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Defining Digital, Information, and Multimodal Literacies

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In the article Literacy: A History, the idea of having pluralist approach is shown to be the most effective way developed by scholars to be able to create definitions that represent the complex stages and types of literacies. The concept of multiple literacies has emerged in response to the theorizations of the new conditions of contemporary society. Here are some working definitions of some literacies that are commonly referred to in this inquiry.


Digital Literacy

In 2008 the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy defined digital literacies "as socially situated practices supported by skills, strategies, ans stances that enable the representation and understanding of ideas using a range of modalities enabled by digital tools (O'Brien and Scharber)." According to, a site created to standardize digital literacy practices listed these skills as key to being digitally literate:

  • The ability to use a computer or mobile device, meaning knowing how to use a keyboard, mouse, icons, and folders.
  • Using software and applications: the ability to use word processing, make graphs,spread sheets, and databases, create power points, use photo editing software etc.
  • Use the internet: know how to search the internet, use email, register on a website etc.
  • Communicate on the web: use social networking sites, upload and share photos and videos, use the web to become an informed digital citizen

Information Literacy

Information Literacy is the ability to identify what information is needed, comprhend how the information is organized, know the best sources of information for the given need, find those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information. It is simply the knowledge of commonly used research techniques.

With the internet, and the vast amount of material that is contains, information literacy is becoming more and more important. It is no longer as easy to trust information as we move out of the age of print. Publishing companies and peer review often weeded out what was useful and what was not. Now with the ever growing wealth of information available, much of it lacking depth and quality, it is important that good source material can be critically identified without it necessarily being legitimized by an institution.

Developing strong information literacy skills is imperative in academic environments, as well as in many professions. Developing the ability to locate current, well researched information and to use it critically is becoming an extremely important skill considering the wealth of information available.

Guidelines for Information Literacy:

  • Identifying relevant information
  • Analyzing and categorizing information
  • Popular, Scholarly, and Trade
  • Primary vs. Secondary
  • Formats

Information Literacy Video Link

Multimodal Literacy

Multimodal literacy is a term that has been created to differentiate from traditional alphabet literacy that focuses solely on linguistic achievement. Due to rapid technological advancements in the past quarter century, information is being created, written, and recorded in dynamic ways that no longer rely solely on books and the written word. With the introduction of computers into daily life information is being recorded in diverse ways including wikis, blogs, interactive web pages, videos, sound bytes, image databases etc.

Carey Jewitt, author of Multimodality and Literacy in Schools argues that it is imperative to shift away from traditional literacies, as they have become less and less relevant in academics in the 21st century. With the shift from print to the digital screen the epistemology of learning and the creation of academic work is rapidly changing. Academic institutions Jewitt argues must embrace the potential and the limitations of these new modes.

The American Library Association has created the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. These guidelines are the essence of the guidelines for Multimodal Literacy as well.

AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner:

  • "Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge."
  • "Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge."
  • "Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society."
  • "Pursue personal and aesthetic growth."


AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner

Core Information Literacy
courtesy of the University of Idaho

Multimodality and Literacy in School Classrooms
by Jewit, Carey

Digital Literacies Go to School: Potholes and Possibilities
by O'Brien, David and Scharber, Cassandra