Research Article Reviews


The concept of “literacy” has been, and continues to be, one of the most complex, mutable, and fascinating topics that media theory has to offer.  Time has seen scholars examine, analyze, debate, and discuss in order to better understand what constitutes literacy. Although, conventionally literacy is linked to print-based media and the ability to read and write, theorists have delved into newer, more complex forms of literacy—ones that surround the advancements in digital technology.


Incorporating New Literacies

A multitude of scholars suggest that students of today’s technological era are in need of a new set of literacy skills (Fahser-Herro & Steinkeuhler, 2009; Jenkins, et al, 2009; Carrington & Marsh, 2008; Hobbs, 2010; Siemens, 2008; Notley, 2008; Dezuanni, et al, 2010).  For the upcoming generation of technologically-savvy youth, utilizing digital media in the classroom is an example of learning by doing.  As Hartley (2008) describes, digital literacy is “generated by its uses, not by a body of knowledge or critical values.”  In other words, it is a “demand-led literacy” that is needed (Hartley, et al, 2008).  He is not alone in this conviction.

Rowsell & Walsh (2011) reinforce this definition by emphasizing that digital literacy is very much a “socially mediated” process.  Carrington and Marsh (2008) further this explanation by clarifying that “the desire and need to engage in social interaction and communication has always been at the root of literacy practices;” however, it is the expansive new wave of digital technology that changes the way interactions occur or are experienced.  Thus, most scholars agree that becoming digitally literate requires comprehending one’s interactions through digital technology, especially in the classroom.


The Importance of Educators

Several texts call attention to the tendency of some scholars to exaggerate the level of current technological participation among young people (Jenkins, et al, 2009; Merchant, 2009).  While this could very well be the case, Merchant (2009) believes that educators should not take the affordances of Web 2.0 for granted. “To teach digital literacy in schools as we currently know them” would be too simple and probably not effective, argues Hartley (2009).  Hartley indicates that in order to expand upon digital literacy education, schools need to seek change amongst its teachers (2009).

Correspondingly, Merchant (2009) concludes that technological changes in pedagogy are possible, but are “more dependent upon the creativity of educators and the vision of policy makers” than on the actual technology.  Ultimately, he argues that it is up to “educators and other stakeholders” to determine how new pedagogies will unfold (2009).  This particular opinion is one shared by numerous scholars.

Bloom & Johnston (2010) stress the importance of educators assuming the responsibility of helping students become “critical, informed, and literate participants” in Web 2.0 culture.  Similarly, scholar Renee Hobbs (2010) asserts that it are the educators—not technology—that are the vital resource for achieving digital literacy competencies in the classroom. Although most scholars agree that the current generation has the ability to use such digital technologies, Jenkins (2009) accentuates the need for “policy and pedagogical intervention.”

Reaching such an inclusive state of understanding in this area, scholar Notley (2008) warns, will not be easy.  He suggests learning how to critically interact with Web 2.0 “will take time and will involve learning a number of skills.”  He also promotes the idea of “support systems” for both young people and adults alike (Notley, 2008).  Just as the educator acts as a support system for the learner, this idea of a support system for the educator is one that has also been widely explored.

In order for educators—both current and future—to help students become digitally literate, most scholars agree that they first must understand the significance and functionality of new media themselves.  In other words, the educators must also receive an education in the field of digital literacy.  The role, many scholars assert, is to be fulfilled by “instructional designers,” or teacher educators (Siemens, 2008; Hobbs & Jensen, 2009; Fahser-Herro & Steinkuehler, 2009).  It is argued that the need for teacher educators is great due to increasing complexity and pervasiveness of digital tools (Siemens 2008).

Fahser-Herro & Steinkuehler (2009) agree, suggesting that modern educators require “extensive professional development” in order to help students “master 21st century literacy skills.”  Overall, they argue for the development of teacher training programs geared towards the understanding of new media and how to incorporate it into previously-used content: “the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis taught in the classroom” (Jenkins, et al, 2009; quoted in Fahser-Herro & Steinkuehler, 2009).  Put simply, in order to help the student educators, teacher educators require “a better understanding of the past, to understand where we are now and where we are going” (Hobbs & Jensen, 2009).

Ultimately, Bloom & Johnston (2010) leave a warning for educators who fail to integrate the affordances of Web 2.0 with learning in formal education. They emphasize that if educators do not seek proper new literacy training, they will “forfeit numerous chances for students and teachers to engage in co-learning experiences that can enhance their respective media literacies.”  However, as many scholarly texts have addressed, introducing digital technologies and literacies into formal classrooms is much easier said than done, and leaves the door open to facing many more challenges and consequences.



Bloom, K., & Johnston, K.M. (2010). Digging into youtube videos: Using media literacy and participatory culture to promote cross-cultural understanding. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2(2), 113-123. Retrieved from

Carrington, V., & Marsh, J. UK Department for Children, Schools and Families, (2008). Forms of literacy. Retrieved from Beyond Current Horizons website:

Dezuanni, M., Kapitzke, C., & Iyer, R. (2010). Copyright, digital media literacies and preservice teacher education. Digital Culture & Education2(2), 230-245. Retrieved from

Fahser-Herro, D., & Steinkuehler, C. (2009). Web 2.0 literacy and secondary teacher education. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 26(2), 55-62. Retrieved from

Hartley, J. (2009). Repurposing literacy. In The Uses of Digital Literacy (pp. 17-38). London: Transaction Publishers.

Hartley, J. (2009). Uses of youtube: Digital literacy and the growth of knowledge. In The Uses of Digital Literacy (pp. 100-121). London: Transaction Publishers.

Hartley, J., McWilliam, K., Burgess, J., & Banks, J. (2008). The uses of multimedia: Three digital literacy case studies. Media International Australia, 128, 59-72. Retrieved from pdf

Hobbs, R. (2010, November). Digital and media literacy: A plan of action. The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute. Retrieved from

Hobbs, R., & Jensen, A. (2009). The past, present, and future of media literacy education. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 1, 1-11. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H., et al. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago: MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from{7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E}/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Merchant, G.H. (2009). Web 2.0, new literacies, and the idea of learning through participation. English teaching: practice and critique, 8 (3), 8-20. Retrieved from

Notley, T. M. (2008). Online network use in schools: Social and educational opportunities. Youth Studies Australia, 27(3), 20-29. Retrieved from

Rowsell, J., & Walsh, M. (2011). Rethinking literacy education in new times: Multimodality, multiliteracies, and new literacies. Brock Education,21(1), 53-62. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2008). Learning and knowing in networks: Changing roles of educators and designers. ITFORUM, Retrieved from Networks_changingRolesForEducatorsAndDesigners.pdf

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