Metaphors, mental models, and multiplicity: Understanding student perception of digital literacy

Jason Chew Kit Tham, Kenyan Degles Burnham, Daniel L. Hocutt, Nupoor Ranade, John Misak, Ann Hill Duin, Isabel Pedersen, Jessica Lynn Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines student perception of digital literacy from their engagement with the Fabric of Digital Life, a digital archive of emerging technologies. Through grounded theory analysis we identified the ways students make sense of an unfamiliar technology. Our results show students assign metaphors to understand a new digital platform, apply mental models transferred from previous conceptual domains onto new technologies, and express multiply-layered approaches that facilitated their digital literacy development––an indication for instructors to orient toward an expansive description of digital literacy that caters to student learning needs as well as their professional futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102628
JournalComputers and Composition
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC) for funding this project with a Research Grant, which supported our undergraduate researchers Kenyan Burnham (Texas Tech University) and Christopher Trotter (University of Minnesota). We also appreciate the extensive technical help provided by Sharon Caldwell, Senior Archivist of the Fabric of Digital Life.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Digital literacy
  • digital pedagogy
  • mental models
  • metaphors

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