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August 12, 2008

Digital literacy anyone?

Il_logo_bw_2 The Information Literacy Section of IFLA has announced the winner of a competition to design an "information literacy" logo.

The aim of creating this Logo is to make communication easier between those who carry out information literacy projects, their communities, and society in general. The Logo will be available free of charge and promoted as an international symbol of information literacy.

The initial funding for the logo contest came from UNESCO, as part of the Information for All Programme (IFAP).  ALA define information literacy as follows:

To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

A definition that is re-used by Wikipedia.

All well and good, though I am inclined to think that the kind of 'digital literacy' espoused by Tanya Byron in her Safer Children in a  Digital World: the report of the Byron Review is fast becoming at least as important as information literacy - discuss!  Odd though that Byron never once uses the terms 'digital literacy' or 'information literacy', preferring to use 'media literacy' instead (23 times I think), about which she says:

We need to empower people with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to embrace new technology to make the decisions that will protect themselves and their family. In some circles this is called being ‘media literate’. However, ‘media literacy’ is an abstract title, which is difficult to translate into something that is meaningful to the public.

Ofcom defines media literacy as “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts”. This is a widely recognised definition for understanding the issues around media literacy in society. However, an approach that is perhaps more useful for understanding the role of media literacy in improving e-safety is ensuring that children broaden and deepen their skills, knowledge and understanding to use new technology. While this is a necessary discussion, it is equally important to ensure that the wider debate around defining media literacy does not distract focus from what should be the primary objective of protecting and empowering young people.

My understanding is that the research underpinning the Byron Report was funded by Ofcom's Media Literacy team (thanks @jukesie on Twitter) so perhaps this isn't too surprising.

'Digital literacy' doesn't have an entry in Wikipedia, redirecting to 'computer literacy' instead (which doesn't feel quite right to me), whereas both 'information literacy' and 'media literacy' do, from which I can only conclude that it isn't an accepted term (despite the fact that I'm sure I've regularly heard it being used informally).

Media convergence would suggest that these terms should probably come together anyway, and Ofcom's own definition of 'media literacy' includes aspects that ALA would probably refer to as 'information literacy' ("recognising and comprehending information to the higher order critical thinking skills such as questioning, analysing and evaluating that information") and that I would call 'digital literacy' ("use an electronic programme guide to find the programme they want to watch", "use the internet to find information" and "control what they and their children see to avoid being offended") though I have a concern that Ofcom's definition is very broadcast media centric (which, again, is not surprising).

Does anyone else regularly use 'digital literacy' to refer to the ability to manage, understand and use Web-based and other digital technologies/resources?  If so, perhaps we need to get together and update Wikipedia?  On the other hand, perhaps 'media literacy' is indeed better (provided we (I?) can get over any associations with 'old' media), being somewhat more generic and less tied to a particular form of technology?


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As a cataloger and thesaurus guy I have no horse in this race, but ....

It seems to me that 'digital literacy' is in most cases far too narrow. There are certainly times when it will serve as a useful distinction but I feel that if it becomes the focus then other valuable forms of literacy will be overlooked/downplayed/ignored.

I feel that 'media literacy' is a better term in that it should be agnostic as to form of media. If it is focused only on Media, as such, then it too is too narrow except in specific contexts.

If I were doing a quick (and dirty) hierarchy of these terms I'd have something like:

information literacy
media literacy
digital literacy (narrow contexts)
Media literacy (narrow contexts)

The 'narrower' terms should not be equivalently narrower they group across different kinds of "form" and are certainly not mutually exclusive; e.g. newspapers are also online. Also, Media literacy probably needs a different label as the capitalization is not much in the way of differentiation.

Media literacy should definitely include more than broadcast media, such as newspapers, magazines, etc.

Anyway, just some initial thoughts. My main objection to 'digital literacy' is that while useful in some narrow contexts it would contribute to the rampant overvaluation of the digital to the exclusion of all else.

@Mark yes, I think you are probably right about 'digital literacy' - I think @scottbw made a similar point on Twitter earlier - http://twitter.com/scottbw/statuses/885118345.

In your proposed hierarchy, I'm not clear whether you are nesting media literacy under information literacy or not? If you are, then I tend to disagree - I think the two are different but overlapping. But perhaps that is what you are indicating anyway. Sorry.

I've heard the (IMHO unhelpful) phrase "Literature literacy" slipped in by a speaker not that long ago...

Ofcom say in their definition:
"Media literacy is the ability to ‘read’ and ‘write’ audiovisual information rather than text"

This suggests that they are not talking about broadcast vs non-broadcast, but audio/video vs text (i.e. media literacy does not encompass traditional literacy or vice versa)

Information Literacy tends to focus on the ability to find, evaluate and use information (in whatever form) appropriately. This suggests that to be information literate you need to be able to be literate (and media literate), but not the other way round.

So we might say that most HE students today are literate (possibly media literate), but not information literate.

Sorry, it seems my spaces were removed. Should've anticipated that; guess I'm not digitally literate. ;-)

information literacy
--media literacy
--digital literacy (narrow contexts)
--Media literacy (narrow contexts)

As for media literacy not being 'under' info lit I'm not sure. My natural (off-the-cuff) answer is that it is but perhaps not. I'm certainly willing to consider otherwise.

Based on other comments I'd have to say I need a definition of 'media' before I commit. I see from Owen that media is being abused (IMHO) by Ofcom. What kind of definition of 'media' is that?

But it seems to me that anything to do with media, however defined (in the context of literacy), would still be a subset of information.



Wow! This is exactly what I am trying to figure out. As a school we have tech standards, which would fall under digital literacy. Now, we are working on informational fluency and looking at the Big6. It is obvious that information and digital literacies overlap. I think they are separate but overlap with many skills. For example, I would not put the skill of understanding peripherals under informational literacy but would under digital literacy. I am creating this evening an outline of skills in both categories that we as teachers should be looking at. What are your thoughts on this?

@Caren well, I certainly agree that both sets of skills are important. One of the issues, at least in the UK, is that I sense the terminology is not shared well enough across the different parts of our education system (schools, colleges, universities). Whenever I have tried talking about 'information literacy' to real school teachers, they nearly always seem to come to it as a new term - perhaps it is just me!

The Byron review which I referred to in the original post used 'media literacy' (in quite a broad sense I think) but was focused mainly on the schools sector (at least in terms of where it will have most impact in formal education). Yet I suspect this isn't a term much used in universities (outside of media departments).

I posted a link to my blog entry to the information-literacy@jiscmail.ac.uk list and got a few responses, one of which I am about to re-post here (with permission).

(From posting to information-literacy@jiscmail.ac.uk list)

A bit of can of worms. The argument over names tends to be driven by the discipline and knowledge of the proposer.

Information Literacy (IL) seems to have gained currency over the last couple of years - UNESCO, IFLA have been busy producing books, reports etc. with the IL badge and these have had quite wide coverage around the world. It now seems to be creeping into the Development domain under the 'capacity building' label.

I would argue that IL includes 'media literacy' (ML). ML is a term that comes from a communications studies and generally refers to the knowledge about the critical use of information (how it gets into the public domain and places emphasis on 'who's voice are we listening to', aspects of authority, bias etc.). In fact this has long been a concern of the library fraternity and is probably covered in most IL interventions.

To be IL however does require 'digital literacy' (DL) since an awful lot of 'finding out' and 'learning' requires use of the digital medium and digital tools. This is reflected in the fact that a lot of IL training has to be proceeded or combined with DL training. Unfortunately many policy makers, including those in education, still think DL is IL. From an IL perspective we are interested, I think, in those aspects of DL that have a direct bearing on the use of information. This normally includes, for example, basic PC use (familiarity with the menu bar, cut and paste etc.) the use of search engines, databases etc. but probably should extend to other applications such as mind mapping software, Web 2.0 technologies, PowerPoint. But where do you draw the line? Is there a line? What about use of qualitative or even quantitative data analysis software? Or maybe that's 'data literacy'?

We have also recently seen the phrase 'scientific literacy' (emphasising the subject specific nature of aspects of IL), the phrase 'multiple literacies' and everyone becoming a 'researcher' crops up increasingly. 'Learning identities' is another term that is becoming common.

I must admit I am finding it increasingly difficult not to combine knowledge management, information management and information literacy (underpinned by IT - assuming a digital infrastructure). This is because in the 'real' world finding out involves using one's interpersonal network and people, plus formal 'sources' both ones own, the organisation's, and external; managing the information (both in practical terms as well as applying 'thinking skills') ... and then needing (possibly) a host of communication skills.

I also find it increasingly difficult to separate out IL from 'Research skills' - okay research tends to be associated with primary research and gathering data via questionnaires etc. but any 'research' is likely to need KM, IM, IL ... and to separate these things out tends to make any intervention abstract, decontextualised and less engaging for the learner.

How are others coping with these various (artificial??) boundaries

In a posting to information-literacy@jiscmail.ac.uk Mark Callan pointed out that yesterday's Times Higher had a piece on 'transliteracy':

Grappling with the digital divide

In a posting to information-literacy@jiscmail.ac.uk Peter Godwin notes that a slide about various literacies is available on Flickr:


I have to say, I don't like this slide much - it's nicely produced, but I'm not convinced by the implied flows.

Hi Andy,

I'm just starting my Ed.D. thesis via the University of Durham on the concept of 'digital literacy'. I'm going to be looking at it through the lens of Pragmatist philosophy and whether such constructs as digital literacy/fluency/competence have any 'cash value'. You can view my thesis proposal at: http://digitalliteracies.edublogs.org :-)

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