Redefining Digital Literacy – Jo Coldwell-Neilson & Kat Cain


JUN, 2019

Teaching & Learning
Digital Literacy

By Jo Coldwell-Neilson, Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, from the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Build Environment, and, Kat Cain, Manager of Digital Literacy Programs within the Library Teaching & Learning portfolio.

Jo: Digital literacy skills have become an essential skillset but many of us find ourselves asking ‘what is digital literacy?’ Employers expect it of us and, as academics in higher education, we are expected to prepare our students for their post-graduation endeavours in a digitally disrupted world.

Digital literacy is a mindset and an attitude, not just a skill set. Our skills need to be flexible and transferable across technologies, disciplines and the world of work.

Digital literacy incorporates:

  • Developing a better understanding of how digital technologies work
  • Building confidence in using these technologies
  • Developing the agility and flexibility to engage with, and manoeuvre a rapidly changing digital environment.
  • Actively developing skills to understand the modern media world to enable critical engagement with the environment.
  • Developing the skills to be able to recognize when information may not be reliable at best or fake at worst.
  • Develop the skills and capabilities to be a responsible digital global citizen, and
  • Develop the skills and capabilities to harness the power of digital technology for the betterment of yourself, your community and more broadly, the world we live in.

Kat: Jo has been working with us in the library to create a framework that reflects current digital literacy and aligns with AQF levels. This has involved reviewing Deakin’s 2015 digital literacy framework and capturing a more contemporary perspective.

Refining Deakin’s definition of digital literacy also provides educators with a strong framework for embedding key skills and perspectives in courses and units.

‘What is digital literacy?’
video by Deakin Library for students.

“Employers expect it of us and, as academics in higher education, we are expected to prepare our students for their post-graduation endeavours in a digitally disrupted world.”  Jo Coldwell-Neilson

Jo: As an OLT fellow, I have sought to bring together a common understanding of digital literacy that helps faculty to develop students’ understanding of, and confidence in how technologies work, and to engage with the rapidly-changing digital environment. A key to this emphasis is assisting students to engage critically with the information and influences of the digital sphere. This is personally important for individual students, but also significant in developing a strong ethical framework as responsible global citizens.

The ubiquity of digital technologies and the rapid expansion of the digital economy has resulted in the labour market evolving quickly, requiring a workforce that possesses extensive digital literacy skills. However, without a common understanding of digital literacy, at least within the higher education environment, there is no benchmark against which the development of students’ digital capability can be driven.

I had recognised that the digital literacy skills of our students were generally not what academics expected of them. At the time I applied for the OLT Fellowship, the government and industry bodies were highlighting the need for higher education to respond to the fast‐changing future employment environment. The National Innovation and Science Agenda emphasised the Government’s priority of helping students embrace the digital age and prepare for the jobs of the future. Graduates need skills related to using digital technologies creatively, effectively and independently in a digital world. Even the Minister for Education had recognised that common use of social media platforms popular with young people does not necessarily translate into being digitally literate and that initiatives were needed to change this.

Kat: A recently published Deakin case study between academics in Optometry, SEBE faculty, and a medical librarian is a fantastic example of how the reconsideration of digital literacy and a mapping of explicit/implicit digital literacy capabilities can lead to better outcomes for students.

Useful Resources on Digital Literacy

Resources are being collated and made available via

Coldwell-Neilson, J., Armitage, A., Wood-Bradley, RJ., Kelly, B. & Gentle, A. 2019, Implications of Updating Digital Literacy – A Case Study in an Optometric Curriculum, Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, vol. 16,  pp. 033-049

Available here

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