Commentary #2 – Digital Literacy written by Dobson and Willinsky

This commentary is based on the Digital Literacy reading as written by Dobson and Willinsky.   The authors detail the historical emergence of digital literacy within the last three decades through their perspective that digital literacy is a continuity and extension of print culture rather than a great transformation of print culture as other scholars may argue.

In first discussing the ability to manipulate text through the introduction of word processing as a form of digital literacy, the benefits as well as the drawbacks were reviewed. While there were conflicting results from the studies presented, the authors concluded that without knowing for certain what word processing has done to our writing, it has become the standard way we write (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009).  A point of particular interest is that of creativity.  While one study reviewed discussed word processing as a natural ally of the writing process and of creativity, I ponder in what manner does this apply? How is the ability to simply manipulate text increase the creativity of an individual? Word processing may certainly assist in editing and revisions, but the true creativity is composed by the individual.  Perhaps this lends itself to the fact that word processing while still unknown in what it truly contributes to ones writing, has only become the standard way we write.

Further to the discussion, Willinsky and Dobson comment that many scholars believe that the visual mode may be coming to have priority over the written and that meaning making and communication in the digital age therefore entails becoming well-versed in different semiotic modes, visual and textual, and verbal (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009).  In other words, writing and reading text is but a small part of the meaning making and communication process.  This may be potentially problematic as much emphasis in the past has been placed on the written word and therefore the development of visual literacy is required to participate in digital literacy.  How will individuals fare who do not learn well visually? Will these individuals be at a handicap and how will they adapt?  The transition to accommodate different semiotic modes would appear as a rebirth of information/knowledge in this form as such compositions as Shakespeare were initially only presented orally, progressed to  presentations in the written format and now has returned in its semi-original format presented in possible different semiotic modes of  visual, textual and verbal.

Digital literacy is also described as social practices in which texts are constructed, transmitted, received, modified and shared with processes employing codes which are digitized electronically (Lankshear, 1997, p.141).  While hypertext and hypermedia learning assist in the sharing of new and modified texts, this new form of learning is a drastic change from years past.  Previously, learning was thought to be the accumulation of knowledge and applying “what you know.”  However, it would appear that digital literacy entails the ability to navigate through the vast amount of information online simply seeking the information that is required.  Does this develop knowledge for individuals? I believe it does not as individuals are simply seeking information and not developing a foundation of simple knowledge from which they may grow, accumulate and develop.  Simply being connected to the Internet does not justify learning and the development of knowledge. After all, what knowledge would be learned if there was no connection to the Inte

The sheer quantity and range of texts available online has become a defining aspect of digital literacy (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009).  With the ability for more individuals to publish their works online and manipulate and share information with others the renewed topic of copyright and access has resurfaced.  To address this ongoing issue dating back to print, the open access model seeks to add this body of work to the universal library open to all readers (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009).  However, in opposition to this movement stand corporations in which revenues from publications and access drive their business model.  With the issue of copyright along with organizations such as Creative Commons who encourage more open access, this issue represents a time honoured clash between publishers, composers and access in which a solution may or may not be reached within the digital literacy medium.  Certainly digital literacy has added fuel to the fire in providing a greater amount of texts online but further discussions and inquiries will be required to resolve this situation if at all possible.

While the progression of digital literacy is very much a fluid process, Dobson and Willinsky have presented an interesting and informative perception of the emergence of digital literacy at the time of composition.  In today’s current digital environment which is changing at a record pace along with the increased participation by individuals of the global society as compared to print, only time will tell the true impact of digital literacy as a new medium.


Dobson, T.M. and Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital Literacy. In David Olson and Nancy Torrance (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of Literacy, pp. 286-312. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lankshear, C. (1997). Changing Literacies. Buckingham & Philadelphia: Open University Press.

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