Web literacies – a part of digital literacies

The Mozilla Web Literacy Map version 1.5 was released in the spring and is the result of an ongoing project at the Mozilla Foundation to define the skills and competencies that are required to read, write and participate on the web. The Web Literacy Map was conceived by the Mozilla Community, a group of global stakeholders from formal and informal education and from industry, due to the principles of openness and open culture behind Mozilla. The Web Literacy Map aims at building an understanding of the explicit affordances of the web as a networked medium and offers a starting point for educators to create teaching and learning activities and modules while developing a more holistic understanding of web literacies in students. The project was led by Doug Belshaw, and besides presenting The Web Literacy Map and some of the voices around it I will also dive into how Belshaw’s own work on digital literacies is compatible with the ideas behind Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map and the ongoing discussions of new literacies and digital literacies.

640px-WebLiteracyMap-v1.1-updatedDigital literacy or digital literacies?

I have touched on this issue in a previous blogpost presenting Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacies in his thesis “What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation”. Here Belshaw concludes that it is not possible to reach a definition of digital literacy to rule out all other definitions, so instead he focuses on digital literacies, the multiplicity of literacies that occurs when digital literacy is used in practice. Digital literacy is different dependent on the context you are working with, and so the definition of digital literacies and the understanding of it is bound up with context: digital literacies are plural, context-dependent and socially negotiated.

In his thesis Belshaw discusses Lankshear and Knobel’s work and views on new literacies in their book “New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning” from 2006. And although he moves beyond their aspirations for a single definition of new literacies covering it all, he shares their sociological view on literacy:

We have moved from a psychological view of understanding literacy (as with Traditional Literacy) to a sociological view where ‘[l]iteracies are bound up with social, institutional and cultural relationships, and can only be understood when they are situated within their social, cultural and historical contexts’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006, p. 12).(Belshaw 2012:188).

Promoting a pragmatic approach, Belshaw proposes a framework or matrix of new and digital literacies that is “resilient enough to include both those literacies no longer culturally or technologically relevant, as well as accommodating those that may be developed in the future.” (Belshaw 2012:199):

A semi-fluid, community-accepted matrix of literacies could be flexible enough to be adaptable to various current contexts as well as having the ability to be updated as necessary in future.(Belshaw 2012: 199).

This matrix consists of overlapping literacies involving eight essential elements:


If you are going to work with digital literacies your work starts with defining what these eight essential elements of digital literacies mean in your context, according to Belshaw, as “digital literacies are an overlapping matrix in which certain parts are either foregrounded or backgrounded, depending upon context.” (Belshaw 2012: 210). Belshaw sees digital literacies as “transient: they change over time, many involve using different tools or developing different habits of mind, and almost always depend upon the context in which an individual finds herself.” (Belshaw 2012:204). And every time you revise your definition of digital literacies to integrate things that are relevant and important to you, the point of departure will be these eight essential elements of digital literacies.

The Mozilla Web Literacy Map version 1.5

Doug Belshaw has been pondering whether web literacies are a part of digital literacies or not and has mentioned that digital literacies are like a lot of dots where you have to draw the line, while web literacies are easier to start with because you can draw a circle around them and get to know how to navigate the web. And so he establishes web literacies as a part of digital literacies.

belshaw.400- web literacies

Never the less, I see The Mozilla Web Literacy Map as an example of how to work with Belshaw’s definition of digital literacies – a semi-fluid, community-accepted matrix of literacies being adaptable to a current context – as the Mozilla community has set off with a joint definition as their starting point and has worked with alignment around the definition:  “It focuses on Frank (2001) and Bigum’s (2002) notion of “the Internet as literacy” (McVerry, Belshaw & O’Byrne (2015:633), and thus the joint definition of the Mozilla community pins down Belshaw’s creed that a definition of digital literacies must cover literacies of the past, the present and the future:

Many frameworks, such as digital literacy, media literacy, and information literacy have considered the skills for the Web. However, these frameworks have attempted to make sense of the Web using previous metaphors, rather than understanding the explicit affordances of the Web as a networked medium…The Web Literacy Map attempts not to merely understand, but to build a better Web. (McVerry, Belshaw  & O’Byrne 2015:632).

The idea of the Web Literacy Map is to provide a prescriptive guidance for educators regarding the internet as literacy, so that they can teach reading, writing and connecting on the web and people can develop digital skills and competencies while capturing what is happening on the web just now. Thus, the Web Literacy Map builds on web 2.0 practices and tools, moving towards web 3.0, and among others things seeing them in the contexts of networks, of communities of practice, of participatory culture and of the open web movement:

The Web Literacy Map, while presented in grid form with the three strands (e.g., Exploring, Building, and Connecting), recognizes literacy as a culturally defined social act. You cannot learn Web literacy by separating the competencies contained in the strands from the act of doing (Ito et al., 2013). The three strands of the Web Literacy map are intertwined. (McVerry, Belshaw & O’Byrne 2015:633).

This understanding of web literacies resembles points made by Wyn Kelley and Henry Jenkins in “Reading in a Participatory Culture”:

In this context, literacy is no longer read as a set of personal skills; rather the new media literacies are a set of social skills and cultural competencies, vitally connected to our increasingly public lives online and to the social networks through which we operate. Just as authors are increasingly seen as sampling and remixing earlier works in their same tradition, so too, creative expression, critical engagement, and intellectual argument are understood as  part of an exchange that involves multiple minds, and as such, developing literacy is about learning how to read, think, critique and create together. (Kelley & Jenkins 2013:48).

So understanding the explicit affordances of the web as a networked medium involves the characteristics of web 2.0 tools, media and approaches as:

  • open
  • social
  • complex
  • participatory
  • networked
  • distributed
  • dynamic
  • mass scale.

And the understanding also involves an insight in the architecture of participation that allows us to interact and take part on many different levels while we are working with exploring and navigating the web (reading), building and creating for the web (writing) and connecting and participating on the web. This is why the three strands of the Web Literacy Map are overlapping in supporting the acts of doing and making:

wheeler-architecture of participation

Tim O’Reilley coined the term web 2.0 in 2004 and also put forward the term ‘architecture of participation’ to describe the nature of systems that are designed for user contribution, and so, an architecture of participation is both social and technical as it is influencing the skills and involvement of users to cooperate as much as possible: it builds on a culture of sharing and open practices, and it involves networks and communities of practice. So in the context of learning, the architecture of participation and the related affordances of web 2.0 (collaboration, reflection, interaction, dialogue, creativity, organization, inquiry, authenticity) are both the condition for and a part of the grid and the competencies labeled in the three strands and the skills nested under each of the competencies in the Web Literacy Map: the map builds on the principles that all learning is social (McVerry, Belshaw & O’Byrne 2015:635). In this sense it is possible to design teaching and learning activities based on the Web Literacy Map that allow students to take part on different levels of learning, developing skills, competencies and digital literacies while a variety of forms of knowledge and social and cultural understanding are evolving:


digital literacies



As a consequence of the architecture of participation and the affordances of web 2.0 tools and media and their impact on learning how to read (exploring), write (building) and participate (connecting) on the web, it also becomes crucial to develop transliteracy, as Steve Wheeler mentions in his recent book, “Learning with ‘e’s. Educational theory and practice in the digital age”: “Transliteracy can be defined as being literate across a number of platforms. In essence, it is the ability to be able to create content, organize, share and communicate through a variety of social media, discussion groups, mobile tools and other services that are commonly available. It is being able to articulate your ideas equally powerfully in a variety of available contexts, whether it is face to face or via telephone, video, audio or text.” (Wheeler 2015:175).

Transliteracy is an aspect of web literacies and needs to be a part of developing digital literacies. The following quote from Wheeler’s book echoes Belshaw’s view on digital literacies as transient while placing his eight essential elements to be identified as practices, skills, competences and mindsets in your current context:

From early signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV and film to networked digital media, the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present. It is, we hope, an opportunity to cross some very obstructive divides. (Wheeler 2015:175)

Teaching the web

The Web Literacy Map is joined by a global platform with teaching and learning resources to use in an open practice while you are remixing the Web Literacy Map into your context, as McVerry, Belshaw and O’Byrne state in “Guiding Students as They Explore, Build, and Connect Online”, their article on the map and the open source project.

While remixing the skills and competencies in the Web Literacy Map to fit your context and planning  teaching and learning activities that integrate web literacies, you must – as an educator – consider that “[t]he core belief uniting the community is that exploring, building and connecting online can never be taught in isolation” (McVerry, Belshaw & O’Byrne 2015:633), and so you must make sure that the design of learning pathways travels across the strands of the map and combines exploring (reading), building (writing) and connecting online, as digital literacies, like any literacy, are defined by the relations between reception, production and context. Laura Hilliger has created an example of how to shape web literacy learning pathways with the Web Literacy Map and as a member of the Mozilla community she discusses teaching the web with the Web Literacy Map in this video:

In addition, I think, that as an educator your reflections about the whos, the wheres, the whys, the whats and the hows of your teaching and learning activities or module should be challenged by your thoughts about how different technologies can be used to support different forms of pedagogy through the affordances of web 2.0 tools and media (Conole  2013:97). In the context of the Web Literacy Map this means pedagogies that imply social learning. And then it is time to question the rhetoric of web 2.0, too, while discussing  “the new ethos stuff” in relation to the web as a networked medium,  and to help building a more holistic and sustainable model for understanding how digital culture operates, as  Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green call for in their book “Spreadable media”.

Further reading:

Belshaw, Douglas, AJ (2012): What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Conole, Gráinne (2013): Designing for Learning in an Open World, New York

Kelley, Wyn and Henry Jenkins (2013): Defining Reading: A (Sort of) Historical Perspective In: Jenkins and Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture, New York

McVerry, J. Gregory, Doug Belshaw and W. Ian O’Byrne (2015): Guiding Students as They Explore, Build, and Connect Online, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(8) May 2015

Wheeler, Steve (2015): Learning with ‘e’s. Educational theory and practice in the digital age, Carmarthen

Images by Doug Belshaw,The Mozilla Foundation, and Steve Wheeler –CC-BY-NC-ND

Elna Mortensen

Web literacies – a part of digital literacies

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