5 Things You Didn’t Know About Digital Media Literacy

meaning-of-life-cartoon

Digital media literacy is not universal in different cultures.

  1. Digital literacy has different interpretations. According to Barry Thatcher (2010), it means “accessing, understanding, and appropriately using digital media in specific situations” (p. 169). While Bernadette Longo (2010) defines culture in the context of digital communities as, “ways in which people relate to each other within a particular social context” (p. 149) and technical communicators can learn about digital cultures by “studying the language and the social relationships embedded in how people use it” within these communities (p.149). Ann Blakeslee (2010) delves further by explaining that digital media audiences can be targeted for a specific situation or reader; however, she explains there hasn’t been enough research to understand the unique needs of readers with digital documentation (p. 204). (Refer to #3 for digital audiences.)
  1. Digital media literacy is not universal. What is understood in one country is not true for another. Thatcher’s experience working with Mexican and U.S. collaborators clearly identifies that digital literacy has differing rhetorical and cultural traditions that require greater understanding for cross-cultural projects (p. 169). Technical communicators should research and collaborate with other technical communicators and translators in other countries if the another country will be one of the audiences targeted. By due diligence, Thatcher “developed a framework to compare features of human life that all cultures share regardless of their value(s)” (p. 175) rather than follow an ethnocentric methodology – an assumption that another cultures uses digital media the same way that another does (p. 170). Specifically, Mexican culture and their rhetorical traditions regarding digital media.
  1. Digital media audience needs are specific. The internet is vast and digital media provides many outlets for various audiences to interact with media besides reading. Consider online documentation to operate your mobile phone or troubleshoot your PC. While this documentation is available to everyone, it also has a specific audience – those seeking answers for the equipment. Ann Blakeslee (2010) explains the characteristics of digital documents have implications “how audiences perceive the documents, how they use them and what expectations they bring to them” (p. 220). It is the responsibility of technical communicators to research intended audiences as well as tertiary audiences when they are creating digital documents (media). Audiences who not only read, but use and respond to digital media. Blakeslee states that to understand audience needs in response to digital literacy more research is needed (p. 222-223).
  1. Digital media needs to be user-centered. The shift from paper to digital documentation requires a “seismic shift” from system to user-centered. Documentation, to be useful and effective, requires consideration of its audience, their needs and digital literacy knowledge. This is difficult to acknowledge and understand since paper documentation was always one sided and did not receive much feedback from the user. However, almost all digital media requires a user-centered approach.
  1. Digital media literacy has its own rhetorical genre. Longo, Thatcher and Blakeslee (2010) all reference “rhetoric” or “rhetorical genre” in their articles and the importance of understanding and/or researching digital media rhetoric. Digital rhetoric, a definition evolving as much as digital media, is “the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances” (Eymand, 2012, Digital Rhetoric Collaborative). Longo asserts that technical communicators contribute to digital rhetoric with identifying audience inclusion or exclusion as well as understanding the “human+machine culture” (p. 147). While Thatcher says to develop cross-cultural digital literacy, technical communicators must, “adapt their communication strategies to the different rhetorical expectations of the target culture” (p. 169). Finally, Blakeslee identifies that content and context need to be continually revised so that the application meets the needs of the end-user thus changing the role of rhetoric with each type of digital medium.

The list above provides a few key takeaway points from Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Rachel Spilka (Ed) (2010) Chapters 6 – 8.

Posted on October 8, 2016, in Literacy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. One conclusion I came to after reading Blakeslee’s chapter is that the traditional “primary, secondary, tertiary…” mode of audience analysis is due for a revision. In some cases, the audience can be as big as “everyone on the Internet,” while in other cases, it’s just not clear who the audiences are, let alone how to classify them into primary et al.

    In multimodal/multimedia communication, audience is no longer the traditional “Who is reading my document?” Complete audience analysis must now also include asking questions such as:

    -For what purpose/tasks will each potential audience be using our documents?

    -In what context or even output will our documents be used? (For instance, will they be printed, used on a smartphone or tablet, at work, at home. Now that augmented reality and virtual reality are becoming increasingly mainstream, the question of context is more important than ever.)

    During Blakeslee’s reading, I got a mental image of a new audience analysis model where – rather than the traditional primary/secondary/etc. – we instead think of multiple sub-audiences based on who uses the documentation, how/why are they using it, and in what context they are using it.

    Blakeslee gives the example of multiple audiences within an accounting firm – the accountants in the firm will probably use the software differently and for different purposes than the administrative assistants or the IT department – and even use the documentation itself differently! The traditional primary-audience model likely cannot account for so many potential audiences and use variables.

    Long story short, I agree with Blakeslee that, although audience awareness is as important as eve (if not moreso), it is past time to reassess how we analyze our audiences.

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