Digital competence and digital literacy in higher education research: Systematic review of concept use
126.96.36.199. Definitions of digital literacy by research
The majority of the publications defining digital literacy in HE research uses research to define the concept. The term digital literacy was first introduced by Gilster (1997 Gilster, P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York: John Wiley [Google Scholar]) in the late 1990s as: “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers” (p: 1). This definition is acknowledged in several of the reviewed publications as the “know-how” (Goodfellow, 2011 *Goodfellow, R. (2011). Literacy, literacies and the digital in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 131–144. doi:10.1080/13562517.2011.544125[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]; Gourlay et al., 2013 **Gourlay, L., Hamilton, M., & Lea, M. R. (2013). Textual practices in the new media digital landscape: Messing with digital literacies. Research in Learning Technology, 21, 21438. [Google Scholar]; Hall et al., 2013 *Hall, M., Nix, I., & Baker, K. (2013). Student experiences and perceptions of digital literacy skills development: Engaging learners by design? Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 11(3), 207–225. [Google Scholar]; Joosten et al., 2012 Joosten, T., Pasquini, L., & Harness, L. (2012). Guiding social media at our institutions. Planning for Higher Education, 41(1), 125–135. [Google Scholar]). Joosten et al. (2012 Joosten, T., Pasquini, L., & Harness, L. (2012). Guiding social media at our institutions. Planning for Higher Education, 41(1), 125–135. [Google Scholar]) uses Pool’s (1997 Pool, C. R. (1997). A new digital literacy: A conversation with Paul Gilster. Educational Leadership, 55(3), 6–11.[Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) definition of digital literacy as an adaption of “skills to an evocative new medium, [and] our experience of the Internet will be determined by how we master its core competencies” (Joosten et al., 2012 Joosten, T., Pasquini, L., & Harness, L. (2012). Guiding social media at our institutions. Planning for Higher Education, 41(1), 125–135. [Google Scholar], p. 6). This suggests that digital literacy, similar to terms such as media literacy and computer literacy, originates in a skill-based understanding of the concept and thus relates to the functional use of technology and skills adaptation, as Gourlay et al. (2013 **Gourlay, L., Hamilton, M., & Lea, M. R. (2013). Textual practices in the new media digital landscape: Messing with digital literacies. Research in Learning Technology, 21, 21438. [Google Scholar]) also argues.
In more recent publications, definitions of digital literacy point towards cognitive skills and competences (Mishra et al., 2017 Mishra, K. E., Wilder, K., & *Mishra, A. K. (2017). Digital literacy in the marketing curriculum: Are female college students prepared for digital jobs? Industry and Higher Education, 31(3), 204–211. doi:10.1177/0950422217697838[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]). Bennett (2014 *Bennett, L. (2014). Learning from the early adopters: Developing the digital practitioner. Research in Learning Technology, 22, 21453–21466. doi:10.3402/rlt.v22.21453[Crossref] , [Google Scholar]) and Traxler and Lally (2016 *Traxler, J., & Lally, V. (2016) The crisis and the response: After the dust had settled. Interactive Learning Environments, 5(SI), 1016–1024. doi:10.1080/10494820.2015.1128216[Taylor & Francis Online] , [Google Scholar]) point out that the individual is in focus as opposed to the social dimensions of learning in Beethams definition that highlights the cognitive perspective of digital literacy as “[t]he functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use” (Beetham & Sharpe, 2011 Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2011). Digital literacies workshop. Paper presented at the JISC learning literacies workshop, Birmingham [online]. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from http://jiscdesignstudio [Google Scholar], p. 1). Chan et al. (2017 *Chan, B. S., Churchill, D., & Chiu, T. K. (2017). Digital literacy learning in higher education through digital storytelling approach. Journal of International Education Research (JIER), 13(1), 1–16. doi:10.19030/jier.v13i1.9907[Crossref] , [Google Scholar], p. 2) also refer to cognitive skills and define digital literacy as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats with emphasis on critical thinking rather than information and communication technology skills”.
The concept is further used in its plural form, “digital literacies”, which acknowledges new and diverse social practices (Gachago et al., 2014 *Gachago, D., Ivala, E., Barnes, V., Gill, P., Felix-Minnaar, J., Morkel, J., & Vajat, N. (2014). Towards the development of digital storytelling practices for use in resource-poor environments, across disciplines and with students from diverse backgrounds. South African Journal of Higher Education, 28(3), 961–982. [Google Scholar]; Gourlay, 2015 *Gourlay, L. (2015). Posthuman texts: Nonhuman actors, mediators and the digital university. Social Semiotics, 25(4), 484–500. doi:10.1080/10350330.2015.1059578[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]; Kajee & Balfour, 2011 *Kajee, L., & Balfour, R. (2011). Students’ access to digital literacy at a South African university: Privilege and marginalisation. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 29(2), 187–196. doi:10.2989/16073614.2011.633365[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]; Machin-Mastromatteo, 2012 *Machin-Mastromatteo, J. D. (2012). Participatory action research in the age of social media: Literacies, affinity spaces and learning. New Library World, 113(11), 571–585. doi:10.1108/03074801211282939[Crossref] , [Google Scholar]). The plural form emphasizes the non-generic and multiply situated nature of the term. The articles frame their research by New Literacy Studies (NLS) and literacy is seen as a contextualised practice positioned in relation to social institutions and the power relations that sustain them (Kajee & Balfour, 2011 *Kajee, L., & Balfour, R. (2011). Students’ access to digital literacy at a South African university: Privilege and marginalisation. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 29(2), 187–196. doi:10.2989/16073614.2011.633365[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]). Machin-Mastromatteo (2012 *Machin-Mastromatteo, J. D. (2012). Participatory action research in the age of social media: Literacies, affinity spaces and learning. New Library World, 113(11), 571–585. doi:10.1108/03074801211282939[Crossref] , [Google Scholar]) uses the concept “literacies” as an umbrella term to group information literacy, digital literacy and new literacies developing a categorization in the following ways: “Information literacy is broadly defined as the individual’s ability to handle information in general. Digital literacy refers to the ability to handle technological devices (hardware and software). New literacies are a series of new and innovative skills associated with ways of working with online content and social technologies, thus going beyond the concept of digital literacy” (p. 574).
Tan (2013 *Tan, E. (2013). Informal learning on YouTube: Exploring digital literacy in independent online learning. Learning Media and Technology, 38(4), 463–477. doi:10.1080/17439884.2013.783594[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar], p. 466) argues for an extension of the definition of digital literacy to a multimodal outlook in a “new textual landscape”, including social media. In a similar vein, De Wet (2014 *De Wet, C. (2014). Trends in digital pedagogies: Implications for South African universities expanding through hybrid online education. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5 (23), 859–867. [Google Scholar]) and Novakovich (2016 *Novakovich, J. (2016). Fostering critical thinking and reflection through blog‐mediated peer feedback. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32(1), 16–30. doi:10.1111/jcal.12114[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) define digital literacy as a social practice and Tang et al. (2016 *Tang, C. M., & Chaw, L. Y. (2016). Digital literacy: A prerequisite for effective learning in a blended learning environment? Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 14(1), 54–65.[Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) use Martin’s definition of digital literacy as ”the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect upon this process.” (Martin, 2006 Martin, A. (2006). A European framework for digital literacy. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy. 1(02), 151–161. [Google Scholar], p. 155).
Some of the publications refer to critical digital literacies (CDL) defined originally by Avila and Pandya (2013 Ávila, J., & Pandya, J. Z. (2013). Critical digital literacies as social praxis: Intersections and challenges. New literacies and digital epistemologies. 54. Peter Lang New York, USA. [Google Scholar], p. 3) as “those skills and practices that lead to the creation of digital texts that interrogate the world; they also allow and foster the interrogation of digital, multimedia texts”. Hilton (2013 *Hilton, J. T. (2013). digital critical dialogue: A process for implementing transformative discussion practices within online courses in higher education. Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 9(4), 602–614. [Google Scholar]) argues that at the same time as CDL acknowledge the language of power, accessing multiple and diverse texts and reconstructing narratives to create transformative possibilities, CDL add a critical analysis of digital sources. Roche (2017 *Roche, T. B. (2017). Assessing the role of digital literacy in English for academic purposes university pathway programs. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 11(1), A71–A87.[Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) is also referring to CDL and emphasises that “the ability to access, critically assess, use and create information, through digital media in engagement with individuals and communities” (ibid., p. 43) must be considered in the definition of digital literacy.
188.8.131.52. Developing and/or discussing the definition of digital literacy further
In 4 of the 37 publications regarding the term digital literacy the researchers attempted to further define, discuss and develop the concept. Kenton and Blummer (2010 *Kenton, J., & Blummer, B. (2010). Promoting digital literacy skills: Examples from the literature and implications for academic librarians. Community and Junior College Libraries, 16(2), 84–99. doi:10.1080/02763911003688737[Taylor & Francis Online] , [Google Scholar]) problematize the concept in relation to the role of librarians in the development of increasing digital literacy among faculty and students. Lea (2013 *Lea, M. R. (2013). Reclaiming literacies: Competing textual practices in a digital higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(1), 106–118. doi:10.1080/13562517.2012.756465[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) presents a critical discussion regarding how using digital literacy defintions from policy documents and organisations potentially runs the risk of reducing the research contribution, thus hindering knowledge development at the expense of policy implementation in HE. Stewart (2013 *Stewart, B. (2013). Massiveness + openness = new literacies of participation? Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 9(2), 228–238. [Google Scholar], p. 232) defines digital literacy as “to be able to engage the connections and communications possibilities of digital technologies, in their capacity to generate, remix, repurpose and share new knowledge as well as simply deliver existing information”.
Stordy (2015 *Stordy, P. H. (2015). Taxonomy of literacies. Journal of Documentation, 71(3), 456–476. doi:10.1108/JD-10-2013-0128[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar], p. 472) puts forward a literacy framework consisting of six perspectives on literacy, which implies a definition of such literacies as: “[t]he abilities a person or social group draws upon when interacting with digital technologies to derive or produce meaning, and the social, learning and work-related practices that these abilities are applied to”. Stordy (2015 *Stordy, P. H. (2015). Taxonomy of literacies. Journal of Documentation, 71(3), 456–476. doi:10.1108/JD-10-2013-0128[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar], p. 472) argues that this definition “captures the complementary nature of literacy as a cognitive ability and a social practice”.
184.108.40.206. Definitions of digital competence by research
Whereas a majority of the publications concerning DL used research as a basis for definition of the concept, in the case of defining digital competence only 3 of 20 publications draw on research. Tømte et al. (2015 Tømte, C., Enochsson, A. B., Buskqvist, U., & Kårstein, A. (2015) Educating online student teachers to master professional digital competence: The TPACK-framework goes online. Computers and Education, 84, 26–35. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2015.01.005[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) uses the definition by Krumsvik (2011 Krumsvik, R. J. (2011). Digital competence in Norwegian teacher education and schools. Hogre utbildning, 1(1), 39–51 [Google Scholar], pp. 44–45) to define digital competence as “the teachers’ proficiency in using ICT in a professional context with good pedagogical-didactical judgement and his or her awareness of its implications for learning strategies and the digital Bildung of pupils and students”. Scuotto and Morellato (2013 *Scuotto, V., & Morellato, M. (2013). Entrepreneurial knowledge and digital competence: Keys for a success of student entrepreneurship. Journal of the Knowledge Economy, 4(3), 293–303. doi:10.1007/s13132-013-0155-6[Crossref] , [Google Scholar]) refer to Calvani, Cartelli, Fini and Ranieri (2009 Calvani, A., Cartelli, A., Fini, A., & Ranieri, M. (2009). Models and instruments for assessing digital competence at school. Journal of E-Learning and Knowledge Society, 4(3), 183–193. [Google Scholar], p. 186) when defining digital competence as “the ability to explore and face new technological situations in a flexible way, to analyze, select and critically evaluate data and information, to exploit technological potentials to represent and solve problems and build shared and collaborative knowledge, while fostering awareness of one’s own personal responsibilities and respect of reciprocal rights/obligations”. Furthermore, Cazco, González, Abad, Altamirano, et al. (2016 **Cazco, G. H. O., González, M. C., Abad, F. M., Altamirano, J. E. D., & Mazón, M. E. S. (2016). Determining factors in acceptance of ICT by the university faculty in their teaching practice. In: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Technological Ecosystems for Enhancing Multiculturality (pp. 139–146). [Google Scholar]), by referring to Gutiérrez (2011 Gutiérrez, I. (2011). Competencias del profesorado universitario en relación al uso de tecnologías de la información y comunicación: análisis de la situación en España y propuesta de un modelo de formación. Doctoral Thesis. University Rovira I Virgili. [Google Scholar], p. 201), defines digital competence as:” Values, beliefs, knowledge, capacity and attitudes to use technology in an adequate way, including computer as well as different programmes and Internet, which allow for the possibility of research, access, organisation and the use of information to produce knowledge”.
While the first definition focuses more on HE teachers’ proficiency in using ICT for professional purposes and implications for students’ learning, the latter two publications use more general defintions of digital competence by listing numerous cognitive abilities, including the ability to solve moral problems, to develop or even exploit to achieve digital competence.
220.127.116.11. Developing and/or discussing the definition of digital competence further
In 3 of 20 publications concerning digital competence, there are attempts at developing and/or discussing the concept further. Krumsvik (2014 *Krumsvik, R. J. (2014). Teacher educators’ digital competence. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 58(3), 269–280. doi:10.1080/00313831.2012.726273[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) starts with one definition of digital competence but then argues for the need to contextualize the concept further. Krumvik’s (2014 *Krumsvik, R. J. (2014). Teacher educators’ digital competence. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 58(3), 269–280. doi:10.1080/00313831.2012.726273[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar], p. 275) attempt at developing the definition further pinpoints that teachers’ digital competence operate in the intersection between a “mental digital competence journey” (self-awareness) and a “practical competence journey” (proficiency). In this manner, such a definition attempts to combine teachers’ individual traits with a layered model of digital competence incorporating the micro, meso and macro levels in which the teachers work. Tsankov and Damyanov (2017 *Tsankov, N., & Damyanov, I. (2017) Education majors’ preferences on the functionalities of e-learning platforms in the context of blended learning. International Journal Of Emerging Technologies In Learning, 12(5), 202–209. doi:10.3991/ijet.v12i05.6971[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]) initially draw on the report from the European Comission (2006 European Commision. (2006). Recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning. Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning, 2006/962/EC, L. 394/15. Retrieved December 7, 2017, from http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32006H0962&qid=1496720114366. [Google Scholar]) defining digital competence as one of the eight key competences for lifelong learning as “the confident and critical use of information society technologies for work, leisure and communication”. Then they elaborate on the definition towards professional development of teachers: “Digital competence implies connectivity with the skills to use digital technologies that allow teaching professionals to work with modern information and communication technology, computers, software applications and databases, helping them to realize their ideas and objectives in the context of their work. It is important for education majors to have the ability to search, collect and process information and approach it critically and systematically as well as the skills to use the design tools for media information and the capacity to access, search and use Internet-based services, especially in the context of their future activities and opportunities for continuous professional qualification.” (Tsankov & Damyanov, 2017 *Tsankov, N., & Damyanov, I. (2017) Education majors’ preferences on the functionalities of e-learning platforms in the context of blended learning. International Journal Of Emerging Technologies In Learning, 12(5), 202–209. doi:10.3991/ijet.v12i05.6971[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar], p. 204). In this manner digital competence becomes strongly related to the professional expertise of teachers and central to teacher professional development.
Some researchers claim that the current definitions of digital competence do not suite the purpose of assessment and force them to create new constructs. Castaño-Muñoz et al. (2017 *Castan˜o-Mun˜oz, J., Kreijns, K., Kalz, M., & Punie, Y. (2017). Does digital competence and occupational setting influence MOOC participation? Evidence from a cross-course survey. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 29(1), 28–46. doi:10.1007/s12528-016-9123-z[Crossref], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar], p. 33) argue that “Due to the lack of an existing validated scale, we constructed a six-item scale, which deals with information skills (three items) and interaction skills (three items)”. Still, little is known about the validation of these items.
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