Thinking in the Digital Era: A Revised Model for Digital Literacy

By Eshet, Yoram | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Thinking in the Digital Era: A Revised Model for Digital Literacy


Eshet, Yoram, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

The proliferation of technologies during the digital era confronts individuals with situations that require the utilization of an ever-growing assortment of technical, cognitive, and sociological skills that are necessary in order to perform effectively in digital environments. These skills are termed in literature 'digital literacy' (Buckingham, 2003; Gilster, 1997; Hargittai, 2008; Lankshear & Knobel, 2008). As pointed out by Bawden (2001), digital literacy is more than just the technical ability to operate digital devices properly; it comprises a variety of skills that are utilized in executing tasks in digital environments, such as constructing knowledge during surfing the web, deciphering user interfaces, playing digital games, searching in databases, creating and sharing content on the web, chatting in chat rooms and communicating in social networks (Hargittai, 2008; Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan, 2006).

In the modern era, digital literacy has become a "survival skill"--a key that helps users to work intuitively in executing complex digital tasks. In recent years, extensive efforts are made to describe and conceptualize the cognitive skills that users employ in digital environments (e.g., Hargittai, 2008; Marsh, 2005). Unfortunately, these efforts are usually local, focusing on a selected and limited variety of skills, mainly information-seeking skills (e.g., Bawden, 2008; Lankshear & Knobel, 2008; Zins, 2000), and, therefore, they do not cover the full scope of the term digital literacy. Eshet-Alkalai (2004) has established a holistic conceptual model for digital literacy, arguing that it covers most of the cognitive skills that users and scholars employ while working in digital environments and, therefore, providing researchers and designers of digital environments with a powerful framework and design guidelines. This framework was derived from the analysis of large volumes of empirical and qualitative data regarding the behavior of users in digital environments and was studied empirically by Eshet and Amichai-Hamburger (2004), who tested the performance of different groups of computer users with tasks that require the utilization of different digital skills. The publication of Eshet-Alkalai's model of digital literacy has led to an extensive debate within the community of instructional technology designers, researchers and educators, as to its validity and completeness. This debate (Aviram & Eshet, 2006) confirmed the validity and value of the model, but indicated that it lacked a sixth thinking skill: the Real-time thinking skill, which relates to the ability of users to perform effectively in advanced digital environments, mainly high-tech machines, multimedia games and multimedia training environments, that require the user to process simultaneously large volumes of stimuli which appear in real-time and at high-speed.

The present paper presents an updated version of the holistic model of Eshet-Alkalai (2004). The real-time thinking skill is added to the model and its value in refining our understanding of how people interact with digital environments and communicate with others in the cyberspace, is discussed in light of the recent, knowledge on digital literacy. The digital thinking skills that are discussed in the paper are the photo-visual, reproduction, branching, information, socio-emotional and real-time thinking skills. It is argued that these six digital thinking skills exist in every learner, but their "volume" or "magnitude" depends on the situation and differ from person to person.

In the following paragraphs, the revised holistic model for of digital literacy and its six thinking skills, are discussed in detail.

Photo-visual Digital Skills

The evolution of digital environments, from text-based, syntactic to graphic-based semantic environments (Nielsen, 1993; Shneiderman, 1998; Soffer & Eshet-Alkalai, 2009), requires users of modern digital environments to employ cognitive skills of "Using Vision to Think" (Mullet & Sano, 1995) in order to create an effective photo-visual communication with the environment. …

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