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21st Century Literacy

Page history last edited by Martin Jenkins 14 years, 7 months ago

According to Robin (2008: 224) creating a digital story helps in the development of the range of what can be called 21st Century literacies.  What are 21st Century literacies?  The concept of literacies can be interpreted in different ways (Martin, 2006) and the notion of literacy has changed in response to the rise in popularity of digital media.  Originally literacies were seen as a set of generic functionalities, but increasingly they came to be seen to have an economic value, and as a consequence a social context, for the literate society.  Freire (1970) sees them as an important part of the learning process, as a means of enabling criticality and so ensuring learner emancipation; literacies having at least equality with subject knowledge.


Literacy provision is increasingly important in higher education, within the context of the knowledge economy.  Government priorities for employability and empowered citizens (Beetham et al, 2009: 17) are placing literacy skills high on the national agenda.  Within this environment the use of technologies provides both an opportunity to help develop literacies and a set of challenges.


Beetham et al (2009: 9) in their review of learning literacies for a digital age, contrast literacy with terms such as skill or competence, and see it as involving:

  • A foundational knowledge or capability upon which other more specific skills depend, such as writing
  • A cultural entitlement, without which individuals could be argued to be impoverished relative to cultural values
  • Communication, with the use of a variety of media for significant communications
  • The need for practice, requiring development and refinement for different contexts
  • A socially and culturally situated practice, being context-dependent
  • Self-transformation, with literacies having a life-wide impact.


Perhaps understandably the term literacy is now applied to many sets of abilities, increasingly so within the digital world.  Martin (2006) identifies a range of digitally-related literacies:

  • ICT literacy – this has developed through three phases of understanding: mastery, application and reflective.  The focus now on reflective is indicative of an understanding of how ICT can be used in learning.
  • Technological literacy – a focus on being able to use, manage and understand technology.  Not unsurprisingly this overlaps with ICT literacy and often has a focus on computers.
  • Information literacy – this has gained urgency with the development of the Internet but is not media-dependent.
  • Media literacy – overlapping with information literacy it has developed from a critical evaluation of the mass media.
  • Visual literacy – developed out of art criticism and education.
  • New and multiple literacies – this recognises the impact of the digital in shaping the context for understanding literacies which are continually changing and how there is a need for multiple overlapping literacies.


Digital literacy can therefore be identifcied as an overarching concept that focuses on the digital but not exclusively on the computer.  Gilster (1997) for example sees critical thinking as the core skill of digital literacy. It also important to recognise that digital literacy is not static.


Digital storytelling has the potential to be a productive tool, amongst many others, in helping to develop student literacies.  Used effectively as a process it places the emphasis on cognitive processes rather than the technology.  Drawing on its storytelling roots it encourages social construction of students learning.


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