American flag, he was creating digital content. But because he did not take time to investigate the material he was forwarding in order to evaluate the veracity of the image, he did not demonstrate digital literacy skills. I did the investigation and evaluation before I created a blog postingOne of the difficulties in asking students to create projects in which they demonstrate digital literacy is that professors do not have skills to create digital projects themselves. However, we do not need to have technical expertise to allow students to create projects using digital media. Many of my students have made high quality videos even though I have never made a video myself. (I did, however, make a film when I was in the eighth grade.)

Another problem is that, because of our training, we are not prone to consider alternatives to the traditional research paper. Yet, by asking students to create projects that require they demonstrate digital literacy, we often push them to engage more with their research than when they are allowed to dash off a research paper days &mdash or the night — before it is due.

Does Digital Literacy Require Coding Skills?

Currently, there is debate as to whether digital literacy requires that individuals can actually do their own coding. For example, does using Weebly to produce a website mean that I am not digitally literate because Weebly does not require its users to know HTML? Can someone demonstrate digital literacy skills by being part of a team where only some team members can code what other team members have investigated and evaluated? I believe that students can develop and demonstrate digital literacy skills using technologies such as Weebly and that digital literacy can be demonstrated on a team project where the student him/herself does not do the actual digital work.

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Click on image to see larger version of Matthew Hyde's project

Sometimes, the extent of the digital literacy is not self evident in the final project and additional documentation is required to evaluate the digital literacy skills being demonstrated.

During the Winter 2013 Winter semester, a team of students taught Dante's Inferno (2010). As part of their presentation, Matthew Hyde created a digital image as part of the team's presentation. By just viewing the image, it is not evident that Matthew and his team members did extensive research on the Inferno, watched other versions of the film, engaged in debate via e-mail, text messages, Facebook, blogs, and Google docs. Nor is the Internet research and database research done in cooperation with a reference librarian apparent.

Someone who has not seen Dante's Inferno would not recognize that Matthew's image is made up of screen captures from the film that are arranged to correlate to the standard plot line studied in class.

Sometimes, by working closely with students, I am aware of the digital skills developed for and demonstrated by the final project. At other times, I require that students formally document their investigation and evaluation.

References and Resources