Analyzing digital literacy with a single simple tweet

Two years ago, in Towards a comprehensive definition of digital skills, I depicted digital literacy according to five different categories, being those categories technological literacy, informational literacy, media literacy, digital presence and e-awareness (please see the paper From laptops to competences: bridging the digital divide in higher education for a thorough explanation about those concepts):

Explaining these concepts with a single example (that is, all the concepts using the very same example for all of them) is not always easy, so you end up using different examples with each category or concept. Today I just found that single example that can be used to explain all of them.

On 3 june 2011, Brian Lamb, strategist and coordinator with UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, tweeted what follows:

Tweet: Hanging with @grantpotter and @cogdog at Kootenay Co-Op Radio, ready to simulcast to #ds016radio for #etug
Hanging with @grantpotter and @cogdog at Kootenay Co-Op Radio,
ready to simulcast to #ds016radio for #etug

This tweet seems coded by the Enigma encryption machine. Decoding it definitely requires much more than what the usual definition of digital literacy implies, but a complex set of skills or competences as the one described above:

  • Technological literacy: Easy at it may seem at first sight, many people just do not get how twitter works. It is as simple to operate (“just a 140 car. message”) as complex to understand how it works as a whole. Add to this that you have to be following either @brlamb or any of the hashtags to be able to notice the new tweet. And that you can follow them in several different ways, including different technologies, platforms and devices. Definitely, not that easy.
  • Informational literacy: There are three kinds of links in Brian Lamb’s tweet. At least two of them feature “strange” signs (@ and #) and the other one looks (or maybe does not) like your usual link, but lacking the http:// part (not to speak about the www.). Informational literacy is about telling the difference from those different links, what do they mean and where do they head towards if one clicks onto them. Informational literacy is about being able to find out that @grantpotter and @cogdog are two people (that’s more or less obvious once you’ve clicked on the respective links), that #ds016radio is the free streaming station used for the Digital Storytelling MOOC course, and that #etug refers to the Educational Technology Users Group Spring 2011 Workshop. Easy to find out for the experienced user, those last two do require an effort for the unexperienced one.
  • Media Literacy: The tweet is accompanied by an image. Its meaning is absolutely related to the information gathered in the tweet (as one would expect) and so it completes the message. Nevertheless, media literacy is not about the image, but about the crossmedia and crossplatform factors implied by that tweet. The actual message is that for you to get the whole piece of information you have to browse at least 4 websites (Twitter, with information about the profiles and the hashtag timelines; the course, the radio station and the event website) and then you have to tune in yet another device to listen to the actual radio. Indeed, the word “simulcast” already warns you that it will be much more complex than opening a book, sitting and reading. Add to this that you can add your soundcraft to #ds106 radio, by using DROPitTOme, a way to operate Dropbox. Oh, and yes, the image was uploaded to a companion service to Twitter, yfrog. Let us acknowledge that this cloud computing thing is a complex one to say the least.
  • Digital presence: It is very different identifying who the author or who the people mentioned in of the tweet are, from knowing what is their relationship and what is the meaning of them being together doing what is told in the message. But, more important than that, is what will imply for you being related with them. Answering or retweeting Brian Lamb’s message will tell everyone that you are interested in instructional technology. Following Brian would reinforce that message, and being followed back by him and/or other people from his closest professional network can end up implying the fact that you indeed agree with the ideas that this network more or less share: educational resources should be open, learning should strongly be based on building (constructivism) and remixing and working with your peers (connectivism), education has a way out of institutions (edupunk), and so [by the way, my apologies for the simplifications]. There are many messages whose information is about who you are rather than a transmission of rough data.
  • e-awareness: Taken at a systemic level, Brian Lamb’s tweet talks about very important things. We have just mentioned connectivism or edupunk. But implicit in the message’s 126 characters is the understanding of what is a massive open online course (MOOC) or how an amplified event works. Full understanding of the tweet requires awareness on how information and communication technologies are (or are potentially) changing the landscape of education, how the educational system and educational institutions are being threatened on their very same core and foundations, how the roles of teachers are (or should be) shifting from lecturers to mentors, etc. E-Awareness is about knowing the systemic and strategic implications of living in a knowledge society; and, implicitly, that tweet is talking just about that.

Now, those are 126 characters charged with meaning. If a single simple tweet requires so much digital competence, what is needed for living your daily live at full throttle? What for the exercise of democracy and citizen participation? What for health? What for education? What for love and friendship?


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2011) “Analyzing digital literacy with a single simple tweet” In ICTlogy, #93, June 2011. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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13 Comments to “Analyzing digital literacy with a single simple tweet” »

  1. Very nice and deep analysis. This will help me to to look forward and improve my communication skills at twitter. One point about the technological literacy it is that not only new users have dificulties but also foreign users like me (i´m from brazil) or even experienced user in twitter but not fully in the culture that the message is inserted have to put some extra effort to understand the message. Even some may think that´s not important we all are in a very connected and globalized world with twitter as one of most powerful media profissionally I think that should be put in focus. Congrats and keep the good work.

  2. Brilliant analysis. I’ll be featuring this work often as I talk about digital citizenship. May I propose two more layers? One is “meta-medium literacy” (aka “the digital imagination”), which leads one to intuit or expect certain kinds of meaning-making representational possibilities that either a) already exist or b) could be built or realized somehow. This layer requires a deep conceptual framework of computers as “universal machines” and “tools for thought.” The second is “a personal cyberinfrastructure,” which I’ve written about elsewhere. It’s a deep conceptual framework of interactive networked computing as a global nervous system (to quote Jon Udell) or, to put it another way, an externalized representation of cognition, something like V. Bush’s “Memex” on steroids.

    Again, brilliant analysis. Thank you.

  3. Interesting post and i liked the systematic deconstruction but regarding language used – a lot of tweets use ‘madeup’ terms and colloquialisms that are region or topic based; Even this web post has an assumption that folk will know what terms like ‘edupunk’ mean as examples; that’s one i’ve personally not come across before..

  4. Thanks for your compliments everyone.

    Regarding Gardner’s suggestions (nice to see you around :), I’d like to think I include the “personal cyberinfrastructure” within the concept of “digital presence” or “digital identity”, especially under “monitoring” and “network” subcategories. I nevertheless am eager to read whatever you’ve written about it.

    I’m not sure your “meta-medium literacy” is included neither in my “media literacy” or “e-awareness”, thus I would seriously consider reframing my own model. Could you please go deeper on that one? Any readings?

    And, yes (RE vics & Igor) language is definitely a barrier, especially when not your mother tongue and/or living on another region. I, for myself, had to find out what was the meaning of “MT” which I found on tweets related to this post :D

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  8. Dear Ismael,

    Also impressed by this post after I just read it, as it came up on twitter.
    With regard to Gardners’ additional layers: the first layer reminds me of the concept of social appropriation of technology for meaning making (Suthers, 2006; Jones, Dirckinck-Holmfeld & Lindström, 2006)and the second of the construction of a ´technology portfolio´ as described by Carroll (2004 & 2005).
    Either require a certain ‘agency’ or literacy on behalf of the individual social agent in order to fully engage and participate in interaction processes that aim at meaning making and building communities.

  9. Paulo Moekotte has just sent to me the full references of the works he mentions in his comment. Here they come:

    Carroll, J. (2004). Completing design in use: closing the appropriation cycle. Proceedings of the 12th European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS 2004), Turku, Finland, 11 pages.

    Carroll, J. (2005). Technology Portfolios: A Metaphor For Users’ Technology Selections While Mobile? ACIS 2005 Proceedings. Paper 87.

    Jones, C., Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Lindström, B. (2006). “A relational, indirect, meso-level approach to CSCL design in the next decade”. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1(1), 35-56.

    Suthers, D.D. (2006). “Technology affordances for intersubjective meaning making: A research agenda for CSCL”. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1(3), 315-337.

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