Digital Literacy

What is Digital Literacy?

According to a 2018 brief from the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 16% of adults in the United States do not demonstrate basic digital literacy. The NCES defined digital literacy through a few competencies: 

  •  skills associated with manipulating input and output devices (e.g., the mouse, the keyboard, and digital displays)
  •  awareness of concepts and knowledge of how the digital environment is structured (e.g., files, folders, scrollbars, hyperlinks, and different types of menus and buttons), and
  • the ability to interact effectively with digital information (e.g., how to use commands such as Save, Delete, Open, Close, Move, Highlight, Submit, and Send). 

As a college student, you might find these statistics bleak. As you know, school environments have become increasingly supplemented with online work, including word processing software, online homework and lectures, and digital assignments. If you have to complete research, you likely do so completely online. Right now, you’re here, reading an online, free access textbook, potentially completely replacing your course textbooks. This increased reliance on technologies has made education more democratic and available to people everywhere, but this movement online also means those without digital skills will be increasingly left out. 

As technologies have evolved, changing our roles as users and producers of information, thought leaders in technology have proposed a wider view of the skills required to be digitally literate. For example, Hague and Payton proposed eight components of digital literacy:

The figure displays the eight components of digital literacy explained by Payton and Hague. The components are creativity, critical thinking and evaluation, cultural and social understanding, collaboration, find and select information, effective communication, e-safety, and functional skills.
Payton and Hague’s Eight Components of Digital Literacy

Without the three components identified by the NCES, it would not be possible to demonstrate the eight competencies Hague and Payton identify. (ALEX–CAN YOU MAKE THIS PART LESS ABSTRACT?). Moreover, as time goes on, it is likely that the definition of digital literacy will continue to expand.

However, you might also be wondering…

Why is Digital Literacy Important to Me?

It’s important for you to cultivate some digital skills because in most work environments, employers expect that you will not only be digitally literate, but digitally fluent–able to navigate increasingly online worlds of work seamlessly and to use digital literacies to solve problems that you might face in the workforce. They may expect that you are able to not only perform simple tasks like using a word processing software or sending an email, but also figure out how to use advanced email functions, track workflow or scheduling with online programs, create deliverables that can be used in the workplace, and a variety of other tasks. The expectations are especially high because in the United States, the traditional college demographic, ages 18-24, have been dubbed “digital natives”–people who cannot remember or have not experienced a world without technology. 

In addition, the increased use of technology has led to additional concerns for people at work.  For example, did you know that, according to a 2018 survey by Career Builder, 70% of employers look at social media to screen potential candidates, and eliminate people for multitudinous reasons, like drinking too much, lying about qualifications posting discriminatory content, or even just posting too much (qtd. in Hayes)? In addition, as we consistently hear, in the workforce, basic lack of understanding of basic digital proficiencies, like avoiding phishing scams or using appropriate passwords for protection, often leaves workforces and individuals vulnerable. It is clear that no matter how familiar we are with technology, or perhaps because of our comfort, we must seek out and build competencies to be successful in today’s workforce. 

OK, Boomers.

At this point, you might be thinking–OK, boomers. I can use my mouse, and probably use more technology before breakfast than most employers have in their whole lives. This chapter clearly isn’t for me. If you’ve been handling an iPad and programming your grandparents’ or parents’ remote controls your whole life, you may have a sense that you can handle any digital task that comes your way. As a teacher, I (ALEX, SINCE THIS IS AN ARTICLE STUB, PLS AVOID FIRST PERSON) know that my students interact regularly with digital technology, and can for the most part demonstrate the basic functions the NCES indicates above. Yet, students often report that they can’t find or identify reliable, credible sources to support their research papers, struggle with creating effective digital products, like PowerPoint presentations or data visualizations, or misunderstand how technology, like Google Drive or Microsoft Online, can help them collaborate and create more effective products. 

Digital Literacy and the Writing Process

Moreover, complete acceptance of technology into our lives also leads a lot of students to be unaware of the processes of using technology as tools to solve problems or create digital products, which is another expectation that employers reported in the NCES survey. Increasingly, professors are assigning digital projects or including digital components of courses so students can learn these competencies in a low-stakes environment. However, students may either feel completely left out of processes that go into creating digital products–e.g., how to create a video, website, or infographic–or they completely underestimate how much work and effort goes into creating these products. If you’re hoping to complete a successful project, it can be helpful to think of digital projects in terms of the familiar, by going back to the steps of the writing process.

Creation processes for digital deliverables. Keep in mind that the writing process is iterative, so you may need to return to stages as the project requires.

Digital Literacy @ Writing Commons

This section is intended to help you build these skills. including how to navigate and cultivate your own online presence, and how to assess the validity and credibility of online resources. 

Works Cited

Hayes, Ladan Nikravan. “More Than Half of Employers Have Found Content on Social Media That Caused Them NOT to Hire a Candidate, According to Recent CareerBuilder Survey.” PR Newswire, 9 Aug 2018,, Accessed 21 December 2019. 

National Center for Education Statistics. “A Description of U.S. Adults Who Are Not Digitally Literate.”, Accessed 21 December 2019.

Payton, Sarah, and Cassie Hague. Digital literacy in practice: case studies of primary and secondary classrooms. Futurelab, 2010,, Accessed 21 December 2019.

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