Literally Digital

[author's note: I seem to be writing best as a sort of stream of consciousness at the moment, so I already now apologise for any inconsistencies or repetitions in the text]

This week I've been thinking about how the PBL method we use in the course is something that seems to be natural for many of us. It is easy to start with the self-reflection in order to understand the world and the task at hand. We've been pretty good at it in our group.

In relation to the literature (White & Le Cornu, 2011) where the digital literacy problem was described as digital 'visitors' and 'residents' to better understand how humans interact with the technology which is today essential to everyday life. I think it is too easy for us to look too close to home when it comes to problematising how others interact with digital tools. We use ourselves as a starting point, but also an end point in reasoning about what would be reasonable levels of knowing about these issues. I mean, when we meet students (in the classroom, in the MOOC, in our online learning environment, in the Library), they come from all sorts of corners of the digital world. We cannot only base our assumptions on our own experiences, or we have to at least try to expand our horizons of knowing to a greater extent to ensure we can meet the demands of learners from different perspectives and with different digital skills.

In order to fully understand how digital literacy works, I think we need to look deeper into what communication really consist of. According to the New London Group (1996), there is more than one mode of communication that makes the interaction meaningful. They mean that in addition to normal spoken and written language, there are also other modes such as visual representation, sound, gestures and spatial information that creates meaning for us when interacting with other humans. In order to address more than one of these meaning-making modes, we need to design our learning tools to help students learn not only through text but also with other representations of the knowledge. This could be one clue to why tools like YouTube is so popular for people to use when trying to learn new things on their own. It speaks to more than one meaning-making component in our brains.

Another thing that has not been touched upon, is how we can be critical of our own discourse. We send cultural signals when we communicate, not only by means of the words themselves but also through symbols, visualisations, and metaphors used (Machin & Mayr, 2012). It is important that we are aware of how the learning tools we create or use relate to the current discourse. Do we question our own stereotypes enough?

There are many more things that I wish we could have talked about more, but the time is so short. I have been caught between a heavy workload that got even heavier with a grant proposal deadline and my own ambitions with the course. And today, I had to challenge my own digital literacy to figure out why my internet connection at home was not working. I'm glad no one but the cat was around to hear me challenge the discourse of acceptable language in a social setting. But I got it to work in the end!

Image By: Dennis Bratland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons: Retrieved from:


Machin, D., & Mayr, A. (2012). How to do critical discourse analysis : a multimodal introduction. London ; Sage.
White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). doi:10.5210/fm.v16i9.3171
The New London Group. (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60–93.


  1. I thought you post was very insightful. Thank you.

  2. Dear Sofia, I agree with you regarding the use of the digital tools. As you mention for instance the case of youtube. Now I can see you too as the big teacher of mostly everything. For example, We can search for many tutorial in academician topic for running some data analysis.

  3. Thank you, interesting. When you write about the importance of different modes I can add an example of how a different angle can be useful. There is a lot of manuals for using and understanding the statistical software SPSS but a site explaining how to think and use the software from a pragmatic student/learner perspective have got many positive and appreciative comments. I guess we should use combinations of modes and perspectives much more in teaching.

  4. I think it was Alastair that suggested "openess literacy" as a concept. Something to elaborate on?

  5. Hello, thanks for bringing up the question of our own self-awareness in on-line discourse. There are many cultural and other types of expressions verbal or not that may come across in ways we are not fully aware. Maybe we could create reflection circles with mutual mirroring and feedback of our communication skills on-line, I think that would be very useful!

  6. Hello Sofia!
    Important factors in our strive for being more modern and using online tools. How do we think about it? Should we try to meet the students where they are in their online skills or should we use the ones we prefer (why do we prefer them?) and make them learn/master our choice of tools? And how do we find the most suitable tools? Is there rewievs of them somewhere? I wish for a big excel file with them all in so you could compare them! Another thing: when the students use tools "towards" you , to what extend should you let them? Our former closed digital university environments are cracking up !

  7. Thank you for an informative blogg. At the end I think you touched upon a crusial part of a online course. I think that the combination of a lower level of digital literacy (like I had at the start) and a heavy work load at your job (like I have had during the entire course) produces a challange for any online course. It sems to me like you had had a similar experience. I have struggled to keep up with the course and I have not yet found a great way to solve this issue. Because this is something I know that my students are struggeling with as well. I can off course build up the scaffolding to support them in their development to become more digital literate, but it will add extra time and they all work along side the studies. Maybe a way forward would be to combine the two? To make a part of the work load at your job into a task in the online corse. It could have worked for me in this ONL-course and and I think it will work for my students. Would that have been helpful for you as well?


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