Tag Archives: digital literacy

The Value of STEM?

Just some disorganized thoughts on this one. So we have this concept called STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education – where the US falls short according to many measures (though, interestingly, our national report card has yet to include engineering until recently). People invoke it as a kind of mandate frequently, and to what purpose matters quite a bit:

  • If the question is should we be doing things like trying to get more socially excluded populations into engineering – I’d say absolutely yes. This has as much to do with how we broadly socialize women and people of color to participate in society as it does how they experience education (yes, this too is part of socialization, I realize).
  • If the question is if we should emphasize STEM activities more in schooling – I’d say maybe. I wonder what STEM is in opposition to (or an advancement over).

Step 1

First off, what are we missing if we break it down by basic subjects?

The humanities, social sciences, languages and the arts.

Scratch that, we’ve got STEAM, advocates who take the position that design is what makes innovation in any STEM field possible – I’d agree on all accounts, except for say, math.

And, actually, there’s an interesting similarity between Art and Math – they both gain considerably more value when embedded in application. Math for Math’s sake is about as relevant or job-related as Art for Art’s sake, I think. Graphic design to communicate ideas or make interfaces more usable – or – statistics and predictive algorithms to make experiments possible or to solve problems – these seem to ring more true to innovation and “usefulness” for me.

Update: Er, scratch that too – according to the NSF “Science” here includes the social sciences. I think many people aren’t including these when they refer to STEM, however. Anyway, continuing…

So, generally, do I think we have too much emphasis on the social sciences, languages and humanities in schooling?

  • Well, at the K-12 level I’m not sure we actually have any significant social science. I mean sure there’s geography and social studies (which is history, really) but generally I don’t see a lot of psychology, sociology, anthropology and political science in high school – and I think actually it would be great to have more of those. In high schools like mine the tests we were being taught for (ACT/SAT sure but also more importantly AP tests) didn’t include those, they included emphasis on base subjects like math or English.
  • Languages, I think offer another similar dimension. Sure learning French or German is probably less useful and a sign of privilege or specialization. But you had better bet Spanish, Portuguese, Russian or Chinese would help you greatly in the future economy and job landscape.
  • And then we land on the humanities. Generally I’d say that we teach the same American-centric history too many times and that English focuses far too much on making sense of written texts instead of the grand entourage of media we engage with today. These issues aren’t an unsolvable problem, though, we could just focus more on contemporary history and on cultural studies that think of “text” in a multimodal kind of way. And both of these areas help to emphasize important subset skills – perspective taking, critical inquiry and rhetoric – or the effective expression of ideas.

So, really, I’m not ready to say we should deemphasize them. I would, however, be ready to suggest that we replace Math class at the high school level with Engineering class – where advanced math would be taught but always in application to something – integrated into practice where possible.

Step 2

Second, what are these disciplines (or subjects) really about? I feel like we’d be better off to think about it in terms of literacies or skills. What kinds of competencies do we want our students to have coming out of an education system. STEM, to me, suggests the following:

  • Science – Experimentation, causality and empiricism, internally consistent truth
  • Technology – Well, for me this is digital literacy, and I’ll get to in a second
  • Engineering – Problem-solving in an applied context, most often with physical objects or systems
  • Math – Problem-solving and algorithms in an abstract context

So, really, I’d agree that we might not be focusing enough on some of these skills, but I’d also say that they’re not any more important than others that might be cultivated by the humanities and social sciences – critical and creative thinking, expression and perspective-taking and so on.

Digital literacy is hard to really reconcile in all of this – I see it as a composite of skills and perspectives – but on another level you could think about just pure competency in being able to manipulate tools as a fundamental. That is, everyone should know how to type, use a mouse and find information on the internet. In my dream world I’d rather say everyone should know how to question the black box, reverse engineer, remix, program, control a 3D interface, draw with a mouse, present stories on the internet and so much more. As you can see my categories already branch into any number of the skills and areas mentioned above.

Step 3

So, in other words what’s this really about?

I think it’s about an assumption of mapping schooling to jobs. We have great demand for jobs in STEM (and STEAM, really) but not so many in the humanities like history, English and cultural studies or social sciences like sociology, anthropology and political science. And, really, that wouldn’t be a problem if the humanities were like aviation or sculpture, where only a few people go in, make it out and land jobs, but instead we have situations like UIUC, where our highest enrollment major is Psychology (1150 students in 2013), but there is probably not that much demand for people in psychology-related careers. Similarly we have a rather high count of people in communications (742), political science (552), and animal sciences + vet med (applied but probably not that many jobs – 923). Engineering, science and business majors dominate the majority of enrollment, comparatively. The other “useless” majors aren’t actually as populated as you might expect – English (323), history (217), sociology (207), anthropology (126), global studies (195), recreation (163) and so on. Though you do see interesting things like 300 PhD’s in computer science or 90 PhD’s in English but that’s a different issue.

So, at the end of the day – I think I want to go back to just focusing on ways to integrate engineering and other practice/problem-solving based learning into all curriculum for kids and focusing on areas where we have inequalities, such as women enrolled in engineering, or, from a different perspective that’s important to me in particular, men (or extroverts or people of color!) in library science. 🙂

Gets Me Some Tech Skills

I was asked for ideas on how someone who has a very strong humanities and social services background could work on “website making/social media/general tech skills” and this was my reply.
As often stated (probably?), I think website design can be broken down – writing copy, writing code, doing graphics/layout and designing experience (UX; a combination of all). You probably don’t need any more practice with the first but the other three have many avenues. UX is worth your while and severely needed in the nonprofit world, but you’ll have to do some translation for many of those folk. Coders don’t exist there. Developers are a rare pink unicorn in one of those scenes from planet earth with millions of birds. Coders often aren’t socialized to do world-saving work, and they get paid gobs in other fields. Graphic design is handy for all of the things (print, web, identity, making, life) but also kinda hard to learn without specific projects. Luckily you have some of the foundational skills, like the ability to notice details or general concepts like negative space.

SO substantive resources:

  • For coding – you could learn HTML/CSS but I think it might be more helpful to learn an introductory language like PHP (and MySQL for databases to go with it – this is what WordPress is based on). There are many free online resources, start with W3C Schools and go to something more serious from there. More hardcore (application-specific) people may tell you to go for Python or something off of this list -> http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/sites-to-learn-coding-online
  • Graphic design – I have a book that’s trapped in storage in Glen Ellyn right now that has a hundred great design challenge prompts. Tasks like make a mail-order army of robots. I’ve done a few and like it, but I think learning how to operate fancy-pants programs is as much of a challenge as figuring out how to make things look good. One route is to learn to make great looking designs using simple tools, like Powerpoint 2010 or 2013 (better the newer you go) or another is to just start following scripted tutorials for Photoshop or Illustrator. Try learning the pen tool to make paper cutting designs, you can make money better than Kay Wahlgren and help dad retire. I can probably get you any Adobe program you like, or try Inkscape or Gimp (the true we-have-no-money route).
  • User Experience – See if you can get into this class -> https://www.coursera.org/course/hci. Don’t bother with the assignments, just watch them. It’ll teach you concepts behind usability and user testing methods. Or you could try reading The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley. My professor uses this to teach composite design in LIS (an interdisciplinary field that likes people!).
I think ‘social media’ skills are a little overrated. It’s worth learning the capabilities and social norms for each network or medium but I encourage people to pick just a couple and commit investment to those. Generally my impression is that what lies beneath them are good writing for the affordances of each and a sense for audience – things I suspect you already have 🙂 But this might also be that I just feel annoyed by continuously hovering over a monitor watching the endless flow of information stream by, with meager attempts to redirect it amongst the flurry of hyperactive internet squirrels. I’d rather be more selective and intentional with my attention, something I think I’d even call a digital literacy. Yes, thank you Howard Rheingold, but I still think meditation is silly.

I’m not sure what general tech skills might be. You can move a mouse and type pretty darned well, and glean information from different screen formats rapidly in a non-linear fashion. Check.

Anyway I think you nailed it. Pick a project. Shattons of nonprofits need help. I just talked to the Urbana Independent Media Center Python Users Group the other day. The Fab Lab has plenty of things they could work on for us – a better sign in system, automated inventory, an interactive project board or hacking the CCK in our broke-ass Drupal install to be friendly for retirees. Or many groups have crappy looking websites or need better flyers or logos or good looking report designs. Perhaps better than this – you could learn video production and help a group produce their image on YouTube by telling a story about the impacts they make (CI Club example – http://youtu.be/_pBjjW2E2Mg), a lot don’t have time or knowledge to do this kind of thing. Or many service users whom they have never tested and may have vastly different understandings of computer interfaces than they do. I learned my friend’s mother doesn’t really know how to save and upload photos of her daughter to Facebook to share so she just tags herself in them instead. This is in part an interface design issue – I’m sure the system could be recreated to facilitate this behavior and perception of use.

If you need projects I have plenty here for you, but I suspect you have a network up there that could use the help 🙂 Hope that helps!

And on the upswing

Karma has a way of working itself around. ‘Nuff unpleasant vibes on this place lately I think.

I’ve been reading Netsmart, by Howard Rheingold, in response to a suggestion by Sally Jackson (one of the founding gods of the Fab Lab!). It serves as the motivation for much of this post, but also a worthy bit of literature for the dissertation pondering process.

Beyond Flaws

I’ll start with a happy snippet. I’ve been hanging out with these hydro engineers lately and they’re great. One reason I like them so much is that they’re very willing to proactively accept and support people despite their flaws and differences. One of our friends forgot to buy a bus ticket to get to Chicago for a flight and realized this about 6 hours before at 1am on a Saturday night. Almost without hesitation a trio stepped up to drive him directly up to the airport, crashing on a family couch before heading back the next day. They were only hung up on his mistake and forgetful personality for a sum of about two minutes, and actually really saw the ride as an outstanding opportunity to hang out. The group hasn’t even known each other that long, a year or so, and they’re willing to go to bat for one another like this.

Books on Bicycles

Rheingold identifies five literacies that together constitute a view of digital literacy (of a kind; he says they’re in process of changing the world):

  • Attention
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Critical consumption of information
  • Network smarts

Most of what he mentions is nothing particularly new to the canon, but it does partially address what has been an open question for me for some time. I’ve asked many students and scholars what attitudes and perspectives they believe facilitate a person’s ability to effectively learn and employ digital tools. It’s easy to get a myriad of answers, and really it all depends on your granularity, but I’ve been particularly keen on patience, persistence, curiosity and independence. Motivation and confidence underline all of these, but the reason I bring any of them up at all is that they illustrate the cultural and personality-oriented dimensions of digital literacy – we learn, perform and express ourselves in contexts that shape our interpretations of meaning. Anyway what’s notable about his arrangement so far is attention. He suggests readers rethink how they direct attention, what they place it on, and why they do so.

For instance, multitasking often isn’t actually what it’s often named – if you’re driving in the car listening to music you’re probably actually multitasking, but most of the time we’re using computers, switching rapidly from screen to screen, we’re actually quickly task-switching – and there’s a cost each time we do so, which may vary by individual and circumstances. To be digitally literate might also include being cognizant (critical) enough of your own tech-toy uptake to mindfully direct your attention. I don’t think this means simply not being on Facebook or refusing to use Wikipedia. I do think this means taking a step back, examining your behaviors, goals and generally what matters, and then acting in accordance. My decision to read Rheingold’s book on an exercise bike instead of via audio book is actually a result of this process for me: I’m scribbling on the pages.

Tom Fairbank suggested I read the book Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg) a while back and I’ve finally started to dig into it a bit. Besides being useful for determining how to better talk to people like my mother (and also wonder if when Tom talks to me with these methods if I am becoming my mother) it relies on a set of principles that matches Rheingold’s concern for attention:

  • Make observations
  • Take stock of feelings (yours and others)
  • Pay attention to needs
  • Make requests to proactively facilitate needs

An example the book gives is a teacher complaining about how she hates giving students grades. She states it as “I have to give grades because the district makes me” but this doesn’t actually recognize that she really has a choice. If she replaces the language that implies a lack of choice it comes out something more like “I give students grades because keeping my job is important to me, I’ll lose it if I don’t.” Note how the emphasis of ownership of problems, honesty and, ultimately goals and needs changes form between these two. I think it goes hand in hand with the bit about how we place attention on technologies.

My interactions with people that are mediated by electronic mediums are many but often cause frustrations – I’m great at observing how people miss emails or imply things through action (or more often lack thereof) but I don’t think I communicate my feelings and needs about it as much or as poignantly as I ought to sometimes. One observation, as of late, is that in-person interactions are downright more successful for me, I’m seeking them out more often. Which leads to the next item…

Quitting Opayboopud

OkCupid sucked for me. I mean granted I was trolling the website from the getgo – my user name was “JeffGinger” and eventually I became so disillusioned with it that my profile actively read “I’m probably using this website wrong. If you message me I’m just going to invite you to do something in person.” Anyway I kept finding myself crawling around on there at late hours of the night when I was feeling lonely, hoping there’d be a new girl hiding or, by god, a response to any of the messages I sent out. It was demoralizing – nobody ever answered and people didn’t pay attention to me because my profile wasn’t mysterious and I’m not generally all that handsome. Even when the site worked and I went on a date with someone I quickly realized I can’t handle getting to know someone who lives 50 minutes away and has no natural intersections with my life.

There are many reasons people find online dating troubling. It’s a kind of shopping mall effect – so many people to choose from, and yet so many reasons to not like them. Everyone is neatly categorized and identified and yet they’re all idyllic representations of self that probably don’t capture actual (or critical) dimensions. And, after it all, if you can’t find a person on the site, with its millions of choices, then by god there must be something wrong with you.

Clearly it does work for some people. I’m told in Chicago there are so many people who use it that are comfortable with casual dating that it’s functional. Down here in Chambana, a town teeming with single youth of all kinds, my observation was that it was a place for people who have comfort issues or trouble getting to know others. At one point I counted 8 people from GSLIS on there.

Funny interlude story – a professor from my department used the site. She was very mature about it – sent me a message saying hello, establishing a kind of friendly “there’s no shame don’t worry I won’t pay attention to you” kind of rapport. Very good of her. I then tried the same move with a fellow PhD student (who I know finds me extra annoying) and she never answered, despite being active following. To this day I am terrified of her.

Anyway I don’t mean to hate on it too bad. I know some people have success with the site and really need it to facilitate their personality. Or perhaps they’re a single mom, whatever. Point it I think it’s terrible for my personality type. I am infinitely happier meeting people through friends in real life and letting the mystery and interest be organic, rather than declared or implicit from the start. Rheingold (see, he’s back) also offers a perspective on this I really like:

I found Baron instructive regarding specific ways social media challenge traditional definitions of sociality. Baron is right, in my opinion, to urge us all to cast a critical eye on any form of socializing that can be turned on and off at will. In my own life, volume control has been a net benefit, but it’s not without its shadowy side. My craft as a writer demands that I spend my days mostly alone in a room. Given my circumstances, gaining the power to click into a virtual community increased my daily social interaction, since I was already isolated. After twenty-five years of online socializing, however, I understand (and caution others against) the danger of confining myself exclusively to communities I can click on and off. I’m healthier, and so is my society, because I’m embedded in family, neighborhood, hometown, campus, and social cyberspace. The people I’ve met online as well as mostly communicate with through virtual means have come to my rescue in times of peril, bought me lunch in Amsterdam and Istanbul, showed me caring, and shared the fun that any kind of community worthy of the name strives for—but I learned long ago that I also need to maintain my face-to-face connections.

I think with something like dating and relationships you’ve gotta be able to be exposed to that person – fully, in their real life context. I’m friends with a lot of people at the Fab Lab that I would have never ordinarily found if I didn’t just get exposed to them by working and being present around them. Every relationship I’ve had that’s been successful has been in a context where she knows me through seeing me around my friends, actively engaged in life. It may be just a way to get past my lack of Ryan Gosling good-looks, but more likely it’s a way for people to reveal the categories OKC will never capture.

And, in the meantime, when I’m feeling lonely these days I reach out to people who aren’t romantic interests that I haven’t been investing enough in. It’s a much healthier response 🙂

By God, That’s Coincidental

Okay, last one. There’s been an oddly large amount of coincidence (good fortune) in my life lately. It’s kind of wanting to make me believe in God. I mean, I guess I already do, in that I see God as love (and also a social construction that has very real human-shaped-second-order agency!), but this all seems too convenient to not be the result of something more personified. Who knows, I’m just gonna keep working on extending the positive event chain.


I’m gonna turn this prompt on its head for a second to attack two things people too often easily accept: evolution of technology and information revolution.

“You speak. Siri helps. Say hello to the most amazing iPhone yet.”

So the ad on the back of the April 2012 edition of Wired magazine reads. We’re left linger on that last word: yet. Nevermind the agency we’re assigning to Siri, the overly-hyped, distinctly inhuman voice recognition software that yearns to sell you more widgets[G1], focus instead on that triumphant little three letter word. We are assured this is not the first iPhone, nor will it be the last. With each model we gain more features, claim more battery/bandwidth and obsess over the nuances of the shape of the device. And yet there is an absent dimension to this story. This American Life and Mike Daisey (2012) did well to bring a lot of attention to variety of scaling costs to workers that go into one of these gadgets and Johnathan Zittrain (2008) established years ago Apple’s ongoing project to demolish the open web and computer interoperability in favor of compartmentalized proprietary, high-profit-yielding apps. Both of these would seem to me to be steps backwards. So why then do we so easily accept it as a “most amazing” technological evolution in what is most likely assumed to be an inevitable story?
Progress. Or, more accurately, the false progress narrative that everyone seems to have had stuck in their head since the 50’s. Statements like “the evolution of technology” are just what continue to give it life today. It’s a smaller piece of a greater whole I’m afraid, a component (or proponent?) of technological determinism—the dominant, impetuous voice given to the presentation of technology and its relationship with society that always takes the form of continual self-contained (and self-evident) progression. The age-old classic might be the generalized (read: wrong) form[G2] of Moore’s law, the notion that computing capability accelerates in a predictable (periodic and exponential) and inevitable fashion. Faceless, decontextualized “technology” is seen to be a force of change because the darned stuff is somehow always causing itself to increase in speed and effectiveness, relative to how it was, of course. The net result of defining technology as progress is that society must adapt to it instead of shape it. Some say that technology is merely the application of science. Us informatics scholars claim this is faulty because scientists create as much as they ‘discover’ and, historically speaking, science and technology have not had clear-cut or consistent connections. And this proposition that technology simply builds upon preexisting technology is a misnomer (not to mention it breaks Kuhn’s heart). Neither is technological progress an eternal project of addressing reverse salients, unforeseen setbacks or problems [G3]resulting from the unfolding of technologies over time, because not all technology is designed to correct problems caused by previous technology. To be sure, human values are definitely embedded in technologies. Not only was the nuclear bomb a reflection of the values, capabilities and agendas of its time [G4]but it really could be used in only so many ways. Technology comes about as a result of human ideas and agency; the direction it goes and the effects it has is largely up to us. Now I’m not saying technology is purely socially constructed either. In some ways it may have limited agency, like the way a dead person’s Facebook profile might be continually animated by algorithms and interactions. But at the end of the day we are the ones who make sense of what it all means.

A lot of work on the subject of power and our current “information” society examines people’s ability to participate in it meaningfully, be it as part of global conversations, local democracy, or broad movements of social change[G5]. This assertion assumes that participation boils down to a matter (requirement) of information access, known commonly as the digital divide, or, stated succinctly, the power differences between people or communities tied to varying levels of computer and internet opportunity.

Establishing the digital divide as our enemy necessarily embarks us on a quest for digital solutions, but the lack of possession of material access to information technology as well as the absence of skills, community support and perceptions to make effective use of it is certainly a symptom of deeper, more prolonged issues. In the information revolution the have-nots are those who are simply digitally divided. Why do we forget to think about what caused them to be digitally divided in the first place? In some sense the digital divide is a moving target, as the make-up of information communication technology shifts as we look back over time. In this sense we’ve been in an information revolution (or crisis) for over thirty years. To suggest the information revolution is a regularized state of being is to render the term inadequate[G6]. But truthfully it just keeps getting used. First it was the onset of significant availability of computers in business and homes in the 80’s, then it was the beginning of widespread internet adoption that broke out in the 90’s and in the recent decade it has donned the hats of mobility, broadband and Web2.0. Up next might be the semantic web. It is worth taking a step back, disentangling oneself from the ever-changing constitution of ICTs, and interrogating the underlying assumptions and agendas of the digital divide and the credence for the proliferation of ICTs that we find wrapped up in the idea of the information revolution.

One might follow the lead of Jan Pieterse (2005), who questions the motivation behind the digital divide in his critique of information communication technologies for development, or ICT4D. His argument depends on the frame of digital capitalism, a world in which networks of corporations drive and dominate cyberspace and subject the world to certain flavors of media as well as the brunt of larger forces, like consumerism. ICT4D implies the imposition of flawed (or loaded) developmental models, such as the aforementioned technological determinism or neo-liberalism (market forces are development) that serve to mask the true intentions of insidious political and economic agendas: to make money off of poor people through selling more material goods and exploiting labor, to control markets with ideologies like intellectual property rights and to force developing countries to choose between dependence on NGO’s or corporate networks. Pieterse’s stance is accurate, if resoundingly pessimistic, and reminds us of the complex of baggage we drag with us when we deploy ICTs to ‘bridge the divide’ between peoples as we “progress” in the alleged information revolution.

This is why I prefer to shift the conversation to literacy. In the vernacular, literacy often is taken to be equivalent to competency, proficiency or functionality, and is frequently affixed to other words to create compound meanings[G7], such as information literacy, (new) media literacy, and stranger and debatable pairings, such as emotional literacy. I take the term a step further than competency. As an educator I advocate for literacies that affects power. Literacies comprised of social practices that foster critical social awareness as well as measurable knowledge and creative command over relevant communicative[G8] tools. Students who can accomplish some degree of mastery over these literacies are able to look at phrases like the evolution of technology or the information revolution and see them for what they are: political positions inscribed in terms that obscure the tangled masses of sociotechnical forces in operation behind them. These same students can go on to actively create, share and remix[G9] information, media[G10] and ideas to be a conscious and intentioned part of the drive behind the information revolution or technological evolution, as the case may be.

How to foster such literacies, however, is another subject entirely, and will have to wait until next time.

How we pace ourselves into this future of (r)evolution?

[G1]But only if you sound like a rich white Midwestern American
[G2]It was never really about speed doubling, but instead the number of transistors doubling and shrinking process sizes – which will be true to a point… eventually we hit chemical and quantum computing.
[G3]that become the objective of new technological development
[G4]technocratic authoritarian elite and strict hierarchical system of control poised in opposition to a perceived threat
[G5]soon to be historicized?
[G7]There is considerable debate between fields of study that include literacy. Many attempts to propose a single master set have been made, but I don’t want to go about collecting those.
[G8]Or should I saw communication? The tools communicate to both the user and the people they talk to through them, as it would be – revealing additional context, in many cases; ie. Facebook messaging relays a message in text, but also in the other information it presents about the person that we might not ordinarily know
[G9]Or interpret, if you’re an old-fashioned humanities bloke
[G10]This is where ‘traditional’ humanities education typically falls short – they don’t delve enough into expression through art or information technology, instead staying fixated on text

Digital Literacy

Ordinarily when I say digital literacy, I am careful to premise it with the descriptors critical and creative, terms that, upon first impression, might seem a little ambiguous. After all, each word has at least two meanings. In this case the use of the word critical could give the impression that this is an essential or important incarnation of digital literacy, and I would argue it very well may be, but my main intention is to invoke the analytic meaning of the word: to interrogate, deconstruct and discern value. Likewise creative is often read in the sense of creativity, the process of hatching worthy and original ideas, which actually would lend itself to the critical component, which requires some measure of divergent thinking. Instead I don’t require that creative include uniqueness or discovery, just conscientious construction of objects and ideas, with the possibility that they may also be innovative or even deviant. Such distinctions provoke a preamble, this section jumps into digital literacy as it is seen in recent literature and lands squarely in the definition that inspires[G1] my proposal[G2] .

Defining Literacy[G3]

Literacy finds many different definitions in varying contexts, but one of the most globally conscious, as well as universally adopted, is that is put forth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO 2004):

Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute,[1] using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential and to participate fully in their community and wider society.

In presenting this definition UNESCO (2004, 2005) thoughtfully positions literacy as a set of social practices rather than a singular skill, and elevates it to the level of a human right (the right to education[G4] , UNESCO 2005). It suggests that meaningful acquisition and application of literacy provides the basis for positive social transformation, justice, and personal and collective freedom. Although this characterization establishes desired outcomes that match those of the ideological component of Cyberpower the UN report purposely restricts their focus [G5] to text and written materials. It is at this juncture where digital literacy comes into play.

In the vernacular, literacy often is taken to be equivalent to competency, proficiency or functionality, and is often affixed to other words to create compound meanings[G6] , such as information literacy, (new) media literacy[G7] , and stranger and debatable pairings, such as emotional literacy.[2] Digital literacy is another one of these duos, and like the others it has a surrounding body of literature and discourse. However, I think it stands apart[G8] because it is well-positioned to appropriately frame research on libraries, information technology and empowerment, as will be explained.

Many definitions of digital literacy have turned up over the course of the past two decades, but they can generally be sorted into two major categories: (1) conceptual (abstract) definitions, often advocacy-laden, and (2) “standardized sets of operations intended to provide national and international normalizations” (Lankshear and Knobel 2006:21), or, more simply, comparable described[G9] skills. In a sense this is just theory and application, but the examples are so numerous and vague that they become difficult to track, especially when someone is seeking to determine which theory leads to which application. Even still, digital literacy research is largely international,[3] which makes direct comparison and universal classification difficult, and the majority of it seems to be focused on youth enrolled in K-12 education,[4] which delivers an incomplete view of the issue. Reviewed here is not a comprehensive or catch-all literature review of all ‘digitally’ associated literacies [G10] but instead a simpler concrete and outcome-oriented alignment of commonalities found in several apprehensions and models of digital literacy that I think are important[G11] . In other words, this framework provides the basis for my research approach.

In the Abstract

Conceptual definitions of digital literacy include a call for an alteration of the media and mode limitation seen in the aforementioned UN articulation: reading and writing with physical text. Some interpret this as broadly as the ability to comprehend information however it is presented physically, no matter how complex[5] (adapted from Lanham 1995[G12] ), while others provide a new concentration as a stipulation: the ability to understand, evaluate and organize information represented through ICTs (among the first to propose this was Gilster[6] 1998, there have been many others since). The field of New Literacy Studies is so bold as to suggest that digital literacy[7] is a facet of entirely ‘new literacies’ and that though these literacies include practices mediated by post-typographic forms of text[G13] they also inherently involve social behaviors and patterns, such as being ‘participatory,’ ‘collaborative,’ or more ‘distributed’ (Lankshear and Knobel 2008, Jenkins et al. 2006, Mills 2010, Hague and[G14] Payton 2010). Such practices may dramatically transform the production of knowledge (Warschauer 2010); this implies that new sets of cultural or social relations may be necessarily represented through information sharing and expression with ICTs. Stated differently, it could be said that these new social practices are value-laden, and these values can get intertwined with the process and medium of ICTs.

The power digital literacy, to some extent, actually lies in its flexibility and lack of strong structure. In the 80’s scholars grappled with the idea of computer literacy, and later, in the 90’s they incorporated a broader view of information literacy (Bruce 1994, 1997). Bawden (2008) explains that the roots of digital literacy are interrelated to a host of other terms: library literacy (Bawden 2001), network literacy (McClure 1994), informany (Neelameghan 1995), mediacy (Inoue, Naito, and Koshizuka 1997), and e-literacy (Martin 2003, 2005). Though the objective is not to create one master form of digital literacy, Lankshear and Knobel (2008) suggest that a view of digital literacies (plural) is appropriate, and can account for the underpinnings of traditional text literacy, computer literacy, background knowledge, central competencies like knowledge assembly, and attitudes or perspectives, like independent learning.

As a result, digital literacy is notably situated in related sociocultural debates (Koutsogiannis 2007, Williams 2003), topics like textual design [G15] and multimodality (Kress 2003[G16] , Kress & Van Leeuwen 2001), the trajectory of education in the global information age (Cope & Kalantzis 2000[G17] , Luke & Carrington 2003), what forms or adoption processes the social practices of literacy take (Lankshear and Knobel 2008),[8] and in envisioning new media as potential sites or environments of learning (Gee 2004). This discourse may be, in many cases, a reproduction of previously-encountered literacy debates (Collins & Blot 2003), and a great deal of the extant reports on digital literacy could stand to benefit from integrating a broader range of disciplinary perspectives.[9] Conversations too far removed from practice may give insufficient attention to cultural tradition, the role of identities[G18] and local economic[G19] factors, to the point where we may fall into the trap of reinforcing digital capitalism, in a variation on a broader theme of the digital divide (Pieterse 2005, Koutsogiannis 2007). Despite all of this, the rhetoric does illustrate the sheer assemblage of ideologies on the topic, as well as the powerful interdisciplinary constituency of scholarship.

In Application

The fragmented theory from the numerous academic disciplines surrounding digital literacy are inherited in its application in research; many measures of digital literacy exist in recent publications. Similar to education and other intersections of humanities topics and social science, digital literacy seems to be most often measured in two ways: (1) in terms of flexible (qualitatively described) examples and typologies[G20] of best practices as well as (2) specifically measured aptitudes and behaviors, usually seen in the performance of tasks .

A complete review of studies employing these types of measures is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, reviewed here are two exemplars that give an idea of the ways conceptions of digital literacy might be applied.[G21]

First is the model for participatory culture discussed by Jenkins’ et al. (2006). In their report the authors argue for the existence of an emerging culture tied to digital literacy, described as having “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (Jenkins et al. 2006:3) The authors suggest that the recipe for participatory culture includes many social practices connected to engagement with ICTs, such as affiliations in online communities, digital expressions and circulations, and distributed problem-solving. They see this social action as related fundamentally to other challenges, such as digital inclusion and participation, transparency of information, and the question of ethics in the proliferation of new media. Out of this they draw a set of skills and cultural competencies and give examples that include teaching scenarios and encouragement for best practices. For instance, they describe transmedia navigation, “the ability to deal with the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities” (Jenkins et al. 2006:46) by presenting the case of Pokémon, a fictitious set of creatures for which there is no single core source of information. Children learn about Pokémon by following stories of their experiences and characteristics in a variety of mediums with different affordances and systems of representation, including card games, television, videogames and websites. Though Pokémon appear in many contexts, children still have a grasp of who and what they are. The application of digital literacy seen here is helpful in that it constructs useful and flexible categories and instances of social practice, but without chaining them to specific information technologies.

Second, Eshet-Alkalai and Hamburger (2004) and Eshet-Alkalai and Chajut (2009) introduce a compelling model in their operationalization of digital literacy as testable skills[G22] : photovisual literacy, reproduction literacy, branching literacy, information literacy, socioemotional literacy, and real-time thinking skills. Their series of studies (2004, 2009) featured a sample comprised of a diverse group of participants controlled for age, education and socioeconomic variables. They demonstrated the testing of digital literacy skills through verifiable and reliable tests over time, but with sufficiently complicated tasks. For instance, participants were challenged to use a word processor to modify the meaning of text by rearranging its parts. The work involved included an understanding of connotation, grammar, and composition as well as knowledge of the interface and comfort with hardware manipulation. In comparison to other simpler measures of digital literacy, such as knowing how to send an email,[10] the authors more effectively capture digital literacy in its context: while they might pay more attention to technical aptitudes and cognitive abilities with regards to certain variables, they acknowledge the complexity and embeddedness of technology use. Knowing how to send an email has as much to do with knowing what or how to write and grasping the cultural norms of the people using your domain of the internet as it does using a mouse or navigating Gmail.

What makes these examples powerful is their emphasis on surrounding context and application-oriented research. They are also in need of one another. Jenkins et al. don’t present metrics that work well with operationalized (hypothesis testing) research and evaluation and Eshet-Alkalai, Hamburger and Chajut remain constrained to cognitive models that don’t take enough of the wisdom of cultural literacy studies [G23] into account. Research on digital literacy more generally falls in with the same trap[G24] : how to balance giving sufficient attention to informing theory and at the same time establishing and testing comparable and valid models or measures.

Establishing the Terms: Critical and Creative Literacy

A valuable digital literacy framework lies in a combination of insights from the field of research reviewed above. Digital literacy is best understood as a fuzzily bounded [G25] and dynamic set of social practices that foster critical social awareness, as well as measurable knowledge of and command over relevant digital tools. This is what is meant by the qualified critical and creative digital literacy[G26] , and I think this combination, is the most likely to affect the arrangements and production of Cyberpower.

Critical social awareness [G27] is the component that keeps this model outcome-oriented[G28] . It is not unlike the objectives of critical pedagogy (Finn 1999): educators must work vigorously to decipher and dismantle the oppressive structure that has come to characterize modern stratified education and push for authentic dialogue between teachers and learners[G29] . This need for a critical mindset goes beyond teaching young students in schools, extending to people of many ages and cultures,[11] and also beyond the domain of skill acquisition—to aiding learners in becoming aware of their right (and capability) to transform reality (Freire 1998). In order to empower[G30] literacy should be an avenue for individuals to better understand how their identity and agency rely on and produce cultural forms. Contemporary introductory sociology classes refer to what is essentially the same concept when they teach students about C. Wright Mills’ (1959) Sociological Imagination: critical consciousness of the relationship(s) between experiences, of individuals and communities, to social structures and processes.

In other words, people become consummately digitally literate by approaching ICT tools critically,[12] and this process deals with a moving target. What has been liberating literacy in the past—simply knowing how to read—has become domesticating literacy—a requirement to be plugged in to the system, but not command power within it—now (Finn 1999), and there is no reason to think this trend will not continue. I would posit leveraging the web is the new facet of this issue. People ought to engage in making sense of information access, communication and production tools in terms of their relevant fundamentals:

  • · The ways they affect their capacity to assert identity
  • · Recognition of the limitations and opportunities afforded by the cultural context surrounding a given tool
  • · Its possibility for meaningful communal participation or collaboration
  • · And finally, reflection on this process of sense-making and evaluation [G31]

Robinson (2011) would likely stress that these fundamentals constitute exemplars of creativity as he refers to it, applied imagination, but in this case it is applied sociological imagination.

Critical consideration of ICTs informs and orients the agenda of building a base of knowledge about these tools. To accomplish the transformation of the world around us as Freire describes people require basic concepts and skills for ICT application in everyday life. This includes a dimension of augmented information literacy, which Martin and Grudziecki (2006:7) aptly describe as:

“The awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesize information resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others.”

Creative[G32] digital literacy, as I conceptualize it, hangs on the latter half of this definition, but with greater intensity. Contributing to the creation of the content and knowledge that flows between ICTs is a step towards empowerment, but this may leave out a key condition: the ability to generate, modify, repurpose, remix and otherwise assert control over the mediums these ICTs depend on and exist in. This requirement may be extreme, but can be cast as a long term goal, much as justice and equity might at first seem farfetched. If individuals can program, design, hack, and build software and hardware then they have[G33] greater control over the means of knowledge production. They can participate in liberating movements like Open Source (Chorpa and Dexter 2008), dismantle [G34] oppressive social structures knit into digital architectures[13] (Lessig 2006), help to maintain the innovative context that enabled the proliferation of the internet to develop in the first place (Zittrain 2008) and understand and advocate for their position in a permanently beta[14] (Neff and Stark 2004) ecology of the internet.

Indeed, what sets this apart from classic media, visual, and information literacy is that creative digital literacy is fundamentally about being an active player: the study of the influence of a hundred channels of information all produced by external authorities might be an act of raising awareness, but viewers in the contemporary[15] have little or no ability to shape what’s on the airwaves of radio or TV. They have limited access to the print-based publishing world and little say in the formalized rules of visual design. By contrast, the discourse, ideas and content that perpetuate throughout the internet and via ICTs is in large part authored by individuals and organizations of varying type and scope. Digital literacy is necessarily an involved and directed activity that is about interacting and producing; it must go beyond watching or reading[G35] as much as it might go beyond experience and comfort with computers.[16] Exposure to ICTs does not translate to competence, even when it concerns young learners, but research has begun to suggest that those who are indoctrinated into the active-producer norms of the internet will apply these skills and conceptual models to classic media like TV (Shirky 2010[G36] ). Writing code for your own software program or painting a picture with a mouse are not easily reducible to the application or interpretation of information. These tasks involve a dimension of craft and require attention to social context. The recent decade has produced and made accessible more information and communication [G37] opportunity than ever known before, but leveraging the quantity to produce quality is best as an active process.[G38]

I will return to this argument in a moment, to explain how it relates to Cyberpower, but first I should explain why I have abandoned the frame Cyberpower was previously associated with: the digital divide.

Differentiating and Deciphering the Digital Divide

I want to take a moment to distinguish digital literacy from the digital divide. A lot of work on the subject of power and information society examines people’s ability to participate in it meaningfully, be it as part of global conversations, local democracy, or broad social change movements. The frame this instinctually assumes is that participation boils down to a matter (requirement) of access, known commonly as the digital divide, or, stated succinctly, the power differences between people or communities tied to varying levels of computer and internet opportunity[G39] .

Establishing the digital divide as our enemy necessarily embarks us on a quest for digital solutions, but the lack of possession of material access to technology and the absence of skills, community support and perceptions to make effective use of it [G40] is often a symptom of deeper, prolonged issues. In some sense the digital divide is a moving target, the make-up of ICTs shifts as we look back over time. As stated earlier, we’ve been in something of an information revolution (or crisis) for over thirty years. First it was the onset of significant representation of computers in business and homes (the computer and information revolutions, Beniger 1986 and Jones 1982, cited by Williams 2001[G41] ), then it was the internet (DiMaggio and Hargittai 2001, Warschauer 2003) and more recently mobility (Johnson, Levine and Smith 2009, Horrigan 2009), broadband (Horrigan 2008) and Web2.0 (Scholz 2008[G42] ). It is worth taking a step back, disentangling oneself from the ever-changing constitution of ICTs, and interrogating the underlying assumptions and agendas of the digital divide and the credence for the proliferation of ICTs.

A fitting example might be Jan Pieterse (2005), who questions the motivation behind the digital divide in his critique of information communication technologies for development, or ICT4D. His argument takes place in the context of digital capitalism, a world in which networks of corporations drive and dominate cyberspace and subject the world to certain flavors of media and deepen forces like consumerism [G43] (Schiller 2000), which is not unlike the network society described by Castells. ICT4D implies the imposition of flawed (or loaded) developmental models, such as technological determinism or neo-liberalism (market forces are development[G44] ) that serve to mask the true intentions of insidious political and economic agendas: to make money off of poor people through selling more material goods and exploiting labor, to control markets with ideologies like intellectual property rights and to force developing countries to choose between dependence on NGO’s or corporate networks. Pieterse’s stance is accurate, if resoundingly pessimistic, and reminds us of the complex of baggage we drag with us when we deploy ICTs to ‘bridge the divide’ between peoples.

Many researchers have set out on task of revealing the digital divide and have found illustrious ways to describe dimensions related to unequal distribution and use of ICTs: from material access and skills (DiMaggio and Hargittai 2001, Banks 2006, Van Dijk and Hacker 2003) to mental access (interest in ICT) and usage opportunities (Van Dijk and Hacker 2003, Banks 2006) to perceptions of these variables (Porter and Donthu 2006) to the accumulate ability to openly critique technology tools (Banks 2006). Van Dijk and Hacker express the situation rather appropriately when they criticize the passing way most articles situate their findings:

…based on a rather static and superficial sociological analysis of the present situation. Constructing rather arbitrary background variables of individual resources at a single point in time does not make a theory that is able to relate to social and technological development, that is to say, the level of society and technology. (Van Dijk and Hacker 2003).

They instead link ICT policy to long-lasting and concrete positive outcomes, specifically social inclusion and equal distribution of resources or life chances, and suggest researchers place emphasis on variations of classic factors that strongly determine socioeconomic status, like education. Or, in my case, literacy.

The shift in focus from divide to literacy is desirable because the emphasis is placed on changing individuals, who then in turn affect social change in the aggregate, in the ground-up fashion described by Cyberpower. Literacy as I describe it necessitates that the learner play a strong role in orienting the agenda, not just external authorities like government, corporations or NGO’s. In this model access instead becomes a down payment[G45] for literacy, and consequently empowerment, but it doesn’t really amount to much without this end goal.

Digital Literacy as Cyberpower

One stated definition of Cyberpower is that it is a measure of to what extent individuals, groups or movements are able to wield power with benefit from ICTs. Considering this description, it could be apt to state that digital literacy is active Cyberpower. The study of new literacies teaches us transformative social practice can and should be part of digital literacy[G46] , and my chosen modifiers of critical and creative can be construed[G47] as social practices.

To clarify what I mean by this, and in order drive home the connection between critical and creative, as well as underscore a more eloquent presentation of Cyberpower, I would like to introduce the recent work of David Gauntlet (2011).

Gauntlet’s thesis, based largely on the ideas of John Ruskin, William Morris, Karl Marx and Ivan Illich, is well-encapsulated by his book’s title: Making is Connecting. Fundamentally, he argues for the significance of creation, the generation of virtual and real things by everyday people. Like Robinson, Gauntlet attacks the idea that the world of thinking (theory) should be separated from the world of doing (application) in some kind of archaic industrialism-era fashion, and suggests that to have creativity and craft contained by formal intuitions and fields—like professional art, theater, dance, programming, writing and more—is to further the illusion that everyday people cannot be part of cultural production, when, in fact, they’re perhaps as responsible for it as any news media, educational or governmental force. The explosion of interest and sensation over the Web2.0 “brand” (Scholz 2008) represents a challenge to many traditions of cultural construction, and Gauntlet is careful to note some of the downsides, like the danger identified in Baym and Burnett (2009), that collaborative production may be unrewarded or exploited labor, of a kind.[17] Nevertheless he makes three points that I feel are worth noting:

1) In the case of creation, both on and offline, we need to think about more than just tools of craft, but instead platforms and communities. The ease of use and access for a given tool is certainly part of the picture, but Gauntlet’s book is teeming with examples of people connecting to people, by making in context. It is not, a case study of the technology of the moment.

2) Imperfection[G48] is not only okay, but it makes us happy. Unfinished works, learning activities, rough remixing projects, all of these are potentially productive, what is most often important is the personal aspect of a work. Gauntlet finds plenty of ties in the literature on individual happiness to the process of freely-chosen, goal-oriented creation projects, including emotional support, communal recognition, helpful feedback, social approval, self-awareness and more.

3) Making leads to connecting, which in turn affects social capital. Though tracing the importance of social capital in issues like community health is difficult, Gauntlet suggests that this is how to best take a sociological viewpoint on aggregate wellbeing.

Gauntlet lands, finally, in a chapter on Ivan Illich’s work on deschooling[18] and the social roles of the tools of creation.[19] An education system based on creation would look radically different than our contemporary mass-production factory, and would involve more direct skill-sharing and exchange-based teaching, peer matching or mentorship and, quite applicable to my dissertation topic, public libraries full of all kinds of educational objects and attached programs. The vision behind this[G49] , which I think beautifully connects critical to creative in the context of Cyberpower, is stated best by Illich himself:

“Tools are intrinsic to social relationships. An individual relates himself in action to his society through the use of tools that he actively masters, or by which he is passively acted upon. To the degree that he masters his tools, he can invest the world with his meaning; to the degree that he is mastered by his tools, the shape of the tool determines his own self-image. Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision…a convivial society should be designed to allow all of its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others.”

Illich demonstrates the necessary connection between a critical perspective of self-awareness and active creation of Cyberpower through tools. When people become cognizant of their desired and imposed identities they are able to act with direction and conscience; they can envision the world as they wish it to be. Here we have a vision of society filled with empowered, self-directed people, who purposefully use tools largely of their own design or control. These participants connect with one another, not just in terms of communication or information sharing, but also through making and remaking[20] both content and the systems through which it flows. I see this as all three levels of Cyberpower, (1) they possess power, in the form of a repertoire of tools, skills, and creations, (2) they help to guide the investment of power in platforms and objects more actively and critically, and (3) they are power itself in an ideological sense because they are a greater stakeholder in the network of abstract forces that structure society. I think Robinson and Gauntlet would both agree with me in saying that they are also more likely to be happy and positively contribute to the social capital of communities.

I am not suggesting that in order to be digitally literate, a person must know how to create YouTube, in full. I am suggesting, however, that the more they learn about the inner-workings of YouTube as a black box, the better able they will be to use it effectively. For instance, understanding that video preview thumbnails are based on stills generated by an automatic parsing system which splits a clip into quarters allows a video creator to determine their own video advertisement images with precision. Knowing how to code a flash (web element) container that can play any kind of video gives a person more insight on a key efficiency of YouTube’s design. Understanding how the multiple streams for content of varying quality are downloaded to your local client, and how to save them permanently enables users to acquire the assets for remixing projects without having the original source. All of these undertakings become easier when you make your own black box. As Zittrain (2008) has pointed out, while the internet was constructed by people who all could help to generate its inner-workings, its mass adoption has led to a vast majority of increasingly ignorant users. The ‘ease’ of access is the dark side of a consumer model based on ignorance. Companies like Apple would prefer their users only be able to consume content on their terms, on their devices, and not be able to create it unless it goes through their own restricting information-control-overkill development and rights management (DRM) models. Apple’s worst nightmare is probably a body of users willing to critically interrogate their ethics and business model, as well as its foundational pro-marketization reproduction of information as a controlled commodity.[21] In fact, their nightmare does exist in a budding form, as the Linux and FOSS community.

I think this combination provides the beginning of an answer to Lessig’s fourth constraint: architecture. While Lessig talks mostly about the architecture of code as a structuring force, a sociological imagination-fueled creation ethic could probably battle oppressive ideologies knit into physical world objects as well. In sum, I think critical and creative digital literacy is constructive of Cyberpower that can play a role [G50] in (1) shaping the space of flows (Castells 1997), (2) reinvigorating the library in the public sphere (Buschman 2003), and (3) assisting the ailing public education system (Robinson 2011).

The question remains, how does this composition of theory roll into a research project?

From Theory to Research[G51]

As will be explained, I intend to approach this topic with targeted qualitative interviews and a limited series of case studies. Simply stated, I think this theoretical framework equips me to do this research well in two primary ways:

1) It alters and justifies the frame in which I ask questions about what is going on in libraries in ways that most previous studies have not: investigating programs, people, and policies, in addition to infrastructure like devices.

2) It supplies the scaffolding for my analysis of the data. In inspecting the relationships between all of these factors as they relate to digital literacy I will remain obligated to discerning social impacts in terms of Cyberpower.

Epistemological assumptions my scholarship depends on can be found in Appendix D[G52] .

[1] Compute as in basic mathematics, not computing or computer operations.

[2] For a brief history and example of emotional literacy analysis in action see Liau, Liau, Teoh, Liau 2003. As Burman (2009) point out, however, the term is still somewhat contested in its use and needs to be considered and employed with caution.

[3] An ever-increasing amount of research on digital literacy education and associated practices is taking place in countries outside of the US, including Ireland (DLIPS 2009), Greece (Koutsogiannis 2007, Mitsikopoulou 2007), Israel (Eshet-Alkali & Amichai-Hamburger 2004, Eshet-Alkalai & Chajut 2009), Spain (Meneses and Mominó 2010), Australia (Walsh 2010, Bulfin 2007), Brazil (Braga 2007), South Africa (Jacobs 2004, Walton 2007), Botswana (Mutula and Mutula 2007), Rwanda (Mukama & Anderson 2008), and Hong Kong (Lee 2002). Together these comprise a rich array of ideas and perspectives.

[4] It is widely acknowledged that digital technologies significantly impact literacy developments in K-12 education (Walsh 2010, Carrington and Robinson 2009, Jones 2007, and more), and this has been given special concern with young children (Hisrich and Blanchard 2009, Burnette et al 2006, Russo et al. 2009 ). The popularized ‘digital natives’ concept (Prensky 2001, Palfrey and Gasser 2008) may be responsible for this heightened interest and concern, but could also be a reflection of the current iteration of moral panic that is reoccurring in education (Bennet and Maton 2008).

[5] This might be stated more specifically as any “ways of making meaning with diverse semiotic resources” (Warschauer 2010:124) that could enable in the discovery of ‘invisible literacies.’ (Baynham 1995 in Warschauer 2010), which is too broad of an approach to be useful here.

[6] A budding typology that included several aspects: assembling knowledge, evaluating information, searching and navigating in non-linear routes

[7] And in fact, Lankshear and Knobel (2008) advocate that an expansive frame of ‘digital literacies’ (plural) more honestly accounts for the diversity of research on the topic, and ties well into previous research on literacies.

[8] Though they make reference to this in the introduction, examples can be found throughout their whole book by a range of authors: David Bawden, Genevieve Marie Johnson, Maggie Fieldhouse, David Nicholas, David Buckingham, and Ola Erstad.

[9] One such example can be seen in Williams’ 2003 assessment of the National Research Council’s 1999 report Being fluent with information technology. While the report effectively captured fluency with IT in terms of technical skills, concepts and history, it failed to articulate many of the ways literacy connects to social structures related to power, democracy, and cultural hegemony.

[10] As seen in Meneses and Mominó 2010 , for instance.

[11] As explained by Braga (2007), Resistance Theory (Giroux 1983, 1988) compels us to move past issues of ‘social reproduction’ to rescue notions of agency and resistance, as motivated by the work of Gramsci (1971). It is therefore important to engage all social groups in the process of social critique to forge alliances that promote progressive political actions.

[12] Banks (2006) refers to this as critical access: “Members of a particular community must also develop understandings of the benefits of the problems of technology well enough to be able to critique, resist and avoid them when necessary as well as using them when necessary” (42). To frame critical analysis of ICTs as access is a cumbersome appropriation of the digital divide rhetoric. It is probably more accurate to describe it as literacy, even if the critical qualifier may be redundant.

[13] To reiterate, Lawrence Lessig argues that the internet heeds four constraints: social norms, the flows of markets, law, and the way its systems, interfaces and channels are constructed; their architecture.

[14] Permanently beta, in this context, refers to regular state of instability of digital products. Take Google: it never has a final released version, but is instead an interface with a continually changing and wildly complex set of databases behind it. What’s more is that the consumers, the users of Google, have a strong role in influencing the way the system develops. The internet is made up largely of these kinds of feedback and innovation systems.

[15] When radio and TV first debuted they had considerable entrepreneur uptake and were not dominated by a limited set of corporate powers (Zittrain 2008). This fell away over the years to reach our current state of media company conglomerations.

[16] Readers will notice I have not made much effort to distinguish computer literacy here. I don’t really think it’s a relevant term anymore, because of its implied restriction: computers. We use much more than those to access information these days. and more often than not the term just refers to knowing how to do things like operate a mouse and show some understanding of the conceptual models taken up by operating systems.

[17] In their study Baym and Burnett noted that often respondents didn’t see things this way. Not all activity must be rewarded in a monetary form. In fact sometimes the best rewards are not possible to quantify in that way. Scholz gives an argument similar to what Castells or Buschman might say: the discourse and ideological framing around Web2.0 as a zone controlled by the everyday person is a tool of those who control the space of flows, the technocratic pro-marketization elite. Substantively, ability to contribute content and establish connections does little to disassemble structural oppression like racism, sexism and the like. The alternative demographics of the web (which has in part led to the digital natives scare) and the existence of powerful counteractive forces like international hacker communities do make for some social change, but not the egalitarian liberation it was once dreamed (or purported) to be.

[18] In Deschooling Society (1971), Illich effectively the crisis of education as presented by Robinson earlier on, only, as would be reasonably expected, without emphasis on information society. He proposes a more radical reformation of education, too.

[19] Titled formally, Tools for Conviviality (1973), the book is largely about having the power to shape one’s own world, the dangers of organizing human interests into systems and institutions, and the way that tools could apply to both of these issues.

[20] An alternative phrasing of this might be subverting. Finding and making “hack-arounds” to systems of content sharing is a way of remaking and exerting control on them.

[21] Apple is not alone in doing this, they’re just particularly notorious for finding a way to put a proprietary price tag on everything. They, like many other tech companies, convince users to give up liberties so that they can be ‘safe’ from viruses and not have to be responsible for thinking much about their consumption. In the case of Apple users can instead choose to relish the sex appeal of devices that showcase their membership in a higher or “better” social class.

[G1]Word choice fights – motivates, undergirds, lies beneath, etc…

[G2]I might also go on to say that it illustrates connections to cyberpower and lirbaries in information society, but I should probably push those at the end.

1) [G3]Here’s what literacy is generally

2) It’s an extension of the human rights to education

3) There are many types of literacy, but digital literacy is appropriate here because of my focus

4) Nobody seems to agree what digital literacy is, so I’m making my own functional definition that builds on my research questions, method and site

[G4]Education should cultivate individual talents, cultural understanding, good citizenship and economic development. Everything depends on the quality of teaching and on personalized learning.”

[G5]I previously used the term unit of analysis, which I still kind of like

[G6]There is considerable debate between fields of study that include literacy. Many attempts to propose a single master set have been made, but I don’t want to go about colleting those.

[G7]Assumed that the reader will know what these are, they have no single easily traceable history, as far as I can tell

[G8]Is distinguished

[G9]And measurable

[G10]This would be a dissertation itself, actually

[G11]Formalist alarm, use of first-person!

[G12]I don’t know if this is the best reference – my goal is to say that some people just see digital literacy as information literacy. Lanham writes that his book’s concepts were applied in many contexts…

[G13]or ICTs – does the distinction between medium and mode matter here?

[G14]And probably more I don’t know about – these are recent/influential people I know of.


[G16]1) Texts are becoming intensely multimodal, that is, image is ever-increasingly appearing with writing, and, in many domains of communication, displacing writing where it had previously been dominant.

2) Screens (of the digital media) are replacing the page and the book as the dominant media.

3) Social structures and social relations are undergoing fundamental changes, as far as writing is concerned, predominantly in changes of structures of authority, and in the effects of changing gender formations.

4) Constellations of mode and medium are being transformed. The medium of the book and the mode of writing had formed a centuries-long symbiotic constellation; this is being displaced by a new constellation of medium of the screen and mode of image. The consequences of this shift are profound.

[G17]Situated Practice, which draws on the experience of meaning-making in everyday life, the public realm and workplaces;

Overt Instruction, through which students develop an explicit metalanguage of design;

Critical Framing, which interprets the social context and purpose of Designs of meaning; and

Transformed Practice, in which students, as

meaning -makers, become designers of social


[G18]Identity movements…

[G19]Control of production

[G20]The PEW reports, for instance

[G21]More active voice alternatives:


It wouldn’t be very productive to overview the hundreds of examples of these types of studies, so instead I’ll give examples from just two.


As one might guess, there are many studies based on these kinds of measures. For the sake of space, two exemplars follow:


See this is my natural voice, but I’m told it’s too informal, despite being much more concise and clear!

[G22]Example of skills-based measurement

[G23]The social construction of literacy – as a set of political and moral behaviors, etc…


[G25]This is a math-related phrase that’s managed to sneak into my vocabulary. I should probably replace it. The idea is to indicate flexible boundaries that are unstable




the term multiliteracies highlights two related aspects of the increasing complexity of texts: (a) the proliferation of multimodal ways of making meaning where the written word is increasingly part and parcel of visual, audio, and spatial patterns; (b) the increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity characterized by local diversity and global connectedness

[G28]Cyberpower goal oriented

[G29]Most cultures approach learning as process that includes a delivery of content, be it via a text, teacher, or computer, but a crucial component of learning lies in inquiry. Bruce and Bishop (2002) emphasize a complementary model known as inquiry based learning: the practice of asking questions, investigating sources of answers, creating solutions, discussing outcomes and application, and consistently and deeply reflecting on procedure. Thus inquiry-based learning moves pedagogy from transmission-oriented tasks to the open and relevant discovery and sharing of ideas and perspectives, which can certainly take place outside of a classroom or online (Bishop and Bruce 2002).

[G30]“In the face of the growing pessimism associated with the inequities of the global digital technological shift, it seems more important than ever… to recover and support new discourses informed by notions of hope, possibility and resistance”

[G31]Rather long: but this – right – critical reflection on the nature of information itself its technical infrastructure and its social, cultural, and philosophical context and impact

[G32]Alternative version of this:


…to cultivate productive aptitudes, such as the ability to program, design, draft and implement text, images and video in meaningful ways, and otherwise manipulate information technology devices and software to craft something for functional use. In broader definitions of literacy this component is simply thought of as the ability to communicate over multiple mediums, but in my version of digital literacy the necessary skills expand to include creation or remixing of both systems and content.


[G33]The capacity for

[G34]Or alter

[G35]Might be stepping on the toes of reading people here – some suggest reading is a more active experience than it is often given credit

[G36]But now, for the first time in the history of television, some cohorts of young people are watching TV less than their elders. Several population studies—of high school students, broadband users, YouTube users—have noticed the change, and their basic observation is always the same: young populations with access to fast, interactive media are shifting their behavior away from media that presupposes pure consumption. Even when they watch video online, seemingly a pure analog to TV, they have opportunities to comment on the material, to share it with their friends, to label, rate, or rank it, and of course, to discuss it with other viewers around the world. As Dan Hill noted in a much-cited online essay, “Why Lost Is Genuinely New Media,” the viewers of that show weren’t just viewers—they collaboratively created a compendium of material related to that show called (what else?) Lostpedia. Even when they are engaged in watching TV, in other words, many members of the networked population are engaged with one another, and this engagement correlates with behaviors other than passive consumption.

[G37]sheer data

[G38]Digital literacy involves critically engaging with technology and developing a social awareness of how a number of factors including commercial agendas and cultural understandings can shape the ways in which technology is used to convey information and meaning.

It means being able to communicate and represent knowledge in different contexts and to different audiences (for example, in visual, audio or textual modes). This involves finding and selecting relevant information, critically evaluating and re-contextualising knowledge and is underpinned by an understanding of the cultural and social contexts in which this takes place.

Digital literacy gives young people the ability to take advantage of the wealth of new and emerging opportunities associated with digital technologies whilst also remaining alert to the various challenges technology can present.

In short, digital literacy is the ‘savvyness’ that allows young people to participate meaningfully and safely as digital technology becomes ever more pervasive in society.

Indeed, if formal education seeks to prepare young people to make sense of the world and to thrive socially, intellectually and economically, then it cannot afford to ignore the social and cultural practices of digital literacy that enable people to make the most of their multiple interactions with digital technology and media. Yet the notion of digital literacy and how it may translate to teaching and learning is not always well understood. This handbook therefore aims to support teachers to begin to think about how to address digital literacy in their everyday practice. It explores the importance of digital literacy and sets out some pedagogical techniques for fostering it in the classroom from within subject teaching.

[G39]Okay, so this isn’t all that succinct, but does it make sense???

[G40]Remove? This is really what I wish to get at beyond access…

[G41]Which is in Cyberorganziing, Alkalimat (2004)

[G42]Pretty vicious he is

[G43]God that was abridged as all hell, I hope Dan’s okay with it 😮


It’s a little adapted from Castells, too, but this is like, WAY outside the territory of this paper as it is.

[G44]Probably deserves a greater introduction, but I don’t know all that much about it!


[G46]At its core literacy is a construct that we abstract from experience and communication, it is not really an entity itself, but a way of describing individuals who can engage in a (literate) way with their own emancipation through ICTs. It can best (only) be understood as it is manifested by individuals or their aggregate.

[G47]interpreted, understood? I repeat words SO MUCH

[G48]In The Craftsman, Richard Sennett, states that craftsmanship leads to self-esteem and wellbeing – imperfections reveal our individuality and presence.

[G49]Alternative quote:


People feel joy, as opposed to mere pleasure, to the extent that their activities are creative; while the growth of tools beyond a certain point increases regimentation, dependence, exploitation and impotence…


[G50]“Society requires literacy because in the power-knowledge relationship of the modern world, literacy defines who controls the means of production, that is the means to produce wealth (industry) and the means to produce knowledge (education).” Taylor 1993, covering Freire

[G51]Worth expanding this some, probably

[G52]Linda felt this did not belong in the main text, but knowing how much resistance there is to CI and public scholarship there is in the academy I felt I should include it somewhere.


So I keep accumulating little snippets of items and issues I want to blog about, writing them down, and then putting them off forever. So to help deal with this I’ve decided to write little blurps in series, much like I did in “Shotgun Blast” a while back. Okay here we go:

Babies in the Doc Study
As many of you know I’m a baby when it comes to comparison to other doctoral students, both in sociology and library science. In fact one of my friends in GSLIS has a daughter my age. Weird, huh? Yeah well nearly all of them are married and several have kids, which isn’t a big deal, except one of the students has now made it a habit of bringing her small child with her to work. He’s little, probably less than a year, and is typically pretty happy and well behaved. My issue is not with the baby, but what he does to what I would normally consider to be a place of scholars and quiet study. Every doc student but myself (and perhaps the detached foreign students) lord over the little baby and fuss about him for hours. I can’t possible work with it… I find it downright annoying. I got to thinking about it, though, and the feminist inside of me says I should shut up and deal with it. Why? Because women are often tasked with taking care of kids, and to exclude them from access to advanced degrees on account of it is something of a form of discrimination. So as much as the herd of fussing old PhD students and somber baby might annoy me, I should probably appreciate her right to bring him along, it makes our school a friendly place to young mothers. I think what perhaps bothers me more is the contrast it brings out between myself and the older mass of graduates. I’m so very different than most of them.

Urban Prairie Archeology
I had the chance to sweep down to East St. Louis last November and work with the Katherine Dunham Archival society. I dubbed the experience “Urban Prairie Archeology” because it was such a strange endeavor. East St. Louis has areas that are sometimes referred to as Urban Prairie, which is when buildings and empty lots are overgrown with prairie grass because of neglect and environmental factors. Archeology comes into the mix in a unique form – we were rescuing documents and artifacts from storage houses that contained many items belonging to the venerable Katherine Dunham, a female black scholar and anthropologist who traveled the world and expressed what she learned in the form of dance. She ran a dance company and retrieved a number of pieces of art from countries around the world – Haiti, China, etc… Unfortunately much of this material hasn’t been preserved or sorted and instead packed into small run-down houses that are infested with animals and invaded by the elements. Our job was to venture into these houses and search through a mass of junk for valuable items dating back to the early 1900’s. The experience was invigorating, we were able to save some community history, a worthwhile cause.

My Digital Literacy
Occasionally I think back to my education and wonder how I came to be so technical. I didn’t really learn much of what I know in school. Or did I? Certainly none of my classes ever taught me how to use programs or work on digital art but many of them provided me with absurdly good inquiry-based and self-led learning opportunities. I was able to make videos and websites and required to integrate them into the traditional learning objectives present in most of my classes. It wasn’t perfect and none of the instructors ever really understood half of what I did but in some ways it was the best possible way I could have learned much of what I did. I also came to remember a teacher – the only one who ever really successfully integrated computers into the classroom – from my junior high. He let me read a Star Wars book for a book report, something no English teacher or my mother would have ever considered worthwhile learning. It wasn’t about the book’s quality or difficulty – it just wasn’t considered valuable from institutional eyes. I was supposed to read Shakespeare to To Kill a Mocking Bird. Anyway, Mr. Block was all about encouraging students to explore what they found interesting and engage them on their own level with relevant topics. He brought Legos into science class and we were encourage to play games on the computers and also use them for science and exploration. I never found another teacher to so seamlessly and effectively blend computers into class like that. Not until grad school. I should find out what he’s up to now!

That said, school really didn’t influence my digital literacy all that much. Our Packard Bell 1995 computer provide me with art/animation sequencing programs that I made strategy games and FPS narrative robot stories out of, architecture and landscape design software that resulted in mansions and gardens, and I even used MS paint to create Battlemech blueprints, pixel by pixel.

Oh and that whole Web2.0 thing? Pictures, message communities, blog-like editorials, travel journalism? Yeah I was doing all of that on www.jag85.com long before Facebook, Flickr and Blogger. Sad that I was made fun of so vehemently for it, these days it’s ordinary.

I lived in virtual communities online, practicing writing skills and playing characters while imagining and creating universes in my mind. I modified game systems and shared my innovations – character sheets, programs, and new rule systems – with people from all over the world.

And all the while this was at odds with my mother, who saw everything that I did as treacherous and unhealthy. She thought that the exposure to violence would drive me to hurt others and that the time spent on computers would prevent me from acquiring people skills. And here I stand, one of the most extroverted people I know (online and off!) looking to help other people for a living.

I have to give her credit, actually. Without her to oppose (and prove that I wasn’t a bad person or mistake of a child like she made me think I was) I wouldn’t have come to where I am now.

And for the record my mom now feels horrible about how she treated us as kids. She was a mixed up and insecure person stuck in a world of rich housewives all concerned with appearing upper class. She had a poor relationship with her mother growing up and has struggled over her views of equality, gender roles, and common good. A lot of what she did was because she didn’t have confidence, and had even less control.

So where did my digital literacy come from? In terms of people – school, my mother, and, well, the internet. In terms of the abstract (in parallel) – drive, defiance, and curiosity.