Some (tentative) thoughts about awareness and digital literacy

During today’s webinar, I was struck by a contrast between the work we’re doing and how other projects were talking about their work. It seemed to me that some projects had clear definitions of digital literacy, with things like skills frameworks and assessment tools; others had less precisely pinned-down concepts, and were doing a lot of work to negotiate what this might mean in specific (e.g. disciplinary) contexts; and we seem to be getting ever more tentative about using the term. The contrast, it seems to me, is that other projects are very concerned with how aware people are of the term; reflecting on this, I think that we aren’t.

This post is really an attempt to try and think a little bit about why that’s the case. I think we’re using the phrase as a placeholder to point to specific, situated instances where people have been ‘digitally literate’ – the claims relate to historically specific configurations of people, resources and so on. So we’re trying to identify where such things happen (so we have greater awareness), but also we’re trying to make it easier for such configurations to happen – what we’re not spending time on is getting people talk about whether it happens or not. This has strengths and weaknesses: it might make it harder for us to lay claim to stuff at the end of the project (we don’t have a neat checklist to tick stuff off against), but it does get rid of the problem of ’embedding’, because we’re not creating some new, separate practice that then needs to be incorporated into what already happens: we’re focused on changing what happens anyhow.

Lesley summarised this nicely towards the end of the evaluation session: “we’re not seeking to create an undifferentiated set of expectations about our students”. Students’ digital literacy practices are incredibly diverse and that’s ok; it’s entirely appropriate given the various contexts (personal, professional, studious) that they work in. We don’t want or need them to converge on a list we’ve created. But we should be better at understanding that diversity and working to support it. It’s helped us to approach this problem by using the phrase “digital literacies” to frame the work, but it may not be as helpful to the students or teaching staff to have this phrase added to their vocabulary.