Open Thinkering


Tag: digital literacy

Writing and publishing openly online

Ian O’Byrne, Assistant Professor of Educational Technologies at the University of New Haven and a big help when defining the Web Literacy Map, invited me to participate in the recording of his latest podcast, Digitally Literate.

Other than Ian and me, the participants were:

  • Gideon Burton – Asst. Professor of English, Brigham Young University
  • Rick Ferdig – Summit Professor of Learning Technologies; Kent State University
  • Charlotte Pierce – /
  • Kristy Pytash / Assistant Professor, Literacy Education, Kent State University
  • Verena Roberts  – Open and Online Educational Consultant

We discussed the options for writing and publishing online, as well as the barriers involved (and more philosophical issues surrounding it).

It was recorded using Google+ Hangouts on Air, so you should see the embedded YouTube video below:

Don’t see anything? Try clicking here.

On ‘rigour’ in definitions of digital and web literacy.

Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to

TL;DR version: If we define rigour as something that’s ‘unchanging’ and ‘objective’ then it’s almost impossible to be ‘rigorous’ about digital and web literacy. Instead, I propose that instead of being rigorous that we’re relevant, even if that’s at the expense of some objectivity.

Here’s an interesting one. I occasionally get corralled into Twitter conversations as someone who knows about something or other. Today, it was Miles Berry after being asked why the new draft National Curriculum should include ‘digital literacy’. The assumption by his interlocutor (Bruce Nightingale) was that in order for a subject to be included in a programme of study it should be ‘rigorously defined’ with a ‘body of knowledge’ behind it.

When I asked whether rigour means ‘has a definition everyone agrees on’ Bruce pointed me towards this blog post by Jenny Mackness on ‘academic rigour’. The conversation quickly became too nuanced to do justice in 140-character bursts, hence this follow-up blog post. I hope Bruce has time to reply.

In Jenny’s post she talks about finding definitions of ‘academic rigour’ unsatisfactory. I’d suggest that’s because it’s a kind of Zeugma, an ambiguous term. But let’s just focus upon ‘rigour’. The Oxford English Dictionary (probably the best place to resort when faced with knotty problems of definition) gives the etymology of ‘rigour’ as:

Etymology:  < Anglo-Norman and Middle French rigour, Middle French rigeur, rigueur (French rigueur ) inflexible severity, severity, harshness (12th cent. in Old French), strict application (of laws) (13th cent.), feeling of tingling or prickling (a1365 in medical context), (in plural) repressive measures (15th cent.), cruelty (15th cent.), harshness that is difficult to bear (end of the 15th cent., of cold, etc.), exactitude, precision (1580) and its etymon classical Latin rigor unbending quality, stiffness, rigidity, numbness, numbness of the body in fever, unyielding hardness, frozen condition, quality of being stiffly erect, tautness, inflexibility, sternness, severity, uncouthness < rig?re to be stiff (see rigent adj.) + -or -or suffix. Compare Old Occitan rigor (1461), Catalan rigor (14th cent.), Spanish rigor (13th cent.), Portuguese rigor (14th cent.), Italian rigore (a1320).

I can’t help but think when I see words like ‘harshness’, ‘cruelty’, ‘exactitude’, ‘precision’, ‘rigidity’ and ‘inflexibility’ that we’re using the wrong word here. Applying such stringent measures to an ambiguous term like ‘digital literacy’ is problematic as ‘digital’ pertains to many different referents. To talk of rigour (as defined above), then, is verging on the ridiculous.

But does a lack of rigour around a subject, topic or idea make it less valuable? I’d suggest not. Instead, I’d suggest it’s the terminology we’re using that’s problematic. Let’s take another example: the idea of academic ‘impact’. What, exactly, does that mean? You may well be able to draw up a framework or points for this or that, rewarding academics for performing certain activities and publishing in various places. But what about obvious areas of ‘impact’ that lie outside of that rigid framework? Rigour does not mean relevancy. Sometimes the problem is with the tools you are using rather than the thing you are trying to describe. It’s OK for things to be nebulous and slightly intangible.

Having spent several years of my adult life delving into the murky world of new literacies I’d suggest that (for example) helping young people learn how to use digital devices, how to think computationally, and how to stay safe online are extremely relevant things to be doing. Can we boil these activities down to things to be learned once for all time? Of course not. It’s hard enough when you’ve got a single referent (e.g. the Web)

So, in conclusion, I’ll see your definition of ‘rigour’ and raise you a ‘relevance’. Not everything that is valuable can be measured objectively. Nor should it be.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Josh Clark

v0.2 of ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ now available!

***Version 0.3 now available!***

The Essential Elements of Digital LiteraciesRight on schedule, I’m delighted to announce that version 0.2 of my e-book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies is now available!

Those who invested in v0.1 have already received their update, according to the OpenBeta process I devised.

You can invest in v0.2 and then get every update to v1.0 by clicking below:



Invest now (£2) and get each chapter as it’s completed FREE!


More questions? I probably answered them in this post announcing the e-book!

Video of my Hybrid Days presentation about digital literacies now available!

After a few technical problems I managed to present to the Hybrid Days conference last night. You can catch up by watching the (slightly out-of-sync) video below. More about the conference and links to my slides can be in my previous post:

Watch live streaming video from hybriddays at

If the video from Livestream doesn’t show up above for whatever reason, click through for an backup.

Introducing! (a.k.a. today’s the day I submit my Ed.D. thesis…)

Today’s a big day in my life. This afternoon I’m heading to Durham to hand in what I’ve been calling on Twitter the #neverendingthesis. That hashtag, of course, is more-than-slightly disingenuous given that I’m submitting it almost two years early. At first, the #neverendingthesis thing was just a bit of fun. However, as I came closer and closer to submitting it I realised that I was feeling what George Lucas must have been feeling when he said, “A movie is never finished, only abandoned”. Making my thesis available online in a wiki format will allow me to tinker in the months and years to come.

Up to this point, and ever since I started writing it, my thesis has been available at That now redirects to where you can download a Word or PDF version of my thesis in the form I will be submitting today. I don’t believe that anyone ‘owns’ ideas and, as such, am waiving all claims to copyright. Just like this blog, my thesis: What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation is available under a CC0 license.

I won’t use this space to thank people as I do that in the thesis itself. If you’re interested in the journey I’ve taken over the last four years whilst I’ve been working on my thesis, I’d encourage you to check out the Preface and Appendix 3. Re-reading the Preface in particular made me well up a little last night…

What am I going to do with my spare time now? I’ve been in formal education for 26 years!

Read the first complete draft of my doctoral thesis on digital literacies.

Update: I’ve now submitted my thesis and it’s available at!

Doug's Ed.D. thesis

In 2006 George Siemens asked a bunch of people (including me) to proofread his book, Knowing Knowledge which he – innovatively for the time – released as a book, PDF and wiki. I happily did so and was credited along with many others who had been following George’s work in progress.

I know that many people reading this blog have followed my doctoral studies which has lasted about the same time as I’ve been blogging – six years. I’m delighted to say that yesterday I sent a complete draft of my Ed.D. thesis to my supervisor at Durham University. It may be a bit rough around the edges and there’ll be some inconsistencies, but it’s a huge relief to me.

Whilst my thesis – entitled What is digital literacy? A Pragmatic investigation – has been online since I started writing it in 2007, I thought I’d take this milestone as an opportunity to point people towards it and ask for some feedback. The major new update is Chapter 9 where I propose an ‘essential core’ of eight elements which make up an overlapping matrix of digital literacies.

I’ve had some great input and made connections with people all across the world during the last few years as a result of sharing my work. It’s a bit like pregnancy: the expectation during gestation is very different from the reality of delivering it. But now’s not a time to become coy and overly-protective about something I’ve been nurturing for so long; it’s time to, as with all my work, share it for the good of mankind. Ideas should be free.

And hopefully, just like a baby, people will admire and smile at it.

‘Digital literacy’ in Norway?

This is the first draft of a section for my Ed.D. thesis. The bibliography relating to the referenced literature can be found at (I’ve blogged more about my thesis at

Norway is often held up as an example of how to integrate digital literacy into a nationwide school curriculum. A four-year programme from 2004 to 2008 was sponsored by the Norwegian government, aiming to provide ‘Digital literacy for all’ (Kunnskapsdepartementet, no date). Investment in infrastructure and a focus on using ICT in learning activities was underpinned with a mission to enable Norwegians to use ICT to be ‘wealth creators’. Norway’s focus on digital literacy, therefore, as with the wider EU focus, was upon inclusivity and employability.

An educational reform known as The Knowledge Promotion led to digital literacy being given ‘important and historical status’ in the Norwegian national curriculum. It became the fifth basic competence along with reading, writing, arithmetic and oral skills, being mandatory in every subject at every level of compulsory schooling. As explained in a later chapter, however, Norwegian does not use the word ‘literacy’ in the same was as it is used English. This means that competence and literacy are used almost interchangeably.

In 2007, Almås & Krumsvik found that many of the pronouncements by the Norwegian government were merely ideology and rhetoric:

“[T]here is reason to believe that despite the government’s good intentions, the ‘ICT pedagogy’ is more strongly anchored in rhetoric than in practice. Essentially, Norwegian teachers are doing what they have always done, and traditional teaching methods and technology-free learning environments are dominant.” (Almås & Krumsvik 2007, p.482)

According to the most recent bi-annual ITU Monitor survey (2009) the ‘fifth pillar’ of competence is “the ability to make use of information and communication technology” and constitutes a ‘basic skill’ (ITU 2009, p.3). The authors of the report acknowledge that “the actual basic understanding of digital skills is rather vaguely formulated in national and local curricula” (p.14). Their solution to this was to come up with a multiple-choice test the sample questions from which seem to be similar to ‘e-safety’ questionnaires in the UK.

As Hatlevik points out in an analysis of the 2009 ITU Monitor report:

“There are several important challenges in the process of identifying and describing digital analysis: 1) to have a broader perception of digital literacy, ranging from demonstrating digital skills, such as the use of a specific software, towards production, ethical judgement, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity; 2) prevent assessment-driven teaching practices, such as by emphasizing the assessment of digital literacy as a formative evaluation; and 3) to ensure that the identification and understanding of digital literacy is theory driven and not solely defined from what is possible to measure in a quantitative way.” (Hatlevik 2009, p.173)

The second and third points – that digital literacy is not a ‘fixed’ attribute, and that not everything worth measuring can be measured – are particularly important to take into account given that Norway is viewed as a world leader in the integration of digital literacy into curricula.

Discourse around digital literacy in Norway has evolved to reflect the state of play in the EC. Digital literacy and digital competence are terms that are used interchangeably, with media literacy becoming an increasingly-dominant term with reference to critical skills. This, despite the White Paper that was used to outline the Norwegian curriculum framework defining digital literacy as “the sum of simple ICT skills… and more advanced skills that makes creative and critical use of digital tools and media possible” (Erstad 2007, p.3). However, the difficulty of translating the Norwegian term ‘kompetanse’ means that the term is translated variously even in official documents. The 2005 policy document eNorway 2009: the digital leap, for example, talks of ‘digital skills’:

“Digital skills include the ability to exploit the opportunities offered by ICT, and use them critically and innovatively in education and work. Digital skills also include the ability to be critical to sources and assess content. Use of digital tools is a skill the individual must acquire, maintain and continually develop, if he or she is to be a digitally skilled and critical citizen.” (p.8)

It is clear, therefore, that however ‘digital kompentanse’ may be translated, there is a critical element at the core of the definition involving reflection upon using sources of information and digital tools effectively. However, as Erstad translates the authors of the White Paper as stating, “In total digital literacy can be seen as a very complex competence” (Erstad 2007, p.3)

In order to tease out the complexities involved in digital literacy, the quarterly Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy ( was set up in 2006. It has attracted some of the biggest names in new literacies research as contributors, accepting contributions in English as well as Norwegian. Interestingly, and rather inevitably, the journal has moved from having a narrow focus on digital literacy to a more wide-ranging focus on new literacies. There is little evidence, however, that such research is any more than a one-way process with empirical evidence coming either from the bi-annual ITU Monitor report mentioned above or from researchers’ own classroom.

One of the best-known digital literacies researcher in Norway is Ola Erstad, whose research focus seems to have followed a trajectory from mainly ICT-focused conceptions of digital literacy to those allied to media literacy. We shall explore the concept of ‘umbrella terms’ in a later chapter: in Norway (and in Europe more generally) it is media literacy that is the dominant umbrella term. Erstad explains why he prefers this term:

“There are different terms used in this field of research, such as media literacy, ICT literacy, digital literacy, information literacy and digital competence. The key term, and the one highlighted in this article, is media literacy. In a Scandinavian context the term competence is often used instead of literacy since the latter term does not translate to the languages in these countries.” (Erstad 2010, p.56)

The dichotomy, therefore, is between digital competence (or ‘basic skills’) on the one hand, and a critical, more holistic ‘media literacy’ on the other hand. Erstad believes that this focus is appropriate given “the conceptual history in this field, where media literacy has been used since the beginning of the 1980s” (Erstad 2010, p.57).

Mifsud (2006) questions what we mean by ‘digital literacy’ noting, and by doing so, reinforcing, Erstad’s point about Norwegian not using the term ‘literacy’:

“Consider digital literacy in the school context. Does being able to send text-messages from a mobile phone or playing puzzle games constitute being digitally literate? While sending SMS messages represents the height of “e-literacy” for my mother, from an educational perspective, SMS-sending, and mobile telephones in general, have so far been frowned upon by schools.” (Mifsud 2006, p.136)

Digital literacy is far from a revolutionary competence or set of skills for Mifsud. She argues that there are broadly four elements to digital literacy: (i) the manipulation of digital tools, (ii) an extension of print-based literacies, (iii) appropriate “cut-and-paste” and “copy/delete” techniques, and (iv) the “inclusion of the visual” (Mifsud 2006, p.136-9). Digital literacy, therefore, is effectively a body of basic skills in a digital world.

Korten and Svoen (2006) point out that media literacy and digital literacy are often used as near-synonyms in Norwegian, hence the confusion. Perhaps one reason for the recent shift in emphasis in Norway (and in Europe more generally) from digital literacy to media literacy is that, as Pietraß puts it, it “lead[s] to much more satisfactory conceptions… than functional approaches” (Pietraß 2009, p.132).

The history and status of digital literacy in Norway is complex. The term is presumed by English-speaking researchers and educators to mean, in a straightforward way, the same in Norwegian as it does in English. However, given the difficulty in translating words such as ‘literacy’ into Norwegian, and words such as ‘kompetanse’ from Norwegian, ‘media literacy’ is a term preferred increasingly to ‘digital literacy’.

Trajectories of ambiguity: my first journal article.

In a move that will no doubt shock known world, I’ve decided that first-ever journal article will be both a collaborative venture and cock a snook towards traditional subject disciplines. Provisionally entitled Seven types of ambiguity and digital literacy I’m co-authoring it with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor Steve Higgins. Allegations that I’m doing so to prove originality in my research ahead of my viva voce by producing an article from an intended thesis chapter are, of course, completely unfounded.

Ambiguous terms and phases of ambiguity

I’m not going to give an overview of the entire article (for obvious reasons) although it will be published in an open-access journal. Suffice to say that we’re introducing the idea that terms such as digital literacy and digital natives/immigrants exhibit a ‘trajectory of ambiguity’ through which they pass on the way to becoming what Richard Rorty calls ‘dead metaphors’.

To prevent you having to go back and do Philosophy and Linguistics 101 I’ll remind you that the denotative aspect of a term is its surface or primary meaning. The connotative aspect of a term is its secondary, or implied, meaning. In the article, which features the overlapping diagram above (I’m not allowed to call it ‘Venn’, apparently) we’re arguing that there are three distinct phases through which terms pass. Whilst they never completely shed their connotative aspect the edge to the right of ‘Productive ambiguity’ is where the dictionary definition of terms reside. Generative ambiguity tends to be ‘blue skies thinking’, Creative ambiguity discussing and debating the definition of a term, and Productive ambiguity putting it into practice in various contexts.

You’ll be delighted to learn that we’ve done a sterling job in making the article itself ambiguous, situating it in the phase of Creative ambiguity. “Be the change you want to see,” “walk the walk,” etc.

Digital literacy, e-safety and donating to Japan

At the end of the day it is a blog post which exists to encourage people to buy anti-virus products. And yet, an article with the title Criminals Exploiting Japan’s Tragedy: A Chance to Teach Digital Literacy which does not go on to address digital literacy even once serves to illustrate a point.

As argued elsewhere, e-safety (which, ultimately, is the focus of the article) is an output of digital literacy, not an input. There is no course that an individual can take that would teach them to be completely ‘safe’ online. Immersion and a the ability to critically ‘read’ online is key. As in life offline, scams and deceptions evolve as they are practices originating in human thought and action.

If e-safety is an output then digital literacy as a concept needs to explicitly address the ‘critical’ element of literacy involved in reading and writing online. There is, however, no ‘body of knowledge’ or skills that can be packaged up and distributed as cyber castor oil.

Is digital literacy ‘in crisis’?

Sometimes, juxtaposition is all that’s required.

Bennett, et al. (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate – a critical review of the evidence (BJET, 39:5, pp.775-786)

Cohen’s (1972) notion of a ‘moral panic’ is helpful in understanding the form taken by the digital natives debate. In general, moral panics occur when a particular group in society, such as a youth subculture, is portrayed by the news media as embodying a threat to societal values and norms. The attitudes and practices of the group are subjected to intense media focus, which, couched in sensationalist language, amplifies the apparent threat. So, the term ‘moral panic’ refers to the form the public discourse takes rather than to an actual panic among the populous. The concept of moral panic is widely used in the social sciences to explain how an issue of public concern can achieve a prominence that exceeds the evidence in support of the phenomenon (see Thompson,

In many ways,much of the current debate about digital natives represents an academic form of moral panic. Arguments are often couched in dramatic language, proclaim a profound change in the world, and pronounce stark generational differences. (p.782)

Susan Murphy, Digital Literacy Is In Crisis (2011):

The solution to this crisis begins with teachers, and this is where the gap widens even more. Teachers are in a terrible predicament, because they are in a position where they’re still trying to figure this stuff out themselves. The Web is still so young. None of us has more than 15 years of experience at it. The technology, trends, and philosophies behind the Web change at lightning speed. Teachers are simply not equipped to bridge the gap of digital literacy, because they have fallen into the gap.

(emphasis in original)