Commentary #2

This commentary will review “Digital Literacy” by Teresa Dobson and John Willinsky, 2009.

The concept of literacy has assumed new meanings with the fast- paced growing of new technologies.  Dobson and Willinsky (2009) share insights with chronological discussion of how digital technologies have extended notions of literacy over the last few decades. Dobson and Willinsky  (2009) break the emergence of digital literacy into three stages: First, the public use of the computer in the 1980s for word processing; second, the rise of hypermedia and the Internet in the 1990s; and third, related to the more recent emergence of a networked information economy. It seems that each of these stages has gradually extended its grasp to generate new definitions of literacy that could be described in volumes. As the UNESCO that has published volumes on  literacy with the evolution of the term. In one of the lately definition of literacy the UNESCO refers to literacy as written communications in its various expressions, development context and life domain (Agneta, 2008).

On Digital Literacy, Dobson and Willinsky (2009) convey that what is literary digital are the various forms of reading and writing which has been electronically conveyed in codes. In the publication of the UNESCO, “Literacy for all: Making a difference”, Lind Agneta (2008) argues that ‘Literacy needs are enhanced by the rapid expansion and use of new ICT, and not exclusively in the North, since digital technologies require literate users. Digital literacy has, in fact, been recognized as a basic learning need for all (page 38, 39).

Cyberspace is expanding the potential of digital literacy as medium of expression that as it is discussed by Dobson & Willinsky (2009) is greater than with the print. It is far wider more global access to knowledge. Ong (1982) notes that reading and writing varies in its functions and uses across history and culture where political and economic issues play an important role. To this extent Dobson & Willinsky (2009) acknowledge that digital literacy ‘as new medium does indeed massage the message in aesthetic, as well as political, ways’(p. 2) and it is ‘the very currency that drives the global information economy’ (p. 1). In fact, the United Nations development program uses literacy as one of the key indicators in its Human Development Index, a measure that helps to inform policy makers in their society.  (United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report, 2003, p. 60).

Volumes may be necessary to hold the epistemologies of digital literacy. However, the  aspects acknowledged by Dobson & Willinsky (2009) offer great insights to understand digital literacy’ actual situation and future perspective. These aspects are: (a) digital divide, which refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital technology and those with very limited or no access at all; (b) new literacy study, which focuses in the social-contexts of literacy studies, and recognize the existence of multiple literacy as well; (c) digital archive that gives possibility to access to online books through digitalization projects like Gutenberg Project or Google Library Project among others; (d) information literacy that is related to what is required to operate within the new information systems, which is no less than digital literacy on the proliferation of literacies; and (e) collaborative knowledge with the use of social software in which Robson & Willinsky (2009) assert that it gives a substantial answer in how digital literacy differs from and extends the work of print literacy. ‘It speaks to how people’s literacy combines the taking in and giving back of words’ (page, 21).

On digital divide, Robson and Willinsky (2009) acknowledge a Digital Divide Report in 2006 that informed that the probability of someone in a high-income country who uses Internet regularly is 22 times greater than in a low-income country. The UNESCO in its webpage gives different perspective of the equation; it states that worldwide, one of every 5 people over 15 years of age in the world is illiterate. Does the literate people are digital literate as well? Perhaps no; in the initiatives given by The United Nations’ Report they suggest cost-effective solutions for bridging the “digital divide”, for instance a satellite-based distance education systems that can provide poor nations access to higher-quality education and training in advanced countries. At the same time the United Nations argues that ‘policy’, but,  not ‘charity’ will determine whether new technologies become a took for human development everywhere’.

There is another digital divide that seems no to be sufficiently acknowledged, I refer to the ‘ideological digital dividers’, who are people that their conservative minds prevent them to understand this historical moment of the mew medium expression (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009). However, I want to clarify that acknowledging this disturbance aspect of digital literacy does not mean a lack of enthusiasm for the ‘digital age’, it is because the value of digital literacy should continue to be the subject of public interest and scholarly (idem, page 22) with perception of reality.


Dobson, T. and Willinsky’s, J. (2009) chapter “Digital Literacy”. This is a submitted draft version of a chapter for The Cambridge Handbook on Literacy.

Human Development Report: Making new technologies work for human development. (2001). Retrieved from: ·

Lind, A. (2008). Literacy for all: Making a difference. UNESCO, International Institute for Educational Planning. Retrieved from:

Ong, Walter. (1982.) Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen.

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