Digital Literacy; Another passing phrase or a concept with meaning?

In the last of our core CILT sessions we looked at digital literacy in the realm of primary teaching.

Digital literacy.

What does that even mean?

Wikipedia defines it as;

“The ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies”

Douglas Belshaw (2011) outlines eight core concepts that surround the idea;

  1. Cultural – We need to pay attention to the culture in which the literacies are situated
  2. Cognitive – We can’t just consider the procedural ways in which we use devices and programs. It’s the way we think when we’re using them
  3. Constructive – We can’t be passive consumers of technology/information. We should strive to use digital tools in reflective and appropriate ways
  4. Communicative – Digital tools and power structures change the way we communicate. An element of digital literacy is how we take command of that structure and use it to communicate effectively and contribute meaningfully
  5. Confident – in order to be a proficient user of technology, one must have the courage and confidence to dive into the unknown, take risks, make mistakes, and display confidence when “messing around” with new tools
  6. Creative – from his research, Doug says “…..the creative adoption of new technology requires teachers who are willing to take risks… a prescriptive curriculum, routine practices… and a tight target-setting regime, is unlikely to be helpful.” Conlon & Simpson (2003)
  7. Critical – Digital literacy involves an understanding of how to deal with hyperspace and hypertext and understanding it’s “not entirely read or spoken.” Can we critically evaluate the technologies we’re using?
  8. Civic – many schools are beginning to embrace technology to improve our lives and the lives of others in the world


“Literacy” in itself is an interesting term. During this session we discussed what, exactly, is meant by the term “literate”. Of course, in primary education the term literacy is used to referred to reading and writing. So, with that in mind, we could assume that Digital Literacy is the idea that we are learning to encode and decode technology and use it more proficiently.  Just like one can be illiterate (unable to read or write), one can also be “digitally illiterate”; being unable to use computers and/or other technology.  Belsaw believes that the eight elements he mentioned do not compete with one another. Instead, they work together and are interwoven.

During our session we also (in groups) worked with an iOS app named “Puppet Pals”. This application allows you to create basic animation using predefined resources (and the ability to use your own). What was interesting to note across all the groups was how easy most people found it. There was a time when technology was, indeed, very difficult to break into. Nowdays, however, with the advent of smartphones and tablets, computing simply as a “nerds pastime” has practically been eradicated. If you have a phone, you’re a computer user. If you play Angry Birds, you are a computer user.

So what has bridged the gap here, exactly? Well, ease of use is certainly a huge determining factor. If I want to make a puppet show with that application then I can simply tap the icon on the home screen. If I had wanted to do that even five years ago people would be laughing at me. If I wanted to do that with a class of 36 noisy 7 year olds, I’d never have been taken seriously.

Burn, A and Durran, J (2007) state that, when teaching digital literacy, you are enabling children the chance to be expressive, anarchic and subversive. Many would see these words as fairly offputting; Who wants to allow children to be “anarchic” in the classroom, especially if they’re already not the most well-behaved group? However, the concept that you are giving children the tools (and freedom) to express themselves is, in my opinion, crucial to a child’s learning. Allowing children to take these iPads, computers, phones and everything else, working with a teacher and having the chance to work with little creative limitations is an idea that is quite foreign in many schools. For many, school is about instilling facts and the ability to recall them. However, with technology gaining a tighter grasp on the education sector each year, it’s only a matter of time before repeating facts gets swapped out for making hilarious puppet animations with an iPad..within an educational context, of course.

Children need to learn these skills in school, lest they leave education not being able to make use of them wherever they may end up in future.


Burn, A, Durran, J, (2007) Media literacy in schools: practice, production and progression. Chapter 3. Paul Chapman, London.


2 thoughts on “Digital Literacy; Another passing phrase or a concept with meaning?

  1. At first the notion of “digital literacy” and its place in the new curriculum seemed daunting and unnecessary to me. The current reality of ICT in schools, from my observations, involves making Word and Powerpoint documents, doing maths quizzes and conducting internet research. This seems so basic in comparison to what will suddenly be expected from September 2014. I believe this is how many teachers will feel, particularly ones of generations that didn’t grow up with computers and as such might not feel confident with them.

    However, after the session I realised that ‘digital literacy’ can be accessible in the classroom, without being too complicated, because it encompasses such a wide range of possibilities. The planning and making of the Puppet Show was fairly simple, very engaging and it involved a range of skills in a cross-curricular context, which has the potential to be very beneficial for children’s learning. It would require basic knowledge of working one’s way around an iPad, but this is not foreign to many children of today. And this is a key point, that ‘digital literacy’ is relevant to them, since computing is a huge part of everyday life, even with their parents’ mobile phones and the games they play, as mentioned above. Education will always be effective so long as it continues to develop along with our developing society. In this context that development is the acceptance of ‘digital literacy’ in today’s digital world.

  2. Since doing this course I have come to believe that ICT seems a lot scarier than it really is. Once you “know how”, it seems easy, its getting there that’s the problem. I think it is vital that children have access and opportunities to use and create with ICT in school; as this area could become increasingly alienating outside of school.

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