The Importance of Digital Literacy Today

“Digital literacy is an important entitlement for all young people in an increasingly digital culture. It furnishes children and young people with the skills, knowledge and understanding that will help them to take a full and active part in social, cultural, economic, civic and intellectual life now and in the future.” Future Lab (2010) p.4.

The curriculum (2013) states that ‘computing ensures that pupils become digitally literate – able to use and express themselves and develop their ideas through information and communication technology at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.’ Doug Belshaw identifies that there are pre-literate behaviours and gestures involved in everything we do e.g. learning to play an instrument, using a computer or simply opening a book.  Children are exposed every day to a wide range of different medias (e.g. books, comics, posters, email…etc) and they need to effectively decode the information in order to understand them. In Belshaws ‘Never-ending thesis’ (2013) he has identified eight essential elements of digital literacies (see picture below) each of the components are explained in more detail here:


To be digitally literate is to have access to a broad range of practices and cultural resources that you are able to apply to digital tools. It is the ability to make and share meaning in different modes and formats; to create, collaborate and communicate effectively and to understand how and when digital technologies can best be used to support these processes.” Future lab (2010) p.4.


In a recently published newspaper article (November 11th 2013), Gurney-Read interviewed Mark Surman (Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation) and he argues that digital literacy skills are ‘as important as learning to read and write’.  Surman highlights that being digitally literate is not simply being able to operate a computer ‘but actually understanding how the code and mechanics behind it work.’ At schools today coding is gradually being introduced into lessons for example: using software programmes like ‘Scratch’ to create animations and games. Jodie Lopez argues that ICT can be used to enhance the curriculum and engage pupils learning. In her website ( she encourages combining literacy skills with ICT skills. On the homepage she indicates how it benefits ALL pupils ‘the G&T students find that the access they are given to technologies and online audiences provides them with a platform for their achievements… Less able students have found that using ICT can be less daunting than being faced with a piece of blank A4 paper and a pencil.’ Gurney-Read (2013) states that ‘embedding digital literacy lessons and furthermore, social media across the curriculum certainly opens up a variety of educational tools for teachers’. However Mark Surman argues that it will be most challenging to teach trainee teachers about the concepts of digital literacy as many have to learn new skills.

Mark Surman: “If you don’t really understand how the digital world functions you’re really living in a world where you don’t have the creative and innovation skills that are going to be needed in the future economy.”

Alexis Homersham


Belshaw, D. (2011-Present: last updated 6 February 2013). What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation. . Available: Last accessed 20/11/2013.

DfE., (2013) Computing programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2. [online] DfE. Available at: [Accessed 20th November 2013].

Doug Belshaw slideshow:

Futurelab., (2010) Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum. [online] Futurelab. Available at: <; [Accessed 20th November 2013].

Gurney-Read (2013) Digital literacy ‘as important as reading and writing’ [online] The Telegraph. Available at: [accessed 20th November 2013].

Jodie Lopez:


3 thoughts on “The Importance of Digital Literacy Today

  1. The “tree octopus” problem

    In 2005, a group of researchers gave a group of students in America a website to look at. The website was about the ‘tree octopus’, a clearly made up creature, which lived in trees. The children had to rate the credibility of the website, and overwhelmingly voted that it was “very credible”.

    Annie Murphy Paul, on her analysis of the underlying problems here, argues that these children lacked some of the key skills necessary for internet use.

    She also goes as far as to say that the champions of Digital Literacy claim that “skills trump knowledge, developing “literacies” is more important than learning mere content, and all facts are now Googleable and therefore unworthy of committing to memory”.

    Whilst I agree with Alexis and many researchers about the many benefits of being ‘digitally literate’, these claims do make sense. Children in the tree octopus experiment were ‘literate’ enough to have been able to go online and read the website. They probably do it often and in other situations. Yet, if they, and others around the world, cannot discern truth from hoax, there is clearly a problem inherent in our computer dominated culture. I, as are many other people, am guilty of ‘googling’ a problem for a quick, easy answer. Yet, does this mean that I have actually engaged in deep intellectual thought? I haven’t done real, meaningful research – certainly not in the way I would have 20 years ago, before the internet. Have I actually learnt anything whilst exercising how digitally literate I am?

    I find myself agreeing with Murphy Paul, when she says that missing from a digitally literate child are the following qualities : “deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning — unless we teach them.”

    Annie Murphy Paul, ‘Digital Literacy’ Will Never Replace The Traditional Kind Accessed 24/11/13

  2. Here is a video that we created using an app on the Ipad called ‘Puppet Pals’. This digital software allows individuals to create their own unique shows with audio and animation. Children can use this app to be creative and work together. A teacher could use this programme during lessons as an assessment strategy to monitor pupils understanding of a topic. In this way the children are able to demonstrate their level of digital literacy.

  3. Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
    The Third Man (1949)

    We are at, or at the very least near, a “Harry Lime” moment, with regard to digital technologies, and the new literacies they require. The challenge for teachers is not how to engage with new literacies so much as how to become fluent in them; and also to judge when it is time to say goodbye to the past and move on to something new.

    There are comparisons to be drawn with previous historical moments, of paradigm shifts, most notably – and predictably – with the printing press. Opinion is divided on the overarching effects of this great technological achievement, particularly with regard to literacy – although all agree effects were felt – but the discussion demonstrates both what might be created, and what lost. McLuhan (1962), for example, noted that while moveable-type printing might be held responsible for the birth of Nationalism, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution and all that was to come later, its effect was to seriously weaken the need, and thus the capacity, for memory and recall, which at the time was the basis for, for example, legal testimony and precedent. Eisenstein (1979), in a more rigorous study, points to this being a moment of liberation for the brain from memorization and into other cognitive processes, such as thinking. And perhaps most pertinently to this present discussion, Rosaldo (1981) comments that “roughly during the first century after Gutenberg’s invention, print did as much to perpetuate blatant errors as it did to spread enlightened truth.” Sound familiar?

    New technologies and thus new problems enter the school on a seemingly termly basis. Last year the children couldn’t get enough of the new laptops, and the desktops at the back of the class were unloved. Now the iPads have arrived and the laptops feel like some older, uncool and unhelpful second-best. The desktops are merely technological fossils. Whilst we implore the children that, actually, for their purposes, any of the three is more than fit for purpose, the fetishisation of the iPad continues, presumably until the advent of the next new bit of kit.

    I agree with Ceri that we really need to scrutinise the uses that we put digital technologies to, and which means we use them to replace. I still feel that, given a library, I will be able to locate more trustworthy and comprehensive information in print quicker than I would with a computer. I’m confirming that now, at home with my laptop and my books around me. I also agree that we as teachers need to promote the deep reading and scientific reasoning which seems absent from a search of keywords and the resultant random list of web-pages of varying reliability. Such is my fetishisation of The Book.

    But at the same time we need to mobilise our faculties to cope with the emerging literacies that pertain in the modern world. There may be me more (or fewer) than the eight conveniently “C”-capped categories that Belshaw identifies, and in truth, these are not all specifically “digital” literacies, but they form a useful basis from which to interrogate further the means, forms and applications of digital media, especially with regard to cultural and educational practice. As such it is incumbent upon teachers to learn, and share, these new literacies.

    After all, it’s not that awful. For example, new digital technologies allow different methods of inputting other than typing or writing (it is something of a surprise, if not an anachronism, in fact, that our cyber lives are currently dependent on typing, but this is changing fast). This will surely enhance the opportunities for success for pupils who may not write so well, but can narrate or, at the very least, vocalise, or even draw their learning. As digital platforms such as eSchools gain more currency, the space should become available for pupils to record their work as audio files or images, for example, freeing pupils from the primacy of the text; and this in turn will facilitate more access points for AFL.

    There’s no telling where we will end up, of course, and our struggles with Scratch and IWBs and search engines are surely all petty steps on the road to the New Digital Age, small potatoes in the fry-up that’s coming, but Lollard or Luddite, sans-culotte or sans clue, we must nonetheless embrace and tangle with what we can as well as we can.

    Eisenstein E (1979) The Printing Press as an Agent of Change Cambridge University Press.

    McLuhan (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographical Man University of Toronto Press.

    Renato Rosaldo (1981) “The Cultural Impact of the Printed Word, A Review Article”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 23, No. 3. p. 508.

    The Third Man (1949) [Film] dir. Carol Reed, London Film Productions. Script by Graham Greene, although this monologue was scripted by Orson Welles for himself.

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