Digital literacy is an individual's ability to access both information and methods of communication through a technologic tools such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs.[1] While digital literacy initially focused on digital skills and stand-alone computers, its focus has shifted to network devices including the Internet and use of social media. Digital literacy does not replace traditional forms of literacy. Instead, it builds upon the foundation of traditional forms of literacy.[2]

Academic and pedagogical concepts

From a competency perspective, digital literacy is framed with literacy, fluency, and mastry of such. From an academic perspective, digital literacy is a part of the computing subject area alongside computer science and information technology.[3]

Digital literacy is a new literacy and can be decomposed into several sub-literacies. One such decomposition considers digital literacy as embracing computer literacy, network literacy, information literacy and social media literacy. Previous conceptualizations of digital literacy focused on the practical skills associated with using computers (now considered computer literacy). These include hardware skills, such as connecting devices, and software skills, such as using application packages. Contemporary conceptualizations of digital literacy add to these traditional skills, and embrace knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors, particularly with respect to networked devices (which include smartphones, tablets and personal computers). Digital literacy differs from computer literacy in a number of significant ways. While it embraces the practical skills that computer literacy incorporates, there is a much greater focus on sociological, political, cultural, economic and behavioral aspects of digital technologies.

As a pedagogical approach in curriculum design, the implementation of digital literacy affords far-reaching advantages. The internet is both a source of information and communication that has increased exponentially internationally. Subsequently, integrating technology into the classroom in a meaningful way, exposes students to a range of literacy practices called multi-literacies which broadens their outlook and widens vistas of information and knowledge which is highly constructive. This methodology embraces the constructivist theory of learning (Bruner, 1978) wherein learners draw from their existing knowledge in order to construct new learning.

Given the many varied implications that digital literacy has on students and educators, pedagogy has responded by emphasizing four specific models of engaging with digital mediums. Those four models are text participating, code breaking, text analyzing, and text using. These methods present students (and other learners) with the ability to fully engage with the media, but also enhance the way the individual is able to relate the digital text to their lived experiences.[4]

Digital and media literacy

Media literacy education began in the United Kingdom and the United States as a result of war propaganda in the 1930s and the rise of advertising in the 1960s, respectively.[5] Manipulative messaging and the increase in various forms of media further concerned educators.[5] Educators began to promote media literacy education in order to teach individuals how to judge and access the media messages they were receiving.[5] The ability to critique digital and media content allows individuals to identify biases and evaluate messages independently.[5]

Danah Boyd stresses the importance of critical media literacy, especially for teens.[5] She advocates that critical media literacy skills are the first step in identifying biases in media content, such as online or print advertising.[5] Technical skills and knowledge of navigating computer systems further helps individuals in evaluating information on their own.[5] Barriers in acquiring technical skills and computer knowledge set forth a limit for individuals in fully participating in the digital world.[5]

In order for individuals to evaluate digital and media messages independently, they must demonstrate digital and media literacy competence. Renee Hobbs, professor of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island, developed a list of skills that demonstrate digital and media literacy competence.[6] Digital and media literacy involves knowing how to retrieve, distribute, and understand information found in digital environments such as the internet.[6] Digital and media literacy includes the ability to examine and comprehend the meaning of messages, judging credibility, and assessing the quality of the digital work.[6] The individual is capable of analyzing digital and media messages by recognizing the author's perspective and overall purpose.[6] A digital and media literate individual has the aptitude to create diverse forms of digital content and possesses technology skills to create digital content.[6] The individual becomes a socially responsible member of their community by spreading awareness and helping others find digital solutions at home, work, or on a national platform.[6]

21st-century skills

Digital literacy requires certain skill sets that are interdisciplinary in nature. Warschauer and Matuchniak (2010) list three skill sets, or 21st century skills,[7] that individuals need to master in order to be digitally literate: information, media, and technology; learning and innovation skills; and life and career skills. In order to achieve information, media, and technology skills, one needs to achieve competency in information literacy, media literacy and ICT (information communicative technologies). Encompassed within Learning and Innovation Skills, one must also be able to exercise their creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration skills (the "Four Cs of 21st century learning"). In order to be competent in Life and Career Skills, it is also necessary to be able to exercise flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility.[8]

Aviram & Eshet-Alkalai contend that there are five types of literacies that are encompassed in the umbrella term that is digital literacy.

  1. Photo-visual literacy is the ability to read and deduce information from visuals.
  2. Reproduction literacy is the ability to use digital technology to create a new piece of work or combine existing pieces of work together to make it your own.
  3. Branching literacy is the ability to successfully navigate in the non-linear medium of digital space.
  4. Information literacy is the ability to search, locate, assess and critically evaluate information found on the web and on-shelf in libraries.
  5. Socio-emotional literacy refers to the social and emotional aspects of being present online, whether it may be through socializing, and collaborating, or simply consuming content.[8]

Applications of Digital Literacy

In education

Schools are continuously updating their curricula to keep up with accelerating technological developments. This often includes computers in the classroom, the use of educational software to teach curricula, and course materials being made available to students online. Students are often taught literacy skills such as how to verify credible sources online, cite web sites, and prevent plagiarism in a technological world. Google and are frequently used by students "for everyday life research,"[9] and are just two common tools that facilitate modern education. These tools and techniques are most effectively taught to students when the teacher is fully digitally literate as well.

Technology in the classroom

Digital technology has impacted the way educators teach in the classroom. With the use of technology rising over the past decade, educators are enhancing traditional forms of learning with digital literacy through different platforms.[10]. As such, several websites are assisting in these efforts such as Google Docs, which has allowed students to collaborate, Prezi, which allows individuals to use pre-made, creative presentation templates, and Easybib which allows individuals to generate citations in any given format. Additionally, educators have also turned to social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo, Schoology and even Instagram to communicate and share ideas with one another.[11][12] New standards have been put into place as digital technology has augmented classrooms, with many classrooms being designed to use smartboards and audience response systems in replacement of traditional chalkboards or whiteboards.

Digital writing

University of Southern Mississippi professor, Dr. Suzanne Mckee-Waddell[13] conceptualized the idea of digital composition as the ability to integrate multiple forms of communication technologies and research to create a better understanding of a topic. Digital composition keeps educators and students connected through modern teaching techniques. Digital writing in particular is a new type of digital composition being taught increasingly within universities. Digital writing is a pedagogy focused on the impact technology has had on various writing environments; it is not simply the process of using a computer to write. Rather than the traditional print perspective, digital writing enables students to explore modern technologies and learn how different writing spaces affect the meaning, audience, and readability of text. Educators in favor of digital writing argue that it is necessary because "technology fundamentally changes how writing is produced, delivered, and received."[14] The goal of teaching digital writing is that students will increase their ability to produce a relevant, high-quality product, instead of just a standard academic paper.[15]

One aspect of digital writing is the use of hypertext. As opposed to printed text, hypertext invites readers to explore information in a non-linear fashion. Hypertext consists of traditional text and hyperlinks that send readers to other texts. These links may refer to related terms or concepts (such is the case on Wikipedia), or they may enable readers to choose the order in which they read. The process of digital writing requires the composer to make unique "decisions regarding linking and omission." These decisions "give rise to questions about the author's responsibilities to the [text] and to objectivity."[16]

In society

Digital literacy helps people communicate and adhere with societal trends. Literacy in social network services and Web 2.0 sites helps people stay in contact with others, pass timely information, and even buy and sell goods and services. Digital literacy can also prevent people from being taken advantage of online, as photo manipulation, E-mail frauds and phishing often can fool the digitally illiterate, costing victims money and making them vulnerable to identity theft.[17] However, those using technology and the internet to commit these manipulations and fraudulent acts possess the digital literacy abilities to fool victims by understanding the technical trends and consistencies; it becomes important to be digitally literate to always think one step ahead when utilizing the digital world.

With the emergence of social media, individuals who are digitally literate now have a major voice online.[18] Websites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as personal websites and blogs, have enabled a new type of journalism that is subjective, personal, and "represents a global conversation that is connected through its community of readers."[19] These online communities foster group interactivity among the digitally literate. Social media also help users establish a digital identity or a "symbolic digital representation of identity attributes."[20] Without digital literacy or the assistance of someone who is digitally literate, one cannot possess a personal digital identity (this is closely allied to web literacy).

Research has demonstrated that the differences in the level of digital literacy depend mainly on age and education level, while the influence of gender is decreasing (Hargittai, 2002; van Dijk, 2005; van Dijk and van Deursen, 2009). Among young people, digital literacy is high in its operational dimension. Young people rapidly move through hypertext and have a familiarity with different kinds of online resources. However, the skills to critically evaluate content found online show a deficit (Gui and Argentin, 2011).

In the workforce

The 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) defines digital literacy skills as a workforce preparation activity.[21] Those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically secure,[22] as many jobs require a working knowledge of computers and the Internet to perform basic tasks.

White collar jobs are today performed primarily on computers and portable devices. Many of these jobs require proof of digital literacy to be hired or promoted. Sometimes companies will administer their own tests to employees, or official certification will be required.

As technology has become cheaper and more readily available, more blue-collar jobs have required digital literacy as well. Manufacturers and retailers, for example, are expected to collect and analyze data about productivity and market trends to stay competitive. Construction workers often use computers to increase employee safety.[22]

Job recruiters often use employment Web sites to find potential employees, thus magnifying the importance of digital literacy in securing a job. LinkedIn is one of the most popular employment sites, in which professionals can connect with others in their field, search for potential employment opportunities, or put out feelers for jobs they may need filled.

Possessing advanced and capable digital literacy serves as an essential skill allowing individuals to compete in the workforce. Socially, it has become almost necessary to possess a degree of digital literacy on all job levels, as society has become a technology based one and will continue to be such.

Digital divide

Digital literacy and digital access have become increasingly important competitive differentiators for individuals using the internet meaningfully.[23] Bridging the economic and developmental divides is in large measure a matter of increasing digital literacy and access for peoples who have been left out of the information and communications technology (ICT) revolutions.

Research published in 2012 found that the digital divide, as defined by access to information technology, does not exist amongst youth in the United States.[24] Young people of all races and ethnicities report being connected to the internet at rates of 94-98%.[24] There remains, however, a civic opportunity gap, where youth from poorer families and those attending lower socioeconomic status schools are less likely to encounter opportunities to apply their digital literacies toward civic ends.[25]

Community informatics overlaps to a considerable degree with digital literacy by being concerned with ensuring the opportunity not only for ICT access at the community level, but also according to Michael Gurstein, that the means for the "effective use" of ICTs for community betterment and empowerment are available.[26] Digital literacy is, of course, one of the significant elements in this process.

The United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) seeks to address this set of issues at an international and global level. Many organizations (e.g. Per Scholas for underserved communities in the United States and InterConnection for underserved communities around the world as well as the U.S.) focus on addressing this concern at national, local and community levels.


The digital divide was first widely discussed by journalists, academics, and governmental agencies in the 1990s.[5] The digital divide was used to distinguish between the digital accessibility of wealthy and lower-income groups.[5] Jessamyn C. West defines the digital divide as the gap between individuals who can and cannot easily access technology, or the haves and have-nots.[27] The digital divide highlights the privileges individuals have in accessing technology.[27]

Expanding on the definition of the digital divide, Howard Besser argues that the digital divide means more than technology access between the haves and have-nots. The digital divide encompasses aspects such as information literacy, appropriateness of content, and access to content.[28] Beyond access, a digital divide exists between those who have the ability to apply critical thinking to technology.[28] Language and English fluency creates a barrier in the digital divide as well, as most content online is written in English.[28] The digital divide includes a gap between individuals who have the ability to create digital content or are merely consumers.[28]

Socioeconomic factors

In 1994 the United States Department of Commerce began investigating the causes of the digital divide. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) conducted the survey, Falling Through the Net.[27] The NTIA discovered that many socioeconomic factors, such as income, geographical location, age, and education were the driving forces of the digital divide.[27] Older, less educated, and lower-income individuals were less likely to own a telephone or computer in their homes.[27]

The NTIA conducted a second survey in 1999 and found that statistics of the digital divide improved.[27] Computer ownership and internet access increased across every demographic group and geographic area. However, the research found that certain groups were advancing faster in regards to internet access.[27] Those who had easy access to technology were growing more information rich than the have-not group.[27] The research revealed that the socioeconomic factors found in the first survey are still present in growing the digital divide, although access to computers and internet use increased.[27]

Digital natives and digital immigrants

Marc Prensky invented and popularized the terms digital natives and digital immigrants. A digital native, according to Marc Prensky, is an individual born into the digital age.[29] A digital immigrant refers to an individual who adopts technology later in life.[29] These terms aid in understanding the issues of teaching digital literacy, however, simply being a digital native does not make one digitally literate.

Digital immigrants, although they adapt to the same technology as natives, possess a sort of accent which restricts them from communicating the way natives do. In fact, research shows that, due to the brain's malleable nature, technology has changed the way today's students read, perceive, and process information.[30] This means that today's educators may struggle to find effective teaching methods for digital natives. Digital immigrants might resist teaching digital literacy because they themselves were not taught that way. Marc Prensky believes this is a problem because today's students speak a new language that educators do not understand.[29]

Statistics and popular representations of the elderly portray them as digital immigrants. For example, Canada in 2010 found that 29% of its citizens 75 years of age and older, and 60% of its citizens between the ages of 65-74 had browsed the internet in the past month.[31] Conversely, internet activity reached almost 100% among its 15 through 24-year-old citizens.[31] Eugene Loos identifies the most common assumptions about digital technologies and the elderly, all of which contribute to portray them as digital immigrants and to perpetuate digital ageism.[32] Senior citizens may be regarded as a homogenous group, however, this group does not want or is not able to make use of digital information sources.[32] Eugene Loos claims this is not a problem because as time passes, these generations will be succeeded by new generations that have no problem at all with digital technologies.[32]

Although Marc Prensky is credited as the originator of digital natives and digital immigrants because he popularized the concepts, Poet and cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff have also been cited to have coined the terms.[5]

John Perry Barlow used the concepts in his statement entitled A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, for the 1996 World Economic Forum in Davos.[5] John Perry Barlow's poetry showcases the generational gap that grew with the rise of technology.[5] John Perry Barlow metaphorically suggested that children are natives in the growing digital world and parents are fearful of the growing generational gap in regard to technology.[5] Douglas Rushkoff employed the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants in his book, Playing the Future.[5] Douglas Rushkoff praises children's progress and growing competence with technology and labels youth as digital natives.[5]

According to Ahn, Juyeon, & Jung, Yoonhyuka,[33] a digital native is someone who has grown up with technologies. For example, a pager, the first cell-phone, and an oversized cube computer. They also have different understandings of digital use. While digital immigrants, who have been exposed to digital technology later in life. (Prensky, 2001) states, "digital natives” indicates the young generation born after the 1980s, “digital immigrants” designates the parent generation of DN. Because DN have been growing with diverse digital technologies, they are inclined to adopt and be favorable to emerging technologies."[34]

Digital visitors and digital residents

In contrast to Marc Prensky, David S. White has been publicizing his concept of digital visitors and residents.[35][36] Briefly, the concept is that visitors leave no online social trace whereas residents live a portion of their lives online. These are not two separate categories of people, but rather a description of a continuum of behaviors. It is probable that many individuals demonstrate both visitor and residential behaviors in different contexts. Dave White has developed a mapping tool which explores this concept.[37]

Participation gap

Media theorist Henry Jenkins coined the term participation gap and distinguished the participation gap from the digital divide.[5] According to Henry Jenkins, the participation gap describes the gap in skills that emerge when individuals have different levels of access to technology.[38] Henry Jenkins states that students learn different sets of technology skills if they only have access to the internet in a library or school.[38] Students who have access to the internet at home have more opportunities to develop their skills and have fewer limitations, such as computer time limits and website filters commonly used in libraries.[38]

The effects of the participation gap were studied by Danah Boyd, who observed and conducted fieldwork on teens in the United States.[5] Danah Boyd observed privileged and disadvantaged teens' different experiences with technology. In New York, she observed a teen girl use her Android phone for texting and using mobile applications. The teen girl was able to use technology to participate in social media, but the internet was too slow on her phone to complete homework assignments. Although the teen girl had full access to the internet, the slow internet and mobile device itself limited her experience in further improving her competence with technology.[5] The teen girl's limited access to technology highlights the participatory gap in skills that individuals experience when they have limited access to the internet and various modes of technology.

Global impact

Government officials around the world have emphasized the importance of digital literacy for their economy. According to HotChalk, an Online resource for educators: "Nations with centralized education systems, such as China, are leading the charge and implementing digital literacy training programs faster than anyone else. For those countries, the news is good."

Many developing nations are also focusing on digital literacy education to compete globally.

Economically, socially and regionally marginalised people have benefited from the ECDL Foundation’s ECDL / ICDL programme through funding and support from Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, international development agency funding and non-governmental organisations.

The Philippines' Education Secretary Jesli Lapus has emphasized the importance of digital literacy in Filipino education. He claims a resistance to change is the main obstacle to improving the nation's education in the globalized world. In 2008, Lapus was inducted into Certiport's "Champions of Digital Literacy" Hall of Fame for his work to emphasize digital literacy.[39]

A study done in 2011 by the Southern African Linguistics & Applied Language Studies program observed some South African university students regarding their digital literacy.[40] It was found that while their courses did require some sort of digital literacy, very few students actually had access to a computer. Many had to pay others to type any work, as they their digital literacy was almost nonexistent. Findings show that class, ignorance, and inexperience still affect any access to learning South African university students may need (Kajee & Balfour, 2011).

In 2011, the EU Kids Online conducted a study that examined the amount of time children in Europe spent on the computer.[41] It was found that roughly 85% of European children use a computer without the supervision of a teacher or parent, showing that these children have acquired some form of digital literacy (Matyjas, 2015).

See also


  1. ^ "Digital Literacy Definition ALA Connect". connect.ala.org. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  2. ^ Jenkins, Henry (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (PDF). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03. 
  3. ^ Furber, S. (2012). Shut down or restart?: The way forward for computing in UK schools.
  4. ^ Hinrichsen, Juliet; Coombs, Antony (2014-01-31). "The five resources of critical digital literacy: a framework for curriculum integration". Research in Learning Technology. 21 (0). doi:10.3402/rlt.v21.21334. ISSN 2156-7077. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Boyd, Danah (2014). It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. pp. 177–194. ISBN 978-0-300-16631-6. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Hobbs, Renee; Martens, Hans (2015). "How media literacy supports civic engagement in a digital age". Atlantic Journal of Communication. 23 (2): 120–137. doi:10.1080/15456870.2014.961636 – via Fusion. 
  7. ^ Warschauer, Mark; Matuchniak, Tina (2010). "New Technology and Digital Worlds: Analyzing Evidence of Equity in Access, Use, and Outcomes". Review of Research in Education. 34: 179–225. doi:10.3102/0091732X09349791.
  8. ^ a b Aviram, A., & Eshet-Alkalai, Y. (2006). Towards a theory of digital literacy: Three scenarios for the next steps. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/index.php?p=archives&year=2006&halfyear=1&abstract=223
  9. ^ Head, A., & Eisenberg, M. (2009, December). How college students seek information in the digital age. Retrieved from http://ctl.yale.edu/sites/default/files/basic-page-supplementary-materials-files/how_students_seek_information_in_the_digital_age.pdf
  10. ^ Greenhow, Christine; Sonnevend, Julia; Agur, Colin (6 May 2016). "Education and Social Media: Toward a Digital Future". MIT Press. 
  11. ^ Nielsen, Lisa (21 March 2013). "Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator: Facebook, Edmodo, & Schoology. Oh my! Choosing a social network platform for learning". Lisa Nielsen. 
  12. ^ Greenhow, Christine; Sonnevend, Julia; Agur, Colin (6 May 2016). "Education and Social Media: Toward a Digital Future". MIT Press. 
  13. ^ Mckee-Waddell, S. s. (2015). Digital Literacy: Bridging the Gap with Digital Writing Tools. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 82(1), 26-31.
  14. ^ Hart-Davidson, Bill; Cushman, Ellen; Grabill, Jeff; DeVoss, Danielle Nicole; Porter, Jim (2005). "Why teach digital writing?". Kairos. 10 (1).
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  20. ^ Dixon, Mark (2005). "Identity Map". Oracle.
  21. ^ IMLS press release: $2.2 Billion Reasons to Pay Attention to WIOA. 2014.
  22. ^ a b Wynne, M., & Cooper, L. (2007). Digital Inclusion Imperatives Offer Municipalities New Social and Economic Opportunities. Retrieved from POWER UP: The Campaign for Digital Inclusion.
  23. ^ Celik, A. (2007). Our Common Humanity in the Information Age: Principles and Values for Development.
  24. ^ a b Cohen, C. J., & Kahne, J. (2011). Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action. Chicago, IL: MacArthur Network on Youth and Participatory Politics.
  25. ^ Kahne, Joseph and Middaugh, Ellen (2008). As technology has become cheaper and more readily available, more blue-collar jobs have required digital literacy as well. "Democracy for some: The civic opportunity gap in high school", Circle Working Paper, retrieved 2013-09-25
  26. ^ Gurstein, Michael (2003). "Effective use: A community informatics strategy beyond the digital divide". First Monday. 8 (12). doi:10.5210/fm.v8i12.1107.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cohron, Madalyn (2016). "The Continuing Digital Divide in the United States". The Serials Librarian. 69 (1): 77–78. doi:10.1080/0361526X.2015.1036195 – via Fusion. 
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  31. ^ a b Allen, Mary (2013). "Cultural consumption on the Internet by older Canadians". Statistics Canada. Perspectives on Canadian Society.
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  33. ^ "Library Log in". 0-eds.a.ebscohost.com.ignacio.usfca.edu. Retrieved 2016-11-29. [dead link]
  34. ^ Ahn, J; Jung, Y (2016). "The common sense of dependence on smartphone: A comparison between digital natives and digital immigrants". New Media & Society. 18 (7): 1236–1256. doi:10.1177/1461444814554902. 
  35. ^ White, David; Le Cornu, Alison (2011-09-05). "Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement". 16 (9). First Monday: 775–786. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x. ISSN 1396-0466. 
  36. ^ White, D. (2013, May 31). Visitors and residents Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sFBadv04eY
  37. ^ White, D. (2013, June 5). Visitors and residents mapping activity. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9IMObcyKbo.
  38. ^ a b c "The Participation Gap: A Conversation with media expert and MIT Professor Henry Jenkins". National Education Association. March 18, 2008. Retrieved November 27, 2016. 
  39. ^ Philippine Information Agency. (2008). DepEd: Use ICT to improve learning outcomes [Press Release].
  40. ^ Kajee, L; Balfour, R (2011). "Students' access to digital literacy at a South African university: Privilege and marginalisation". Southern African Linguistics & Applied Language Studies. 29: 187. doi:10.2989/16073614.2011.633365.
  41. ^ Matyjas, B (2015). "Mass Media and Children. Globality in Everyday Life". Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences. 174: 2898–2904. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.01.1026.


Further reading

External links

  • digitalliteracy.gov An initiative of the Obama Administration to serve as a valuable resource to practitioners who are delivering digital literacy training and services in their communities.
  • digitalliteracy.org A Clearinghouse of Digital Literacy and Digital Inclusion best practices from around the world.
  • DigitalLiteracy.us A reference guide for public educators on the topic of digital literacy.