In the previous chapter we looked at the concept of web literacy through a socio-constructive framework, and introduced the pedagogy of Multiliteracies as one socio-constructive approach to modern literacies. In order to understand what web literacy is and what it means to be web literate, we need to move on to a more concrete level. The aim of this chapter is to suggest a pedagogical definition of web literacy. This is an emergent definition and it is open for further modifications. In our definition of web literacy our attempt is to cover a large number of aspects related to the concept, for the purpose of this definition is to support the learners' awareness raising on web literacy related issues. Our definition, thus, functions as a starting point for the journey towards autonomous managing of the web.

During the process of reading through earlier research on literacies, we came to understand the concept of web literacy through closely related research areas such as research on media literacy and critical literacy, in addition to actual research on web literacy. This is because of the following reasons. Firstly, research on media literacy addresses questions essential and applicable to web literacy, for the web is one of the many media used today. Thus, we will reflect the aspects of media literacy through one specific medium, the web. In addition, web literacy poses growing demands for critical reading skills due to the nature of the medium (see eg. Sutherland-Smith 2002:663). Therefore, research on critical literacy provides us with tools for examining the concept of web literacy from this viewpoint. Further, the existing definitions of web literacy vary a lot and offer different perspectives to literacy. In other words, it seems important to us not to choose one very narrow definition of web literacy and apply that for our purposes, but to try and integrate the aspects of various definitions and to form a wider understanding on the field of web literacy. Since the aim of the learning space Netro is to raise the learners' awareness of web literacy, it is natural to form as wide and concise definition of the concept as possible.

One model that represents various aspects related to web literacy is offered by the Ministry of Education in Finland (2000:22-23, 2001:24-25). In their report on a national literacy project, media literacy, a part of which web literacy is, is presented in the form of five steps (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The Steps of (Media) Literacy
(Ministry of Education 2000, 2001:24, translated into English for the present study)

The steps describe media literacy as a multidimensional concept which includes many layers and ways of thinking. The skills connected to the process of meaning making in media environments are all important when considering web literacy. However, in order to find out what the different abilities and skills mean when the web is the medium, we need to explore, for example, what the symbol systems and genres mentioned above are on the web, and what reading and writing is like on the web. According to the report, a full competence in media literacy is achieved when a person reaches the highest step.

Another way to examine web literacy related aspects is offered by Warschauer (1999). He introduces the concept of electronic literacies, and discusses them in the light of linguistic, cultural and educational questions, as well as situates them in the social and historical context of today's world. He divides the concept of electronic literacies to hyper reading and hyper writing (1999:158-163). Hyper reading and writing are presented as two sets of skills; yet, in addition to the skill perspective, Warschauer also stresses the need for the knowledge of both visual and textual grammars needed in electronic literacies.

As the Steps of Media Literacy (see Figure 2) offer us a specific order of acquisition of skills and knowledge when developing media literacy, the concept of electronic literacies (Warschauer 1999:21) has its focus on hyper reading and writing as meaning making as such. The two viewpoints on literacies on the web offer us valuable insight to the concept. The steps of Media literacy offer us a good starting point grounded in the Finnish society. However, as we will soon introduce in more detail, we saw it more beneficial to define web literacy along the lines of Warschauer (1999) as being comprised of various overlapping and interrelated fields, which are all equally important and function together. This framework is outlined in Table 1, in which we categorise different aspects related to web literacy in previous research. The purpose of this model is to function as a tool for managing the different definitions, and to help to conceptualise web literacy through research on web literacy, media literacy and critical literacy.

Table 1. Defining web literacy


web literacy
- reading
- writing
- semiotic mode: multimodality
- material conditions: text structures and hypertext
- power and ideology
- domain

web literacy
- searching and finding information
- scanning information
- digesting information
- storing information
- reading
- navigating
- moving, adding and changing text
- visual literacy
- multimedia components
- interactivity
Ministry of Education

web literacy

Ministry of Education
(2000:26, 2001:24-25)

Steps of (media) literacy

Lukutaidon portaat/
Mediakielitaidon portaikko

Figure 2
- browsing
- navigating
- recognizing
- selecting
- evaluation
- using technology

- communicative competence

Meaning making and

- cultural ability to create new
- evaluate
- analyze
- argue

- writing
- visualizing
- dramaturgy
- design
- traditional literacy skills

Basic access:
- technical skills
- abstract thinking
- hypertext, hypermedia
- intertextuality
- multimedia: graphics, animations, sounds
- non- and multilinearity
- changing models of texts
- interactivity
- multiculturalism
- netiquette

- (n)ethics and netiquette
- recognizing genres

Symbol systems:
- pictures, words, sounds, icons, graphs, multimedia texts
- awareness and control of one's own goals


- curiosity
Janks 2000

critical literacy
- access
- design
- domination
- diversity
Thoman (1999:50)

media literacy
- choosing
- questioning
- verbal and visual symbols
- cultural and situational contextuality
- control of one's own interpretations
Warschauer (1999:158-163)

electronic literacies
Hypertext reading:
- finding
- evaluating
- making uses of sources of information
- navigating

Hypertext writing:
- on-screen presentation including graphics
- expressing meaning
- technical skills
- rhetorical skills

computer-mediated communication

print literacy
- grammar of text
- grammar of visual design

- types of genres
- rhetorical structures
- cultural and dialectical differences
- clear and meaningful purpose for the reading and writing activities
Sorapure et al. (1998:409-422)

web literacy
- access
- evaluation
- rhetorical situations
- intertextuality
- genres
- multimedia
- hypertext
- visual and nontextual features
- interactivity
- netiquette


Through exploring the different definitions and analysing them more carefully we created a framework of three interrelated fields of web literacy, in which the definitions themselves were divided into three categories of web literacy. Accordingly, we argue that web literacy is involved with areas of skills and strategies for using the web (ch 2.3.1), content knowledge of the multimodal medium (ch 2.3.2), as well as metacognitive knowledge of oneself as a web user (ch 2.3.3) (See Figure 3). We want to emphasise that this division should be regarded as a tool for understanding the many-sidedness and depth of the concept of web literacy, and not to be treated as a strict categorisation. Although the concept is perceived through these three separate fields, it is important to notice that none of them exists independently and they cannot be separated from each other. On the contrary, all of the aspects discussed are interdependent, and together form what we understand that web literacy is.

Figure 3. The three interrelated fields of web literacy

To illustrate this, we will take a look at an example of a typical activity on the web: searching information.

When you search information on the web, you have to know how the web is structured. That is, you know that it uses hypertext and is multilinear. You know that information may often be conveyed through images, which also may function as hyperlinks. In addition, you must also be able to browse the web, that is, you must know where to type the address of a web page and how to click the hyperlinks in order to navigate on the web. However, these alone do not yet make you a competent web reader, and it may still be difficult to find meaningful information. Thus, you must also be aware of yourself as a searcher. In other words, you must know how it is that you actually read the web pages, what your goals are, and what kind of strategies you tend to use when searching information.

When thinking about the separate definitions in Table 1 more carefully, it is important to keep in mind that all attempts to define web literacy are context-bound and they should not be separated from the contexts of research, nor from their socio-cultural contexts, if web literacy is understood as a social practice. For instance, Janks's (2000) study on critical literacy teaching takes place in South-Africa, and the focus of her study is naturally on analysing the power relations represented in discourses, and domination of certain texts. As to definitions of web literacy, Sorapure et al. (1998) examine the concept in relation to student researchers using the web as a resource, so their natural emphasis is on assessing and evaluating the quality of information on the web. Karlsson (2002), in contrast, perceives web literacy through a study on personal homepages, and concentrates on the content and form of web sites.

Despite the variety of perspectives and contexts in which web literacy has been approached, a general tendency seems to be that the research on web and media literacy often emphasise the skills and strategies connected to the content and form of the web. This is illustrated in the Table 1, for the content of the first column of skills and strategies seems to override the other two areas of web literacy. Warschauer (1999:1), too, points out that literacy is often viewed as "skills that can be imparted to individuals". Attempts to teach web literacy, accordingly, often concentrate on providing students with detailed guidelines of what to do and how on the web. However, there are a number of reasons for a need for a shift in perspective. Firstly, the web being a dynamic, continuously developing environment, at least teaching technical skills does not in the long run support the development towards autonomous managing of the web. Secondly, the sets of skills require content knowledge, that is, knowledge on what this multimodal medium is like, how it functions and how texts in this medium are constructed. Thirdly, as we view web literacy through socio-constructive lenses, and understand reading and writing on the web as meaning making processes closely connected to the social and historical contexts, there is a need to raise awareness on how you function as a reader and a writer, and how meanings are constructed. Finally, it is quite understandable that when raising awareness, there is a need to go beyond what you already are aware of, know, and can do. Thus, we want to shift the focus in this study from skills and strategies related to web towards the other two fields of web literacy, the content knowledge and metacognitive knowledge of the web.

In the following chapters, we will turn to discuss each of the three fields presented in Table 1 in more detail. We will first discuss the skills and strategies of reading the web and the way they are developed through Netro. Second, we will examine what the web is like as a medium, that is, the effects of the content and form of web material on reading and writing. Finally, we will address the metacognitive side of web literacy through the two other fields, and discuss how metacognitve knowledge can be gained in Netro.

Sivun alkuun