Traditionally, “literacy” has meant the ability to effectively read and write in a given language, and represents a combination of basic skills such as phonics, syntax, grammar, vocabulary, semantics, etc. More broadly, the concept of literacy has been extended to include a certain level of competence in a given domain of information (such as “financial literacy,” for example).

Now, digital technologies have created an expanding array of environments, tools, and practices for expression and communication, calling for the cultivation of further competencies and skills. As Howard Rheingold argues, “the web is a knowledge platform that requires a portfolio of literacies in order to tap into and contribute to a vast and growing online collective intelligence just as basic alphabetic literacy enables the literate to tap into the written and published knowledge platform contained in books and libraries.”

So what does it mean to be “literate” on the Web and in other digital spaces?  Should we speak of “digital” or “web” or “information” literacy? What about “visual” or “network” or “media” literacy? All of these categories and others can be found in current discussions. Are these literacies primarily a matter of learning to use specific tools and applications more effectively, or should the focus be on broader types of intellectual skills (Rheingold lists five such skills–attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network awareness). During this module, we will explore the ongoing conversation about what it means to be digitally literate today.

EXPLORE (required reading/watching/listening, etc.)

BUILD (required projects/assignments)

  • “Associative trails” exercise:
    • Select an idea or theme in your major field of study that you find particularly interesting, puzzling, exciting, arresting, provocative, etc. Start browsing the web to learn more about your topic. Make a note of the website from which you start. Browse for about an hour or so, following links from one site to the next. Let you mind and the links take you on a journey. At the end of the hour, go into your browser history and screenshot or copy the list of the sites that you’ve visited.
    • In a blog post, share that set of associative trails and reflect on what you see in them as a portrait of the way your mind works–and a portrait of the way the web works, too. Be sure to point out any surprises in what you’ve learned, or anything you see that suggests more questions or makes you curious. Blog post due by 10 pm, Thursday, January 7.
  • “Nugget assignment”
    • Select a passage (a “nugget”) from one of the required reading assignments for this week that grabs you in some way, and make that passage as meaningful as possible. It could be a passage that puzzles you, or intrigues you, or resonates strongly with you. It could be a passage you agree with, or one you disagree with. The idea here is that the passage evokes some kind of response in you, one that makes you want to work with the passage to make it just as meaningful as possible. A good length for your nugget is about a paragraph or so. Too much, and it becomes unwieldy. Too little, and you don’t have enough to work with.
    • Develop a blog post. You’ll probably start by copying the nugget into your post. From there, consider hyperlinks, illustrations, video clips, animated gifs, screenshots, whatever. Make the experience as rich and interesting as you can.Obviously, one of the main goals of this assignment is to get you to read these articles carefully and respond to them imaginatively. Your work with “nuggets” should be both fun and in earnest. It should demonstrate your own deep engagement and stimulate deep engagement for your reader as well. This blog post should be completed by Friday, January 8, at 10 pm.


  • Continue to use Twitter (and the course hashtag #HowtheWebWorks to connect with the course and your classmates and to explore new connections around things you care about.
  • For each of the above blog assignments, make at least one substantive comment on the post of a classmate (a different one for each post).