Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies (Wikipedia: ).

This session examined the role of digital literacy in primary school teaching and we began by examining how it was referred to in the new national curriculum.  The curriculum makes reference to children’s learning in this area to enable them to “express themselves and develop ideas” through the use of digital media. To me, this highlights the creative element that comprises teaching and learning using digital media, plus the potential cross curricular learning opportunities it presents.  The curriculum document highlights that the learning should be “at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world”.  This part of the statement suggests to me that there is a need to be less prescriptive about exactly what and how elements of this subject should be taught, compared to some other subjects.  The teaching of digital literacy needs to be adapted to keep up with the fast pace of changes and developments in technology.

Next we divided into small groups to discuss what we felt it meant to be literate.  The consensus was that being literate meant being able to decode text of some kind, but also to be able to grasp its meaning. We felt literacy was about having the ability to communicate and to be understood.  We identified that there were multiple layers to literacy and this could also involve learning the language associated with new technologies and grasping associated concepts.  Again in groups we identified a number of qualities and characteristics that a child might need in order to be digitally literate.  This exercise helped to clarify for me that there are specific skills pertinent to digital literacy.  With the wealth of information available through digital media, such as the internet, a key skill for digital literacy is the ability to filter what is relevant and the ability to question content.

We watched a short film clip featuring Doug Belshaw.  He identified what he termed as ‘The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’

8 elements of digital literacies

He believed that these elements are not ranked and completely vary in importance depending on the context.  He emphasises that the context is everything.  I think the way he has presented his concept of digital literacy is useful as it demonstrates that the skills required to carry out a task completely depend on what it is you are doing.  For example, carrying out some internet based research will require criticality, whereas working on a joint animation project with a small group would require constructiveness, creativity and good team working skills.  I do think that Belshaw’s efforts to ensure all the elements he identified began with ‘C’ may have compromised the clarity of his intention.  I would have liked to have seen some reference to team working.  He could have included “Collaboration” perhaps.

The next part of the task involved groups of 3 working together using ipads to do a fun practical task using an app called ‘Puppet Pals’.  This app enables you to do a basic animation using cut out characters on a range of backgrounds, both of your own choosing.  We worked on these for a period of just about 20 minutes then came back together to share our masterpieces.  I was really impressed with what everyone had managed to put together in such a short space of time.  The ‘puppet shows’ were very funny and wide ranging.  I reflected that this short activity had the potential to be a wonderful primary school based activity, with the children working to a brief, but allowed to use their own ideas to create something unique.

Burn, A and Durran, J (2007) focus on the skills needed for some specific digital media projects carried out in Primary Schools.  A year 3 / 4 class were working on creating their own version of Little Red Riding Hood using stop animation software and clay models.  Kerry, a pupil involved in the project explained that she had learned “to be kind and co-operative but be very patient and to move the characters carefully and slowly” (p.51).  Burn and Durran identify that the range of skills needed for this would be broad ranging.  They included problem solving, team working, talk, patience and fine motor skills.

Burn and Durran highlight that when teaching digital literacy, especially through creative projects such as those they write about in chapter 3, children will be “expressive” and at times “anarchic” and “subversive”.  A teacher may need to be prepared for some “unexpected twists”.  What strikes me about this subject is that it presents rich opportunities for self expression, collaboration and cross curricular learning.  From my limited experience of creating our own ‘puppet show’ in the lesson, and the level of hilarity that ensued, I realised the potential for how much the children would enjoy and be engaged with an activity like this one.  They are exposed to so much media content such as films, TV programmes, cartoons, advertisements (the list is endless) that they have a wealth of cultural experiences they can draw on, even at a relatively young age, which they could then adapt and develop into their own finished product.

A final point I wish to make regarding the teaching of digital literacy is that there is a need to be selective about what is taught. There is limited need for schools to focus on the technicalities of how to use email software or send a text message, when many children will have their own computers at home and will learn this from each other, or from parents.  Where the focus needs to lie in this respect is with other literacy teaching themes, such as writing appropriately for your audience.  Where I can see the real benefits of digital literacy, is with the use of media to engage individuals or groups in a creative pursuit that they will enjoy and have fun with, whilst developing a range of other technical and life skills.


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


2 thoughts on “Digital Literacy

  1. kpemberton1

    You raise many interesting and thought provoking points Emma! I really like how you picked up the on potential for digital literacy to allow children to express themselves and become creative learners, and stated that this was the real benefit of digital literacy. This is something that I also got from the session, and something I feel is vital to engage children and stimulate their curiosity and passion for learning. When I first read how digital literacy could facilitate transformations of the self (Burn and Durran, 2007), I was rather sceptical. Initially I did not see how digital literacy could achieve this. However, the fun-filled task of creating our own story using Puppet Pals made me re-consider my stance and I now see the huge potential that digital literacy has to enhance children’s learning. I really enjoyed the task and it was wonderful to see how engaged everyone was- I found it particularly amusing that our session leader said we ‘responded as children would’. I too noticed this. Given the opportunity to create our own story, it was interesting to observe that we all used our prior knowledge and understanding to create new ‘versions’ of traditional fairy tales. This is something I have often observed children doing in the classroom and I feel that this is central to effective teaching and learning (as constructivism and social constructivism assert).

    I also agree with your point that being digitally literate requires a whole host of skills, some of which I had not honestly given much thought to before. I raised the point in our session about how individuals were not required to be ‘computer literate’ in the past and how they had little to do with technology until they met it in the workplace (something which my parents experienced). I wonder if I have not reflected upon the huge variety of skills that are required in order to be ‘digitally literate’ before because technology has had such a huge part to play in my education? Perhaps I have taken digital media for granted somewhat and some of these skills have become ‘automatic’? If this is the case, I anticipate that becoming more involved in the use and creation of digital media will allow children to advance well beyond what us as adults are capable of achieving with technology!

    I really like your suggestion that Doug Belshaw could have included ‘Collaboration’ in his 8 elements as I too feel that this is an essential skill that children need to develop in order to become active participants in a digital world, and this is something that Futurelab (2010) include in their definition of digital literacy. As our experiences of creating our blog and creating our Puppet Pal show have demonstrated, collaboration can allow individuals to work together to share meaning and reach new heights of understanding. I feel that digital media has a huge amount of potential to do this and I am now eager to see how I can implement digital media in my future practice to achieve these ends.


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

    Future Lab (2010) [online] Available: [Accessed 21st November 2013].

  2. khandscomb1

    You both make some very thought-provoking points. I was particularly interested in Emma’s mention of ‘multiple layers’ to digital literacy too. This made me evaluate my own level of digital literacy and in what ways I might consider myself a fluent or developing user of technology. How did I get to this stage of digital literacy? Emma, you talk about the part in the lecture when we talked about what digital literacy is made up of and whether this is the same for everyone or whether is changes depending of the relevance of certain technologies to different people. Most of the devices and digital tools I use now, I was never taught how to use. So how do I know how to work them? Well, I thought about this in relation to how children develop as readers?

    Exploration. Progression. Application.

    On a very basic level, children need to be able to hold the book the right way up, looks at the script in the correct direction, appreciate the importance of illustrations and decode the text on the page using the building blocks of systematic synthetic phonics. This level of literacy can be equated to a child’s ability to turn a computer on and off, know where to look on the screen, how the mouse works and all the practical skills needed to work a device. However, this is like a reader decoding without comprehension – the basic skills are ready to be built upon.

    To become more fluent in reading children need to become familiar with what a text is actually saying, what can be expected from certain genres, what types of plot devices different authors might use, common characters and representations of themes. This is similar to digital literacy, as children need to learn general conventions shared between different software, what can be expected of certain types of website and which types of software are appropriate for different purposes. These skills can only be learnt through guided or independent exploration.

    Next is where readers start to become critical of what they read and develop the ability to filter information, as Emma has talked about above. This is mimicked in the development of digital literacy, as children need to know when to trust and when not to trust information they find online or see in the media.

    Just as it is with reading and writing – the creation of digital texts is probably the most difficult part and children need to become familiar with opportunities for digital creation, such as Scratch and WordPress, which are available.

    I turn this made me think about how we can best facilitate children’s learning of digital literacies. This post in TES expresses the concerns of many teachers about whether primary schools will be ready to deliver the new computing curriculum to the highest standard.

    As teachers, does our level of digital literacy have to be to the standard we are expecting the children to reach? Do we just need to be one step ahead? Would it be possible to truly extend the children’s learning working in this way? Also, will a few session of training from a ‘master teaching’ of ICT really provide teachers with the necessary skills to facilitate children’s progression in computing?

    Like Kayleigh, I am now keen to investigate how I might include digital technologies in my future practice and develop my own level of digital literacy to encompass the types of things I will need to teach in relation to the curriculum and the children I will be teaching.


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