“The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies #digilit” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

Something that has really influenced my thinking lately has been Doug Belshaw’s book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. The book stems from Belshaw’s thesis exploring the topic. One of the key insights that he provides is that there is no one ‘all defining’ definition of literacy, let alone digital literacy. Rather, it is something that we co-construct based on our community and context. It is for that reason, that he uses the plural and talks about ‘literacies’.

Instead of providing an overarching definition which soon becomes hollow and meaningless, he provides eight elements to make sense of the different incidences of digital literacies. The elements are:

  • Cultural – the expectations and behaviours associated with different environments, both online and off.
  • Cognitive – the ability to use computational thinking in order to work through problems.
  • Constructive – the appropriate use of digital tools to enable social actions.
  • Communicative – sharing and engaging within the various cultural norms.
  • Confident – the connecting of the dots and capitalising on different possibilities.
  • Creative – this involves doing new things in new ways that somehow add value.
  • Critical – the analysis of assumptions behind literacy practises
  • Civic – the something being analysed

One way of thinking about at these elements is in regards to ‘mindset’ and ‘skillset’, the is a way of thinking and a way of doing. While another way is as a set of questions:

  • What are the cultural expectations and behaviours associated with different environments and contexts, both online and off?
  • What are the steps/workflow involved in properly understanding the problem at hand?
  • How is the use of these digital tools leading to and enabling social action?
  • What are the norms for sharing and engaging within this context?
  • How confident are you at connecting the dots and using different digital tools?
  • How are you doing new things and what value are you adding back?
  • What assumptions are behind the literacy practices?
  • What is the something we are actually doing and creating?


Although each of these elements are interrelated, they are not all necessarily at play in every instance of digital literacy. It is for this reason that they are ‘elements’ not a definition. What the book provides is a starting point for how to talk about digital literacies.

One take-away was that literacies have always had a close affinity with technology. Too often we associate ‘technology’ with computers or other such devices. However, as Belshaw points out, whether it be the printing press or using a pen to write, technology has always had an integral part to play in regards to composing and consuming texts.

Another take away was that digital literacies are not merely about what we do or how we do it, instead it is about why we do it. It is about going beyond what Mitchell Baker describes as ‘elegant consumption‘. Although the focus in schools is on ‘authentic’ assessment, whether it be creating a blog or producing a book, if this is not attached to a clearly defined why then we are missing the point. This is often one of the issues with incorporating technology in the classroom. Students create digital products with little reason as to why. This is where referring back to the elements can help highlight areas of improvement, a constant reminder as to ‘why’ digital literacies are important.

Here is a recording of TER Podcast Episode #42 with my review starting at 36 minutes:

I have also written a more creative ‘final chapter‘, which seems to be more me I think than Belshaw.

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The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies (TER Podcast Review) by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

47 thoughts on “The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies (TER Podcast Review)

  1. Thanks for the read. Again, you remind the reader of the need for contemporary thinking when reflecting on the needs of students for contemporary learning.

    Recently, I have been reading Nussbaum-Beach, S., & Hall, L. R. (2012). Defining the connected educator. In The connected educator: Learning and leading in a digital age (pp. 3-24). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

    The text outlines ‘Five Literacies’ FOR CONNECTED LEADERS OF LEARNING, as follows
    facilitate and inspire learning and creativity’
    develop digital-age learning experiences
    Model digital-age work and learning’
    promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility
    engage in professional growth and leadership

    In short, I concluded….. If I was truly collaborative, I would lead learning in a more ‘connected way’, more so than the static delivery of information. 21st century educators understand that connecting, collaborating and learning is essential to their job. More so, they understand the great leverage that technology brings to their ability to do so across the world.


    • Thank you for your comment Greg.
      Being connected is such as interesting topic. I have noted your thoughts and development from reading your blog Greg. We talk so much about connecting and collaborating globally. However, I wonder how much connections and collaborations are occurring in person in schools. One of the things that really stood out for me in Belshaw’s book was that although it discussed in detail the challenges of digital literacies, it questioned many things that I had come to assume about literac(ies). In many respects, I think that we need to come to terms with literacy before we address the digital.

  2. Thank you for the mention Ian. I think the best ways to learn (or teach) digital literacies are through experiences. The problem with this – and I guess a lot of learning when I think about it – is that there is not much room for mistakes. I wonder if this is what you were trying to capture with your post on anonymity. This is why I like the idea of starting out with closed spaces, before moving into the open.

  3. Prof Kurt Seemann discussed the many entry points associated with STEM. The question that needs to be considered is, what is trying to be done from a pedagogical sense. There is not a STEM curriculum, it is not necessarily a subject (although some make it one), how then do we teach and assess it?
    The push for STEM is the economical driver for ‘knowledge economy’. However, maybe the real focus is ‘applied synthesis’? Or comprehending the use of different technology into a coherent application. This made me think of Kin Lane’s recent post on ‘What is an application?’ This push is also a focus on whole-child development, moving towards reasoning and abstraction, moving from simple to complicated to complex.
    So support all of this, Seemann discussed the idea of ‘Technacy Education’. Technacy is:

    The holistic understanding of technology in relation to the creation, design and implementation of projects.

    A part of this is understanding is the incorporation of genre theory that is used to appreciate the various:

    Tool Systems
    Purpose & Context
    Technacy Genre

    STEM might then use different kinds of materials etc than other crafts, like pottery.

    See a link to the chart here.
    Another aspect to consider with all of this is the difference between working scientifically versus working technologically. Ethically, science is concerned about the process of gathering, whereas technology is concerned about how it transforms the world. In regards to STEM, there is a limit to what can be achieved with the material and context available. This reminds me of my discussion a few years ago in regards to coding and purpose.
    I am interested in exploring more how the idea of technacy compares with Doug Belshaw’s elements of digital literacies.

  4. Alex Christian talks about the importance of digital literacy today. Beyond my issue with the plural of ‘literacies‘, I am left wondering about how we talk about something that is continually morphing and changing? There is a danger of describing it as something that one all of the sudden becomes, like Neo learning Kung Fu in The Matrix.
    In part I was reminded of a tweet from Gillian Light:

    Am at a digital learning webinar and it’s striking me how nothing really has changed since I first stepped into this space nearly 20 years ago. We’re still talking, oddly, about teachers ‘not being comfortable’ with technology and not having knowledge/skills to incorporate it.
    — Gillian (@macgirl19) August 10, 2022

    Of course ‘digital literacies’ are a non-negotiable, my question is when are we going to stop talking about them as if they are static and instead talk about them as a process and practice, not a product or professional development session attended?

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