Measuring Digital Literacies: Junior High-School Students' Perceived Competencies versus Actual Performance


Source: Computers & Education (2018)


The widespread belief is that youth, "digital natives", who live their entire lives in media-rich digital environments and are ubiquitously connected through social networks, naturally develop digital competencies. This study investigated digital literacies among 280 junior-high-school students with the aim of comparing participants' perceived digital literacy competencies and their actual performance in relevant digital tasks.

The findings showed that only a few of participants' perceived skills were related to their actual performance. Generally, participants displayed high confidence in their digital literacies and significantly over-estimated their actual competencies. This gap was most evident in social-emotional skills, which were, on average, perceived by students as their strongest skills, while their actual level of performance was very low. Positive strong correlations were found between participants' self-reported evaluations of different digital skills, indicating their perception as a single factor, while actual performance tests revealed low-to medium-size correlations between different literacies. For educational decision-makers, the findings highlight the importance of designing training programs aimed to develop students' digital literacies, with a special emphasis on social-emotional competencies. Such training may enhance important competencies needed, reduce unfounded self-perceptions, and thus, develop efficient digital functioning in contemporary society.

This study investigated the digital literacy competencies of junior high school students and compared their perceived literacy level to their actual performance on digital tasks. The findings revealed students’ high self-evaluated competence, and clear over-confidence compared to the actual performance levels exhibited, which were mediocre-to-low. This gap was especially noticeable with regard to social-emotional skills, which were self-estimated as the highest among the rated skills, while actual performance on social tasks was found to be the poorest. These findings call for educational decision-makers to take action and encourage training that aims to develop the digital literacies of school students. It is important for schools in general, and for teachers in particular, to take responsibility for nurturing the digital literacies of students, and to design learning and evaluation activities that develop these competencies. Effective education for digital literacy could equip youth with appropriate knowledge and competences for lifelong learning, for effective coping with cognitive and social-emotional challenges introduced by the knowledge society, for successful functioning in future workplaces, and active involvement in economic and social life. In contrast to previous studies that tended to focus on limited types of digital competencies, this study explored the entire set of digital literacies as based on the comprehensive theoretical framework suggested by Eshet-Alkalai (2012). Moreover, the current study extended some aspects of the digital literacy model and measured both textual and visual reproduction literacy, as well as exploring information thinking separately for identification of the information source and for critical evaluation of information. In addition, real-time thinking, which was introduced by Eshet-Alkalai in his updated theoretical framework, was empirically tested for the first time in this study.

Although our study was conducted in a large and geographically diverse sample of junior high school students, all of the participants learned in the same whole-class technology model. Future studies may continue exploring the contribution of other technological models, such as one-to-one computing initiatives, on the development of students’ digital literacies. In addition, the current study measured students’ digital competencies at a single time-point and in a particular educational context. In future studies, it could be of importance to examine changes in digital literacies over time and in the context of different educational contents.

Updated: Aug. 29, 2018