The aim of the project is not to ‘teach tools’ but to promote participants’ awareness of digital issues, practices, environments and choices. It will offer a range of activities and opportunities for students to reflect on what the digital means for them and what they do in and with it personally, socially, academically and in terms of their current and future employability.
Defining 'digital literacy'
The term digital literacy (or literacies) is an elastic one, and you are likely to see the phrase in contexts that fall outside the scope of this project - for instance, schools initiatives around coding and app design or e-safety, and commercial ventures such as Barclay’s ‘Digital Eagles’. We have elected not to look at these strands but to focus on aspects that relate directly to the higher education context, i.e. the academic and employability spheres specifically.
We see digital literacies as a loose set of practices and values enacted at individual level, with the emphasis on the individual’s choice of what to deploy in which situation or context.
In particular, it is important to recognise that
- Digital literacies are not simply IT skills
- Digital literacies are contextual and developmental
Digital literacies are not just IT skills
"Digital literacy looks beyond functional IT skills to describe a richer set of digital behaviours, practices and identities. What it means to be digitally literate changes over time and across contexts, so digital literacies are essentially a set of academic and professional situated practices supported by diverse and changing technologies." (Jisc 'Developing digital literacies' project)
Digital literacies are contextual and developmental
Digital literacy is not a matter of reaching a pre-set, externally identified level or skillset, but rather a case of continuously developing familiarity and proficiency to meet an evolving range of needs in multiple contexts. For example, how we approach, evaluate, use and manage information in the academic environment may be significantly different from practices in the workplace, yet both can be see as digital environments.
Beetham and Sharpe’s 'pyramid model' (2010, below) describes digital literacy as developing from access and functional skills through higher-level capabilities to the level of identity. However, this will change depending on the context so it also reflects how individuals can be motivated to develop new skills and practices in different situations.
Jisc has developed a framework showing how this can expressed from a the learner's perspective.
How we are shaping the programme
Functionally and technically, the programme should be self-supporting as far as possible. A minimal amount of general feedback from lead educators may be possible, but not at individual level This means:
- feedback, evaluation and dialogue should be predominantly peer-led
- quiz mechanisms should be automated
- prompts for peer evaluation/discussion on forums will be built into activities
Pedagogically, we are aiming to cultivate awareness of choice and agency, not mandate right answers or ‘right ways’ of behaving online. This means:
- design activities that involve digital production rather than simply consuming text or video in a digital environment (the “medium is the message” approach)
- avoid normative design, right/wrong constructions, any finger-wagging tone of voice
- don’t tell participants what to do or think
- include plenty of opportunity for reflection and discussion
A note on 'digital natives'
Some discussions of digital literacy make reference to Prensky’s (2001) narrative of 'digital natives', which makes a distinction in digital fluency between those born after 1980 and the older, pre-internet 'digital immigrants'. This approach has been seriously questioned in research literature and is now considered overly simplistic and unhelpful. In particular, the concept of a generational difference in levels of digital comfort masks the difference between functional IT usage and the more complex and nuanced issues of online awareness and identity that we aim to foreground.