The first topic in the ONL201 course was focused on online participation and digital literacies. These broad topics can be discussed from different perspectives. I have chosen the perspective of university teacher/course coordinator and how knowledge and understanding of the concepts of online participation and digital literacies can support the students in my course. 

Starting off with the definition of digital literacy. According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries literacy can defined as “the ability to read and write” or “knowledge or skills in a specific area” (1). We could therefore discuss digital literacy both as the more specific ability to read and write using digital tools or more broadly as knowledge or skills in digital area. 

Another definition of digital literacy is provided by the Developing digital literacies guide by JISC (2). They describe seven digital literacy competencies: information literacy, media literacy, communication and collaboration, career and identity management, ICT literacy, learning skills and digital scholarship. All of these can be relevant to consider in the university context, and some of them, e.g. information literacy, is relevant also in the “analogical” world.

Individuals have different level of digital literacy that also is context dependent. There have been suggestions to categorise the levels of digital literacy, in categories such as natives and immigrants or visitors and residents (3, 4). These categorisations could give some support in understanding the diversity of digital literacy among students. However, categorization could also be counterproductive by categorizing students without any in depth understanding of your own group of students. The Developing digital literacies guide by JISC (2) provides instead some useful tips for course teams, including to “Find out about your students – what access needs, skills, preferences do they have? “ and “Carry out a programme/module level audit of digital capability and/or a needs analysis.” Such an approach would support the teacher when designing any course, and would be especially appropriate at the beginning of a full university programme when the students enter with different levels of digital literacy.  

How can we as university teachers support students to develop their digital literacy, or is this not our task at all? Today university teaching is going digital to increasing levels. Even campus based courses use digital tools. As university teachers we (or our university) choose some of the tools our students will use, such as learning management systems (e.g. Canvas), online lectures (e.g. Zoom), tools for writing and sharing (e.g. Office 365). Our task is to provide support for all students in using these tools and to make them confident in using them. However, students should also be encouraged to identify and explore additional tools that can support their learning. Some of these might be tools that they already use in their personal life, such as facebook, WhatsApp, Slack. Using these tools the students can share among themselves since usually teachers are not involved. Using relevant tools will develop competencies related ICT literacy, learning skills and communication and collaboration. To support competence in information literacy, media literacy and digital scholarship is a core task for universities and is based on critical identification of information and ability to communicate in writing and orally, and today also probably using videos. 

Online participation is a critical aspect of teaching and learning today. Digital literacy is a stepping stone for online participation. We will explore this more in the next topic Online learning-sharing and openness in the next two weeks in the PNL201 course. I look forward to that. 


1. cited March 22, 2020

2. Developing digital literacies, JISC guide (2014) cited March 22, 2020

3. White, D, Visitors and Residents video March 22, 20204. White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

Understanding our students’ digital literacies