Defining Digital and Media Literacy

It’s not your daddy’s literacy. Discussions of media literacy in America have traversed the media landscape from newspapers and advertising, to television, radio and film, to Internet-based media. With new focus turning to literacy in digital realms, some, like Knight Foundation and Queens University of Charlotte, are examining media literacy in its increasingly digital form.

When I and others in the Knight School of Communication discuss our plans for major initiatives in digital and media literacy, the question I hear the most frequently is, “What is digital and media literacy?”

Digital and Media Literacy, photo from @JAMcArthur's Media Aesthetics Course @QueensUniv

In his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, James Paul Gee defines literacy as the ability to, “recognize (the equivalent of ‘reading’) and produce (the equivalent of ‘writing’) meanings in a domain” (2007, p. 20). I like his definition.

Here’s mine: Literacy in a particular medium is the ability to read (or do whatever the equivalent of reading is) and write (or do whatever the equivalent of writing is) in that medium. Literacy is the sum of the processes of assimilation, examination, and generation of information in a media form.

Thus, digital and media literacy involves any number of digital “reading” and “writing” techniques across media forms. These media might include (but are not limited to): words, texts, visual displays, motion graphics, audio, video, and multimodal forms. Literate users of technology will be able to consume and create digital compositions. They will be able to evaluate information on the issues of credibility, reliability, and honor; and make judgments about when and how to apply information to offer solutions.

As I shared this definition on Friday, one rather accomplished observer remarked, “I note that this definition of literacy renders me completely illiterate.”

This is the challenge we all face together. Literacy is a critical tool for an civil, productive society. The responsibility falls to each of us to seek out and learn to use the tools necessary, and to share those tools with others.

2 comments

  1. […] Thus, digital and media literacy involves any number of digital “reading” and “writing” techniques across media forms. These media might include (but are not limited to): words, texts, visual displays, motion graphics, audio, video, and multimodal forms. Literate users of technology will be able to consume and create digital compositions. They will be able to evaluate information on the issues of credibility, reliability, and honor; and make judgments about when and how to apply information to offer solutions.”   (https://jamcarthur.com/2010/10/16/defining-digital-and-media-literacy/) […]

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