by Doug Belshaw

Dr. Doug Belshaw consults around digital literacies, Open Badges, and educational technology.

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Can digital literacy be deconstructed into learnable units?

Earlier this week, Sally Pewhairangi got in touch to ask if I’d be willing to answer four questions about digital literacy, grouped around the above question. She’ll be collating answers from a number of people in due course but, in the spirit of working openly, I’m answering her questions here.


 1. What are the biggest mistakes novices make when becoming digitally literate?

The three things I stress time and time again in my keynotes, writing, and workshops on this subject are:

  1. Digital literacies are plural
  2. Digital literacies are context-dependent
  3. Digital literacies are socially-negotiated

As such, there is no stance from which you could call someone ‘digitally literate’, because (as Allan Martin has pointed out), it is a condition, not a threshold. There is no test you could devise to say whether someone was ‘digitally literate’, except maybe at a very particular snapshot in

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Digital Literacy is about power

Today, I keynoted the Annual Learning & Teaching Conference at Queens University Belfast. My title was the same as that of my ebook, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, but it included new and updated context.

You can find my slides here, and below:

Due to time constraints, I didn’t go into as much detail as I would have liked in the presentation about the relationship between literacy, and power. I want to rectify by adding a few thoughts in this post.

Every time we say someone is ‘literate’, we’re making a value judgement, and betraying a particular way of viewing the world. As we append literacy to all kinds of domains and use it in a metaphorical sense — health literacy, financial literacy, digital literacy — this becomes ever more problematic. We privilege certain types of knowledge, skills, and behaviours, and simultaneously (perhaps without realising it)

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What would a periodic table of digital employability look like?

Today, in my Twitter stream, I saw this:


It’s from this site. I can’t really comment on its real-world utility, as I don’t know Azure, and I tend to steer clear of Microsoft stuff wherever possible.

However, I did think it might be a useful metaphor for the digital employability stuff I’ve been thinking about recently.

A reminder that the real periodic table of chemical elements looks like this:

Periodic table of chemical elements -  CC BY-SA Sandbh

However, it did make me think that my work around the essential elements of digital literacies could be expanded into a ‘periodic table’ of digital employability. This would have a number of benefits:

  • It’s non-linear (unlike the metro map approach)
  • Different elements can be given various weights
  • Types of elements can be grouped together

At the time of writing, there are 118 chemical elements represented by the periodic table. Interestingly, there have been plenty of suggested ways

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What does it mean to be ‘digitally employable’?

Let’s define terms:


  1. Suitable for paid work.
  2. Able to be used.

So being employable means that someone is useful and can fill a particular role, whether as an employee or freelancer, for paid work.

Having written my doctoral thesis on digital literacy, and led Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map from inception to v1.5, one of my biggest frustrations has been how new literacies are developed. It’s all very well having a framework and a development methodology, but how on earth do you get to actually effect the change you want to see in the world?

For the past few weeks, the germ of an idea has been growing in my mind. On the one hand there are digital literacy frameworks specifying what people should be able to know, do, and think. On the other there are various approaches to employability skills. The latter is a reaction to formal education institutions being required to track

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Beyond tabs: visualising ‘trails’ on the Web


I’ve been a user of the Web for around 21 years. Although it’s difficult to remember, I’m pretty sure ‘tabbed browsing’ pre-dates my first use of the Web. I can certainly remember in Microsoft Internet Explorer having to open a new window every time I wanted to visit a different website. It was one of the reasons I liked Netscape Navigator, later moving seamlessly to Mozilla Firefox.

While there’s been all kinds of wonderful innovation on the web, there doesn’t seem to have been as much innovation in tabbed browsing. Granted, you can mute certain tabs, pin them, and close all but the one you’re on. But, fundamentally, other than Tree Style Tab and the slightly unintuitive Tab Groups, tabbed browsing doesn’t feel much different than it was 20 years ago.

In a recent blog post I came across via Medium, Patryk Adaś made me aware of a Mozilla project that is focused on “evolving the

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How to create a sustainable web presence


In the preface to his 2002 book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined Dave Weinberger writes:

What the Web has done to documents it is doing to just about every institution it touches. The Web isn’t primarily about replacing atoms with bits so that we can, for example, shop on line or make our supply chains more efficient. The Web isn’t even simply empowering groups, such as consumers, that have traditionally had the short end of the stick. Rather, the Web is changing our understanding of what puts things together in the first place. We live in a world that works well if the pieces are stable and have predictable effects on one another. We think of complex institutions and organizations as being like well-oiled machines that work reliably and almost serenely so long as their subordinate pieces perform their designated tasks. Then we go on the Web, and the pieces are so loosely joined that

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How to use a VPN to ensure good ‘digital hygiene’ while travelling

I travel reasonably often as part of my work. One trend I’ve noticed recently is for hotels to provide unsecured wifi, without even so much as a landing page. While this means a ‘frictionless’ experience for guests connecting to the internet, it’s also extremely bad practice from a security point of view.

Unsecured network

Unless you know and trust the person or organisation providing your internet connection, you should proceed with caution. Your data are valuable - the business model of Facebook is testament to that! Protect your digital identity.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a way to route your traffic through a trusted server. You could run your own, but the usual way is to pay for this kind of service to ensure there are no bandwidth bottlenecks. A nice little bonus to using VPNs is the ability to make it look like you are based in another country, meaning you get access to content that

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Digital literacies have a civic element

My ‘Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ (thesis / book) looks like this:

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

Unlike some other people who seemed to need a subject for their latest blog post or journal article, this wasn’t something I just sat down and thought about for half an hour. This was the result of a few years worth of work, and a large meta-analysis of theory and practice.

The elements that most people seem to take issue with when looking at the above diagram are ‘Confident’ and ‘Civic’. The top row, the four ‘skillsets’ seem to pose no problem, but people wonder how they can teach the bottom four ‘mindsets’ - particularly the two just highlighted.

The latest episode of the Techgypsies podcast by Audrey Watters and Kin Lane does a great job of explaining the Civic element of digital literacies. I’ve embedded the player below, or click here. Listen to the whole thing as it’s fascinating, but the bit that

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5 steps to creating a sustainable digital literacies curriculum

Steps by Jake Hills via Unsplash

The following is based on my doctoral thesis, my experience as Web Literacy Lead at the Mozilla Foundation, and the work that I’ve done as an independent consultant, identifying, developing, and credentialing digital skills and literacies.

To go into more depth on this topic, check out my book, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies.

 1. Take people on the journey with you

The quotation below, illustrated by Bryan Mathers, is an African proverb that I’ve learned to be true.

African proverb

The easiest thing to do, especially if you’re short of time, is to take a definition - or even a whole curriculum / scheme of work - and use it off-the-shelf. This rarely works, for a couple of reasons.

First, every context is different. Everything can look great, but the devil really is in the details of translating even very practical resources into your particular situation.

Second, because the

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Web Literacy badges in GitHub

I’m delighted to see that Mozilla have worked with Digitalme to create new Open Badges based on their Web Literacy Map. Not only that, but the badges themselves are platform-agnostic, with a GitHub repository containing the details that can be used under an open license.

Web Literacy Badges

As Matt Rogers from Digitalme documents in A journey into the open, there’s several levels to working open:

In a recent collaboration with the Mozilla Learning team – I got to understand how I can take our work to the next level of openness. Creating publicly available badge projects is one thing, but it’s another when they’re confined to one platform – even if that is your own. What truly makes a badge project open is its ability to be taken, maybe remixed, and utilised anywhere across the web. Be that on a different badging platform, or via a completely different delivery means entirely.

This is exactly the right

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