What are the right questions for digital literacy?

For some time now, we have been talking about the need for Information and Communication (ICT) capabilities in our schools and that we must establish ways of embedding these into our curriculums and pedagogies, as it is important to the success of our students at school and beyond (ACARA, 2014, ICT capability across the curriculum, Para 1). Such discussions have centred on the skills and tools necessary for digital participation but some are starting to question if we are focusing on the right things. Instead of focusing on the technologies, it is argued, we need to concentrate on the literacies made possible by the technologies. Howard Rheingold tells us that such literacies can “leverage the Web’s architecture of participation, just as the spread of reading skills amplified collective intelligence five centuries ago. Today’s digital literacies can make the difference between being empowered or manipulated, serene or frenetic” (p.3). What then, are the questions we should be asking if we are to build digital literacy into our teaching practice?

I have constructed the following list of essential questions based on the reading I have been doing for my Masters (Knowledge Networks & Digital Innovation) at Charles Sturt University (CSU). Some of the authors I have consulted in my quest for these essential questions include: John Seely Brown, Howard Gardner, David Buckingham, Mike Ribble, Douglas Rushkoff, Douglas Thomas, and Howard Rheingold. I have included some of these readings in the reference list for this article. The questions generated here are neither quoted nor paraphrased from these references but rather synthesised from the ideas they contain. These questions will be a starting point for how I think about assisting students to navigate digital environments in 2015.

Are you a participant?

Participation rather than theory is necessary to understanding digital environments. To build digital, network, media, information and computer literacy and understand how, when and where to pay attention to the flow of information contained within these environments, we must be involved. When we participate in networks, it requires a two-way exchange in which we obtain information from others and contribute to the collective knowledge. Participation may take many forms, including joining conversations in social media, writing a blog, creating a website, doing a course of study, joining creative communities, gaming, taking a political stance or the commercial activities involved in buying and selling.

What does your participation say about you?

Imagine if someone could view all of your online participation – what would it say about you?

Would it show someone who is in control of their participation or someone who is being manipulated?

Would the amount of time spent online be healthy or unhealthy?

Would the information you accepted as truth demonstrate someone who is smart or gullible?

Would the agreements you make by joining particular social media environments and using Apps be legal or in breech of policies and rules?

Does your participation demonstrate an ability to use online environments for learning?

What values would your interactions demonstrate?

Would the way you treat others and their contributions be ethical or unprincipled?

Does your participation demonstrate an understanding of how online environments work and who controls them or does it demonstrate someone who is at the mercy of others?

Do you know how to protect yourself and others online?

Finally, what of your own contributions online – are they creative or uninspired or even destructive?


ACARA. (2014). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capability. Retrieved April 28, 2014, from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/GeneralCapabilities/information-and-communication-technology-capability/introduction/introduction

ACMA. (2011). Like, post, share: Young Australians’ experience of social media (Rep.). Retrieved April 28, 2014, from http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/About%20Cybersmart/Research/~/media/Cybersmart/About%20Cybersmart/Documents/GfK%20Blue%20Moon%20Qualitative%20Like%20Post%20Share%20%20final%20PDF.pdf

Bawden, D. (2008). CHAPTER ONE: Origins and Concepts Of Digital Literacy. In Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies & Practices (pp. 17–32). Peter Lang Publishing.

Common Sense Media. (2013, September 30). It’s never too early to teach kids online skills [Web log post]. Retrieved April 28, 2014, from http://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/its-never-too-early-to-teach-kids-online-skills

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st-century fluencies for the digital age. Kelowna, B.C.: 21st Century Fluency Project.

Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hague, C., & Payton, S. (2010). Digital Literacy across the curriculum handbook. Retrieved May 24, 2014, from http://www.futurelab.org.uk/sites/default/files/Digital_Literacy_handbook_0.pdf

Heick, T. (2014, February 27). Are you teaching content or teaching thought? [Web log post]. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://www.teachthought.com/learning/teaching-content-or-teaching-thought/

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). Digital literacies: Concepts, policies and practices. New York: Peter Lang.

O’Connell, J. (2012). So they think they can learn? Scan, 31(May), 5-11. Retrieved May 26, 2014, from http://heyjude.files.wordpress.com/2006/06/joc_scan_may-2012.pdf

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ribble, M. (2011). Digital citizenship in schools. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education.

Rushkoff, D., & Koughan, F. (Writers). (2014, July 21). Generation like [Television broadcast]. In Four Corners. ABC. Retrieved January 12, 2015, from http://online.clickview.com.au/search/exchange?q=generation%20like

Seely Brown, J. (2012, November 21). Learning in and for the 21st Century. Lecture presented at National Institute of Education, Singapore. Retrieved January 12, 2015, from http://www.johnseelybrown.com/CJKoh.pdf

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.

Thomas, D. (2012, May 24). Provocative new questions about education: TEDxUSC. Retrieved January 12, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0XR7CDD9Zs

Thomas, D. (2012, September 12). A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM80GXlyX0U

Valenza, J. (2011, August 27). TEDxPhiladelphiaED – JoyceValenza – See Sally Research. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmLwl7ybDFw&feature=youtu.be

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