Commentary #2 Digital Literacies

There has been much debate of late with regards to digital literacy and how it is, or is not, going to ‘replace’ more traditional forms of literacy and print, i.e. traditional books. The obvious two camps are there, those traditionalists who love their books and see the advancement of technology into this realm as something very negative and damaging to literacy in general, and those who favour progression in this area and see technology as opening doors to those who would have previously limited access. This debate takes me back to the Neil Postman article (Technopoly) read earlier in this course and I find many parallels in the thinking. Teresa Dobson and John Willinsky, in their article Digital Literacy, attempt to look at the two very different views and I find myself trying to locate a middle ground, of sorts.

One of the big discussions in this article has to do with the ‘divide’ in terms of socio-economic status of those able to access traditional print information, as well as newer, more current digital forms. This is not the only divide however, as Dobson and Willinsky also discuss the divide between gender, as well as the divide amongst various classes within both developed and developing nations. Indeed, even though we have access to much more information on the whole, there remains a seemingly ceaseless divide in one way or another. That said, the divide has certainly decreased substantially as access to the Internet and digital libraries continues to grow.

Dobson and Willinsky also discuss not only the access developing nations have to current text via digital libraries, but also that developing nations are able to share and contribute their own research and literacy to the world of academia and, indeed, the world in general. People in many of these countries are able to contribute and be a part of a world of text that they were previously not privy to, and this in itself is absolutely wonderful.

In keeping with the discussion of both developing and developed nations being able to both contribute, it is also noted that not just traditional ‘academics’ are able to contribute. Blogs, Wikis and the like have allowed for amateur writers to share their opinions and experiences via the World Wide Web and even to collaborate with others who may traditionally seem worlds apart. While this has led to wonderful learning experiences in classrooms, and educators are still working to figure out how to best harness this new power of discussion, Dobson and Willinsky remind us that this also brings about new worries and issues with ownership and intellectual rights to property. I know that our school, like many others, purchases subscriptions to software to help teachers identify if student work is their own or if it is copied heavily from online sources. Unfortunately, like any new technology, it can be used both positively as well as negatively. I personally feel the good outweighs the ‘bad’ considerably in this respect.

The notion that digital literacies are, or will be, replacing more traditional forms of print literacy is briefly touched upon. This is a small part of a very large and common debate at present with the development of digital copies of print literacies coming more available and affordable with developments of e-readers. Schools and universities are looking at digital textbooks, which would incorporate more hyperlinks and interactive aspects for the content, but these have yet to be fully adopted yet, the same as any new technology or development. Some argue that digital literacies are not replacing traditional print, but rather augmenting or moving in a different and new direction. Can the two co-exist? That is still to be seen but at the moment, they certainly can and are.

An interesting point was made by Dobson and Willinsky with regards to hypertext and whether it makes any difference to improving comprehension and motivation in reading. While the idea of being able to click or tap links to further material or information sounds like a wonderful idea, Dobson and Willinsky argue that the links are put there by the author and not the reader, thus the links may be meaningless in the end. I have to admit that personally I had never thought of it that way. I had been looking forward to more interactive textbooks and other reading materials and had not thought about the negative aspects of the hyperlinks.

We are still in a very young state with regards to new digital literacies and how they can be effectively incorporated into classrooms. We work with Wikis and Blogs with our students, which has opened the door to further collaboration on a global scale, but has also opened the door to perhaps a more informal style of writing. Is this something we are worried about? Are we, and should we be worried about downgrading our students’ writing styles and abilities? Personally I do not think so. There will continue to be room and a need for formal writing, such as research papers and formal essays, but in terms of everyday writing for information and learning, our writing should be acceptable as a more informal style. If it is about getting and sharing the information and learning, the style that it is in is not important. When that information is to be presented in a more formal language or manner, then those skills are important. Is there not room for both? We worry about text messaging and students losing the ability to write formally, but perhaps we are more worried about our own traditional views of what that is supposed to look like.

I think there is room for both in our schools and I welcome the addition of digital literacies.


Dobson, T. and Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital literacy.  The Cambridge Handbook on     Literacy.  Retrieved at

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