Tag Archives: Digital Literacy

Presentation at the “Supporting Academic Practice in a Digital Age” symposium

Yesterday, I did a round trip to Exeter to take part in the “Supporting Academic Practice in a Digital Age” symposium at the University of Exeter. This provided an opportunity to showcase some of the work we’ve been doing with students here, with an audience of skills developers, academic support staff and  researchers. The event opened with a very thoughtful talk by Dilly Fung, followed by Helen Beetham and I as a double-act.

Without much in the way of planning, the talks coordinated really well. Dilly, for example, raised questions about the purpose of Higher Education, advocated student agency and described her “Telling Tales” project, which involved students talking about their experiences of study. Helen followed this up by showing the work that had led to JISC’s programme being put together, and then moved on to talk about specific areas of work in the CASCADE project, including really interesting developments around students as expert technology users and about writing development. Finally, I looked at some of the themes emerging from our baseline work, mainly focusing on the focus group analysis, but also including some early points from the ethnographic journalling work. This was all followed by a lively panel session, which drew in other participants, including two students.

There were lots of little moments – such as Dilly’s account of the spatiality of her knowledge when a student, in terms of library shelves – that had real resonance with some of the experiences our students are reporting, such as the way in which study colonises their homes, or the way in which they take over corners of libraries for their studies. The idea of establishing, maintaining or breaking down the boundaries between study, personal lives, professional work and so on kept coming back; it was also something that was picked up by several of the people who raised questions at the end of the presentations. The discussions led to some interesting connections between Helen’s work around building repertoires of practice and ideas of students’ ‘resilience’ (in terms of being able to cope with bits of their sociomaterial practice failing).

Sessions were video recorded, so I’ll link to these once they’re available.

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.

Two presentations at Networked Learning 2012

Lesley and I have just completed two presentations at the Networked Learning conference in Maastricht that draw on the work of the project, both of which were well received.  Slides are available from the papers & talks link. Both of these have linked the project’s work to some wider debates – about understanding students’ authorship practices, and about understanding technology. Sadly we were scheduled against each other so I couldn’t see Lesley’s session, but the discussion in my session was certainly lively, raising some important questions about how we can and should go about researching these areas.