Getting smart: towards critical digital literacy pedagogies

Janine Knight*, Melinda Dooly, Elena Barberà

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Many researchers agree that awareness of agency and how it is enacted through different participants holds a key role in developing digital literacy. Recognition of the ways in which digital tools can appropriate and shape humans’ semiotic work and even act out roles in communication is part of critical digital literacy. In digital environments, humans interact with the content (not just consume it) through interfaces that may include touchscreen, voice commands, eye movement and hand gesture, often accompanied by non-human agents (e.g. bots). The need to make transparent the hidden design intentions of these non-human liaisons is becoming more and more essential, particularly for formal educational scenarios where digital tools are commonly used. This study explores how different roles of human and non-human agents in an online environment can be made salient and how teachers can promote learner awareness of hidden agents at the layer of digital interfaces. Drawing on the notion of “exchange structure” from conversational analysis and functional linguistics, audio recordings and re-constructed screenshots are analyzed. Results highlight the actions and intentionality of human and non-human agents that form multimodal turn-taking sequences. Suggestions for developing critical digital literacy pedagogies (CDLP), including making hidden agents more salient, are proposed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Semiotics
Publication statusAccepted in press - 2020


  • agency
  • Hidden pedagogical agents
  • interface
  • online learning
  • oral interaction
  • screen-based resources


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