In EYNCRIN we see Digital literacy as more than just a technological know-how: we work on it as a field of youth work that covers a wide variety of ethical, social and reflective practices that are embedded in youth work, non-formal learning, youth leisure activities and daily life.
EYNCRIN Digital Literacy Academy frames its activities around six standards: creativity and innovation; communication and collaboration; research and information fluency; critical thinking, problem solving and decision making; digital citizenship; and technology operations and concepts.
Competencies for digital literacy can be classified according to three main principles:
This Digital Literacy model was published in Mediasmarts, Canada and illustrates the many interrelated elements that fall under the digital literacy umbrella.
As Douglas Belshaw puts it, “Digital literacies are transient: they change over time, may involve using different tools or developing different habits of mind, and almost always depend upon the context in which an individual finds herself.”
Given how quickly and frequently our media world is evolving, developing and maintaining one’s digital literacy is a lifelong process.
We work on digital literacy development by seeking to develop a range of abilities from basic computing skills to the creation of multimodal texts. The specific skills that are needed will vary from person to person depending on their needs and circumstances – which can range from basic awareness and training to more sophisticated and complex applications. What remains constant, however, are the key concepts that apply to all networked media and are relevant to all young people as learners.
Context of our work
Today’s youth are often called “digital natives” by adults because of the seemingly effortless way they engage with all things technological.
It’s easy to see why: young Europeans live in an interactive, “on demand” digital culture where they are used to accessing media whenever and wherever they want. Instant-messaging, photo sharing, texting, social networking, video-streaming and mobile Internet use are all examples where youth have led the charge in new ways of engaging online.
But this enthusiasm masks a potential problem: although young people don’t need coaxing to take up Internet technologies and their skills quickly improve relative to their elders, without guidance they remain amateur users of information and communications technology (ICT), which raises concerns about a generation of youth who are not fully digitally literate, yet are deeply immersed in cyberspace. Therefore, “it is not… enough to assume that young people automatically have all of the skills, knowledge and understanding that they need to apply to their use of technology. All young people need to be supported to thrive in digital cultures; they need help making sense of a rapidly changing world of technology which gives them access to vast amounts of information, which is infused with commercial agendas and which for many reasons can be difficult to interpret.”
What needs to be done
In order to be literate in today’s media-rich environments, young people need to develop knowledge, values and a whole range of critical thinking, communication and information management skills for the digital age. As increasing numbers of businesses, services and even democratic processes migrate online, citizens who lack digital literacy skills risk being disadvantaged when it comes to accessing healthcare, government services and opportunities for employment, education and civic participation. Nor is digital literacy confined to the parts of the curriculum that traditionally deal with technology: “Digital literacy is as much a key part of learning about history and learning how to study history, and learning about science and learning how to study science, as it is about learning about ICT and learning the skills of using ICT. Indeed, possessing digital literacy is an important set of life skills to complement and extend the skills and knowledge already taught in school.
Ellen Helsper from London School of Economics defined digital literacy as: “the ability to use ICTs (or decide not to use them) in ways that allow people to obtain beneficial outcomes and avoid negative outcomes across all domains of everyday life for themselves and others now and in the future.”
Most definitions in the research field focus on the ability to use ICTs, but it is also important to examine why individuals decide not to use ICTs (for example, when trying to avoid potential harm or when the benefits of use are lacking). Ellen Helsper points out that, while discussions of adults’ digital literacy tend to focus on increasing beneficial outcomes, the discussions around young people tend to focus on avoiding negative outcomes. Yet opportunities to benefit and risks of harm are strongly interconnected and often go hand in hand.
Since society is fundamentally unequal, the outcomes of technology use are unequally distributed. To reduce digital inequalities, research and policy should begin by understanding the outcomes that people are trying to achieve through their engagement with ICT. Digital skills may not only further benefits for individuals but also forms of participation in the digital world in ways that create a positive collective environment for others. Such definition of digital literacy forces those trying to tackle digital inequalities to start with an understanding of how technologies might be constructed and framed differently for different communities.
Ellen Helsper argues that the existing digital skills literature mainly focuses on ‘hard’ skills such as ‘technical and operational skills’ (e.g. how to operate ICTs, ranging from ‘button’ knowledge to programming) and ‘information navigation and processing skills’ (i.e., the ability to find, select, and evaluate digital sources of information). However, ‘soft’ skills such as ‘interaction and communication’ (i.e. the ability to develop positive relationships, exchange meaning and pool resources) and ‘content creation and consumption’ (measuring critical understanding and evaluation of impact) are fundamental for translating digital engagement into different well-being outcomes.