Oh the things you can find, if you don’t stay behind.

Dr. Seuss

In topic 1 on ONL212, we’ve been looking at online participation and digital literacies, informed by the work of David White, and Doug Belshaw. One of the most salient aspects of this work is how technological prowess is neither linked with age (or lack thereof), nor access and the resultant technical ability to use shiny new things, but is more closely intertwined with context. Most usefully, David White points out the whole Prenksy construct is based on a metaphor. A metaphor of language – being either native or immigrant. And that being sensitive to one’s purpose (as a resident or visitor) and context (professional or personal) are two key aspects that offer the possibility to better inform why and how digital technologies are used. Doug Belshaw’s work is also build on similar language metaphor – that again of literacy. The essential elements are cultural, cognitive, constructive, communicative, confident, creative, critical and civic, so digital literacy isn’t a singular construct, but one that is defined in broader terms by actions in a wider sphere of action. Later work by Buckingham (2015) extends this out to media literacy and multimodal literacies, adding further complexity to the term.

The EU DigCompEdu framework has extended this into a new term – that of “competency” (Redecker, 2017), tied closely to various teaching contexts and activities, from creating content, to assessing or empowering learners, and beyond.

Both are doing a good job at competing for prevalence, with arguably at a European policy level, digital competencies becoming the more defined game in town.

Google Ngram Viewer is a tool that graphs the frequency of word or phrase usage over time, allowing you to examine changes in convention

But is the metaphor itself the problem?

Metaphors help us frame our reality, but by their nature are also a distortion, or at least an accentuation of some salient dimension of it. Some have called out the possibility that we are basing our understanding of how we engage and become proficient with technology on a flawed metaphor. Is relying on literacy helpful, as a way of seeing our use and development in context, as we seek to enhance aspects of our lives mediated by these tools?

If there is anything that the last 40 years of edtech have taught us – there is yet another technology coming around the corner that will lay claim to another revolution to redefine us. Are we ready to extend or bend our metaphors to cope? Can we look back on some core concepts and theory to help us understand avoid the ensuing panic that we don’t know how to click all the buttons yet.

See you in the metaverse, folks! Just don’t mislay your (conceptual) towel.


Belshaw, D. (2012). What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation. (Doctoral). Durham University, Available from etheses.dur.ac.uk

Buckingham, D. (2015). Defining Digital Literacy: What do Young People Need to Know About Digital Media? In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel (Eds.), Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1 – 10748120110424816. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-16. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/10748120110424816

Mason, L. E., Krutka, D. G., & Heath, M. K. (2020). Editorial: The Metaphor Is the Message: Limitations of the Media Literacy Metaphor for Social Studies. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 21(3). Retrieved from https://citejournal.org/volume-21/issue-3-21/social-studies/editorial-the-metaphor-is-the-message-limitations-of-the-media-literacy-metaphor-for-social-studies

Redecker, C. (2017). European framework for the digital competence of educators: DigCompEdu. Retrieved from (Seville site): https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcompedu

White, D. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049

Join the Conversation


  1. There has been much discussion of digital fluency and a host of literacies (media, platform, collaborative etc), thus showing how complex this area is. As White shows, we have varying levels of comfort with different digital media and generalisations like digital natives etc are misleading at best. Maybe we need to gain a level of maturity and distance to technology (digital maturity) where we have a healthy skepticism towards miracle cures and shiny devices and see what technology can and cannot achieve.

  2. Reading your text, I wondered how your thoughts on faulty or appropriate linguistic imagery can be identified and harnessed in the learning process. What is the significance of the terms “immigrant,” “resident,” or other metaphor for the learner’s self-perception and identity? Do these metaphors inhibit or promote digital literacy?

  3. If technological prowess is a major element in education then should the institution ensure students are competent, and resident, in the institution’s digital tools to give them a better change of success? Or should it be left to the individual student to ensure their competency?

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