Creating a digital literacy report: the survey piece, part 1

After the release of that New Media digital literacy report last week, I’d like to share a few blog posts about what went into making it, along with some reflections afterward.  Call it a behind the scenes look.

To begin with, part of the report relied on a survey.  In July of this year we polled New Media Consortium members about their thoughts and practices concerning digital literacy.  We expected a few dozen responses… and received more then 450.  So the richness of the results played a key role in the report.

Let me give you a sense of what we asked, and share some of the responses.  I’d love to take questions.  EDITED TO ADD: this grew too huge for one post.  More coming in a followup!

We began by asking about what constituted digital literacy.  That commenced with questions about which skills people saw as most important for digital literacy.  Under a technical header respondents could pick:

Animation, coding, digital media (images, audio, video) analysis, digital media (images, audio, video) production, graphic design, hardware skills, image manipulation, office productivity tools (PowerPoint, Word, Excel and similar tools), sound editing, video editing, Web authoring, Web searching.

We also offered an “other” box.  Most of the 108 comments there referred to social skills (see below).  The minority that named tech covered areas like “Google Apps, Basic File Navigation, Digital Workflow/Organization”, “3d Printing, Circuit creation”, “Understanding of file types; basic OS understanding (file structure, installing applications, setting preferences, understanding menus, etc.)”, and “Information Management, digital presentation skills, computer security”.

Under “soft” or social skills, we offered (digital) citizenship, collaboration, copyright knowledge, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving, along with an “other” box.  For the latter 173 (!) responses added empathy, respect, common sense, metacognition, and many others.

Results here were all over the map.  For the technical skills, a rough scaling based on technical challenges – i.e., the more difficult the skill, the less likely it was to be picked, more or less:


For the human skills, an emphasis on classic, not necessarily technology-driven abilities:


I was intrigued to see copyright and citizenship at the lower end.

Combining these two rubrics, we asked about the balance at each respondent’s institution between consuming and producing media.  The answers skewed towards consumption:

All consumption

Mostly consumption

Evenly balanced

Mostly production

All production


Weighted Average

Production-consumption continuum















That’s a major takeaway.  While our report called for digital literacy to emphasize making, the current practice is mostly about consuming, at least as far as this survey describes.

Next we asked people to choose, A/B style, between competing published definitions of digital literacy. We used statements from a variety of sources, including some from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain:  the ALA, digital literacy guru Doug Belshaw, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, JISC, Kennesaw State University and the NMC Horizon Report, the Knight Commission, MediaSmarts, and (of course) Wikipedia.  (Full text at the bottom of this post*)

The answers were less decisive than we’d hoped.  Belshaw edged out Knight, IFLAI and MediaSmarts were close, and Kenessaw State and Wikipedia were tied.  Only the ALA definition clearly won over JISC.  What this tells us… isn’t quite clear.  Tentatively people wanted complex definitions that included technical and social skills, involving but not restricted to information literacy.  Tentatively.

The survey’s second part shifted ground to ask respondents about their institution did or did not support digital literacy.

We began by asking about location: “Where does digital literacy instruction occur most prominently at your institution?”  No one site or organization predominated, with the leading reply not even reaching 30%:


In this context, which personnel took the lead?  A diverse set:

who implements?

Then we asked about support sources.  Once more, no department or organization led, but individuals were the leaders:



When somebody at an institution teaches digital literacy, how do they do it?  Pedgogies were quite diverse:


This set concluded by asking about off-campus support. Roughly more than one-half received none, based on the “N/A” answer and the bulk of “Other” replies..


What does this tell us?  That digital literacy is in early days, largely the result of a few people’s actions at a givern institution.  It is rarely systematic or strategic.

Next, we asked about specific programs.  Stay tuned for the next post.

*Here are the definitions we presented.  They’re in alphabetical order, but were not in the survey itself:

The ability to use information and communication technologies to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information, an ability that requires both cognitive and technical skills.(American Library Association)

Cultural – Look at the context in which the literacy is situated Cognitive – How do we think when we are using a device (vs when we are not)? Constructive – We should aim to use technology in a constructive (vs a passive) way Communicative – We should be using technology to enhance our communications Confident – You need to be confident to jump in feet first and explore/use/master/learn technology Creative – Using technology in the classroom requires some creativity and risk taking – don’t stick to the basics when you can test out a new idea or use for technology Critical – You need the ability to look at the technologies you’re using (and what you’re using them for) with a critical eye Civic- We should be using the technologies available to us for greater good (which can be widely defined) (Doug Belshaw)

The knowledge, the attitudes, and the sum of the skills needed to know when and what information is needed; where and how to obtain that information; how to evaluate it critically and organise it once it is found; and how to use it in an ethical way. The concept extends beyond communication and information technologies to encompass learning, critical thinking, and interpretative skills across and beyond professional and educational boundaries. [It] includes all types of information resources: oral, print, and digital.(International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions)

Those capabilities, which fit an individual for living, learning, and working in a digital society. (JISC)

An often overlooked aspect of digital literacy is finding training techniques that prioritize creativity. Understanding how to use technologies is a key first step, but being able to leverage them for innovation is vital to fostering real transformation in higher education. Current definitions of literacy only account for the gaining of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes, but do not include the deeper components of intention, reflection, and generativity. The addition of aptitude and creativity to the definition emphasizes that digital literacy is an iterative process that involves students learning about,interacting with, and then demonstrating or sharing their new knowledge. (Kennesaw State University and the NMC Horizon Report)

Digital and media literacy education activates independent thinking, authentic dialogue, collaboration, reflection, creativity,and social responsibility as applied to the practices of responding to, creating and sharing messages. (Knight Commission)

Digital literacy is not a technical category that describes a minimum fuctional level of technological skills, but rather it is the broader capacity to participate in a society that uses digital commuication technology in workplaces, government, education, cultural domains, civic spaces, home, and leisure spheres.(MediaSmarts)

A digitally literate person will possess a range of digital skills, knowledge of the basic principles of computing devices, skills in using computer networks, an ability to engage in online communities and social networks while adhering to behavioral protocols, be able to find, capture and evaluate information, an understanding of the societal issues raised by digital technologies (such as big data), and possess critical thinking skills. (Wikipedia)


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5 Responses to Creating a digital literacy report: the survey piece, part 1

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