Digital literacy literature review


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This literature review provides an overview of digital literacy in schools. It was developed in the context of the Digital Futures in Teacher Education project (

Digital literacy literature review

  1. 1. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)DIGITAL LITERACY LITERATURE REVIEW1: INTRODUCTIONThe need for schools to engage and integrate digital technology into their curricula andorganisation is recognised by teachers, politicians and industry (BECTA 2010; Clarke 2012).Several literature reviews have already explored this area (Torgenson and Zhu 2003; Hague andWilliamson 2009; Newman 2009; Burnett 2010). This review focuses on the emergence ofdigital literacy within schools, how it is conceptualised and how teachers and students areengaging withnew technologies.The review explores how the concept of digital literacyemerged, how ithas been defined and the discourses that have contributed to its development inthe UK education system. The role of digital technology in the lives of young people is explored,and this is followed by an overview of the perceptions of students and teachers of digitalliteracy.1.1 LITERACY AND LITERACIESThe meaning of literacy has been elaborated within education over the last forty years. Prior tothe 1970s it principally referred to how individuals learn to decode, encode and comprehendprinted alphabetic texts(Bawden 2008). Since then its meaning has become extendedto includethe social practices surrounding reading and writing. Lankshear and Knobel define literacies(using the plural form) as ‘socially recognized ways in which people generate, communicate,and negotiate meanings, as members of Discourses, through the medium of encodedtexts’(Lankshear and Knobel 2003: 33).Contemporary educational debate reflects the broad background of the concept of literacy. Forexample the major reforms enshrined in theNational Literacy Strategy focused on a technicalapproach based upon the relative merits of specific teachingapproaches including a genre-basedmodel to text study and the direct teaching of phonics.This is what Street refers to as the‘autonomous’ model which defines literacy in terms of ‘limited mental operations, giving noattention to social structures within which the concepts and philosophies of specific cultures areformed’(Street 1995: 85). On the opposite side of the spectrum is critical literacy which hasbeen defined as ‘an educational practice that emphasises the connections between language,knowledge, power and subjectivities,originates in the work of Paulo Freire and connects literacyto social justice’ (Practices 2012). Freire referred to teaching ‘readings of the world’ whichmeans understanding what words mean and how they are used to do things in society(Freireand Macedo 1987). Although interpretations of critical literacy vary, all share a common themeof the need to include a critical dimension in teaching and a focus on the social purposes ofLiteracy. Thenarrowly instrumental view andthe more political, socially-situated viewof literacyis a tension that has carried over into the realm of digital literacy.1.2 THE PROLIFERATION OF LITERACIESA review of recently published book titles on Amazon illustrates how popular the term ‘literacy’has become in all fields in the last ten years. This includes emotional literacy (Bruce 2010),sexual literacy (Vallin 2009), health literacy (Mayer and Villaire 2007), financial literacy(Lusardi 2012), political literacy (Carr and Lund 2008) and environmental literacy (Scholz and 1
  2. 2. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)Binder 2011). These have been described by Barton (2007) as metaphorical uses of the wordliteracy.Of course educational publications for teachers tend to use the term‘literacy’in a moretraditional sense. Nevertheless this appropriation of the term ‘literacy’ charts the tendency toextend its use to includefar more than the basic ability to read and write. This is shown inattempts to establishhistorical literacy (Nokes 2013), statistical literacy (Watson 2006) andmathematical literacy (Solomon 2009).The popularity of the term suggests that, despite its contentious nature, the word ‘literacy’serves a useful purpose in common sense understandings of education. Most of these referencesuse literacy as shorthand for knowledge and competences that can be applied in the real world.As a result the emphasisis on the outcome of an educative process (formal or informal). This isreflected in a distinction that Buckingham makes between media education and media literacy: Media education, then, is the process of teaching and learning about media; media literacy is the outcome – the knowledge and skills learners acquire. (Buckingham 2003: 4)Sonia Livingstone makes the point that what was previously described in terms of a set ofknowledges, competences and skills has become bundled under the notion ofliteracy(Livingstone 2005).1.3 DEFINING DIGITAL LITERACYDefining digital literacy (or literacies) is difficult given the contested and common senseunderstanding of literacy described above and the host of competing terms in the arena of newtechnology - these include information literacy, computer literacy, internet literacy and hyper-literacy.In addition, the object of digital literacy is constantly moving; as Helsper comments,definitions keep changing because the digital and cultural environment keeps changing (Helsper2008). This means there will always be a degree of ambiguity in the use of the term, what Zacand Diana refer to as the ‘inherent squishiness’ of digital literacy (Zac and Diana 2011).The concept of digital literacy was introduced by Paul Gilster in his book of the same name(Gilster 1997). Gilster took a broad approach to digital literacy defining it as ‘the ability tounderstand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it ispresented via computers’ (ibid: 1). He argued that literacy has always been more than simplybeing able to read and acknowledged cultural aspects in all forms of literacies. Although thenarrow reference to‘computers’ now sounds a little dated, Glister’s definition is still useful,given that it goes well beyond a skills - based understanding of digital literacy . However, thisdefinition pre-datedthe emergence of Web 2.0. technologies. Now, ‘many time-honoureddistinctions such as between producer and consumer, writer and reader blur or virtuallydisappear as new syntheses emerge’ (Gillen and Barton 2010: 4). This technological change andits social consequences are reflected in more recent definitions of digital literacy. Futurelabreports on digital literacyhave mapped and contributed to this development (Grant 2009;Williamson and Hague 2009; Hague and Payton 2010). Digital literacy,they suggest, means: knowing how technology and media affect the ways in which we go about finding things out, communicating with one another, and gaining knowledge and understanding. And it also means understanding how technologies and media can shape and influence the ways in which school subjects can be taught and learnt. (Williamson and Hague 2009: 5) 2
  3. 3. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee) understands digital literacy as ‘thosecapabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society’ (JISC2011), whereas theEuropean Commission has preferredthe term ‘digital competence’ using it todescribe one of the eight key competences for Lifelong Learning in the European Union: Digital Competence can be broadly defined as the confident, critical and creative use of ICT to achieve goals related to work, employability, learning, leisure, inclusion and/or participation in society. (European Commission 2003)Though definitions focus on ‘digital literacy’ in the singular there also seems to be a growing useof the plural form of ‘digital literacies’ (Martin and Madigan 2006; Lankshear and Knobel 2008;Burn 2009; Carrington and Robinson 2009; Belshaw 2012; Littlejohn, Beetham et al. 2012). Theplural form, popularised by the New Literacy Studies, emphasises the diversity of literacypractices that constitute modern life (Lankshear and Knobel 2003; Marsh 2005). Lankshear andKnobel explicitly support the plural form (Lankshear and Knobel 2008)in acknowledgement ofthe variety of individual accounts of digital literacy and the usefulness of a perspective onliteraciesin social practice.Lankshear and Knobel (2003) identify three dimensions common to digital literacies;operational, cultural and critical. Operational includes competence with tools andprocedures;cultural refers to competence in understanding texts in relationship to culturalcontext and critical is the awareness that literacies are socially constructed and selective -including some values and excluding others.An alternative three stage model of digital literacy has been proposed by the DigEuLit project,funded by the EC eLearning Initiative(Martin and Grudziecki 2006). They refer to the followingthree levels: digital competenceis the skills, concepts approaches, attitudes, etc. digital usage refers to the application of digital competence within a specific context (such as school) digital transformation which involves creativity and innovation in the digital domainAgainst the trend of defining digital literacy/literacies are those who seek to avoid the termaltogether. Beetham et al. explicitly avoid the term ‘digital literacies’ to enable what they refer toas ‘major continuities in what makes for effective learning’ from both digital and non-digitalpractices in higher education (Beetham, McGill et al. 2009). Belshaw also makes the point thatthe pre-occupation with digital literacy may be a generation issue. He points out that youngpeople simply refer to cameras, not ‘digital’ cameras. For them the ‘digital -’ prefix isunnecessary (Belshaw 2010). In an age where books can be read on a Kindle or iPad, andwriting onscreen is common place it is difficult to restrict the term literacy to pen and paper andso it could be argued that the ‘digital’ prefix is already unnecessary.All of these definitions seek to provide an overarching definition of digital literacy.Gillen makesthe point that context often leads to the creation of unique ‘working definitions’ such as thefollowing for teachers in Norway: Digital literacy for in-service teachers is the ability to use digital artefacts as an integrated part of their pedagogical content knowledge and be aware of what implications this has for teaching, learning strategies and Bildung aspects. (Krumsvik, 2007 quoted in Newman 2009: 13) 3
  4. 4. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)Definitions, then, are developed in specific contexts and emerge from different historicalcontexts. The following section looks at how digital literacy has impacted on the schoolcurriculum through different subject disciplines.2: MAPPING DIGITAL LITERACY IN THE SCHOOL CURRICULUMDigital literacy needsto be understood in the framework of the UK education system based on asubject based curriculum. The term draws on discourses rooted in different subject areas; inparticular computer/ICT literacy, Information Literacy and Media Literacy. These arerepresented in the diagram below and all contribute to how digital literacy is understood in UKschools.FIGURE 1: DIGITAL LITERACY DISCOURSES2.1 COMPUTER ICT/LITERACYComputer IT or ICT) literacy has been familiar in schools since the introduction of computers inthe 1980s. Martin and Grudzieki argue that this area has undergone three stages since itsinception in the 1960s (Martin and Grudziecki 2006). The first was mastery which lasted upuntil the late 1980s when emphasis was placed on gaining specialist knowledge through basicprogramming. With the introduction of simpler user interfaces in the late 80s began whatMartin and Grudzieki refer to as the application phase: In this phase the computer is seen as a tool which can be applied in education, work, leisure and the home. Use of applications software becomes the focus of literacy activity, and definitions of computer or IT literacy focus on practical competences rather than specialist knowledge. (Ibid: 250)At the third, reflective level, specific skills were superseded by meta-skills and the purposes ofICT become central. The authors suggest that IT could facilitate student-centred pedagogy in asimilar way to the critical approaches to literacy described in the section above. 4
  5. 5. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)A recent report by the Royal Society described the current delivery of computing as highlyunsatisfactory and argued that pupils ‘gain nothing beyond basic digital literacy skills such ashow to use a word-processor or a database’ (The Royal Society 2012). The Report defines digitalliteracy as the ‘general ability to use computers’ seen as a secondary skill. In a similar vein aspeech given by the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt last year he argued that: The current incarnation of ICT taught in UK schools is creating a generation of technology consumers; ‘digital literacy’ is important, but this is not computing. You can use and innovate with technology more effectively if you understand how it works (Giordani 2011)This adds fuel a growing sense of dissatisfaction with what the ICT curriculum is about and hascaused some to suggest that a greater emphasis on computer studies, programming and creativeproduction would lead to a more skilled workforce with the resultant economic benefits(NESTA, 2011). This has recently resulted in the ‘disapplication’ of the ICT programmes of studyin the compulsory school sector.2.2 INFORMATION LITERACYInformation literacy predates digital literacy and has its origins in the work of Zurkowski(1974) who referred to the ‘information literate person’ rather than the specific concept ofinformation literacy. Zurkowski’s paper was written for the US National Commission onLibraries and Information Science and reflects two significant aspects of information literacy;firstly it was developed primarily in the sphere of library services, and secondly the US (andAustralia) have traditionally been ahead of the UK in achieving widespread recognition forlibrarians as educators and raising the profile of information literacy (Secker 2004).The structure of school library services in the UK has restricted the development of informationliteracy(Streatfield, Markless et al. 2011). As Streatfield et al point out, despite the rhetoric ofsuccessive governments concerning the importance of school libraries, UK schools are notrequired to have libraries and there are no standards for library service delivery. This hasmeant that it is up to individual schools and librarians to develop schemes. The traditionalsubject based curriculum compounds the marginalization of library services because there is nosubject to ally it to. This has created obstacles to the absorption of library based informationliteracy into the mainstream curriculum.Despite the structural limitations of the library service, the older provenance of informationliteracy means that models have been developed over time relevant to digital literacy. Inparticular information literacy is not associated with any specific technology resulting in astress on the individual and social context. The term information literacy is used very broadly,covering concepts such as digital literacy, information handling, information skills, data curationand data management (Bent and Stubbings 2011). Its advocates describe it as a dispositionalhabit: Information literacy is a way of thinking rather than a set of skills. . . [I]nformation literacy can become a dispositional habit . . . a ‘habit of mind’ that seeks ongoing improvement and self-discipline in inquiry, research and integration of knowledge from varied sources. (Center for Intellectual Property in the Digital Environment 2005: viii-ix) 5
  6. 6. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)The emphasis on critical thinking connects to Friere’s agenda of critical literacyreferred toabove.2.3 MEDIA LITERACYUnlike information literacy, media literacy has traditionally had a home in the UK schools withinthe English curriculum and, since 1986, as a separate subject (Media Studies). More recentlythere has also been institutional recognition with the advent of schools gaining the Media ArtsCollege specialism. The Arts emphasis has shifted the centre of gravity of media education inthese schools away from its traditional home in English, towards other Arts subjects (Burn andDurran 2007).The rise of digital sources has presented significant challenges to media educators. The stabilityof print sources and television has given away to an ever proliferating variety of media formsmaking the traditional demarcations between verbal and visual media, or digital and printincreasing problematic(Buckingham 2003: 97). This places a fundamental challenge to theboundaries of the traditional curriculum which creates a need for a cross-curricular approach tomedia literacy rather than media studies.A 2003 Report on media literacy stated that there is no clear and commonly agreed definition of‘media literacy’ and concluded that levels of media literacy in UK schools are unpredictable,inconsistent and ‘likely to be low’ (Kirwan, Learmonth et al. 2003).In a paper about media literacy Sonia Livingstone starts with a skills based definition. Medialiteracy ‘is the ability to access, analyse, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms’.All of these concepts have influenced how digital literacy is interpreted and ,depending on thecurriculum priorities and individual backgrounds of those responsible for digital literacy, willcontinue to affect how it is seen.3: YOUNG PEOPLE’S IDENTITY ENGAGEMENT WITH TECHNOLOGYAll young people in UK schools today were born after the advent of widespread dissemination ofdigital technology. Several writers have explored the potential of technology to changeinterpersonal dynamics.As Buckingham suggests, childhood is now saturated with modernmedia, from the internet to mobile phones (Buckingham 2007). Furthermore, he argues thatthis technology is now used in more individualised ways; for example the majority of childrenhave televisions in their bedrooms and many have exclusive use of computers and mobilephones. Sonia Livingstone suggests that UK children’s increasingly ‘media-rich bedroom culture’may partly compensate for the decline in independent mobility outside of the home(Livingstone 2002). A recent UK study estimates that (in 2010) 99.6% of students haveunrestricted computer access, 97.8% own a mobile and have daily use of email and textmessaging (Chris, Ruslan et al. 2010).These technologies have introduced a new means ofcreating and maintaining social networks. As Merchant argues, online social networking can beseen as a newer way of enhancing or modifying pre-existing relations (Merchant 2011).However, for young people they offer a particular opportunity of engaging in socialrelationships which do not subjected to the same controls and conventions as face to faceinteraction.Consequently the ‘more far reaching consequences of changes in communicationstechnologies are seen in their impact on children’ (Carrington 2005: 10) For example socialnetworking sites have opened up a new form of interaction. Sites such as Facebook, according toDavies are ‘a vehicle through which individuals are able to perform a range of social actsthrough social literacy practices’ (Davies 2012: 12). 6
  7. 7. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)3.1 LABELLING THE DIGITAL GENERATIONA variety of terms are used to refer to the generation who have been brought up with digitaltechnology including digital natives(Prensky 2001; Prensky 2001), millennials (Howe andStrauss 2000), cyberkids (Holloway and Valentine 2003) and the Google generation(Rowlands,Nicholas et al. 2008). Authors like Prensky have argued that this changing environment has ledto changes in the brain structure of young people. Prensky invokes neuroplasticity to suggestthat children develop ‘hypertext minds’ where they prefer to access information in a non-linearway, process information very fast, prefer graphics over text, and prefer games to traditionallearning(Prensky 2001). As one critic summarises, ‘digital natives’ are claimed to have a: natural aptitude to use networked technologies, possess new and exciting skills such as the ability to multitask, and hold sophisticated knowledge and information literacy because of the contemporary web culture in which they live. These unique abilities are due to lifelong exposure to computers--the first generation to be born into the Web. (Harding 2010)Further attributes have been developed by authors focusing on the consequences of thisgeneration leaving school and entering the marketplace. For example Tapscott andWilliams(2008) describe young people as self-organising and creating content themselves. TheNet Generation they argue: are not content to be passive consumers, and increasingly satisfy their desire for choice, convenience, customization, and control by designing, producing and distributing products themselves. (Tapscott and Williams 2008: 52)It is not simply that too many positive attributes are given to young people. For example JohnMullen suggests that those brought up with the internet have a diminished ability to developempathy, interpersonal relations, and nonverbal communication skills. The author summariseshis research on a business blog in the following terms: If you’re a digital native, you should be aware that the internet may have partially rewired your brain in such a way that when you meet people face to face, you’re less capable of figuring out what they’re thinking (Mullen 2012)However, Merchant points out that some of the most influential theorising has resulted in anarbitrary construction of binaries, for example digital native/immigrant, those with access totechnology/those without (Merchant 2007). Despite the attractiveness of such binaries theyhave consequences for how young people are seen and treated. The digital native debate isparticularly relevant in education because a proportion of teachers, particularly those in seniorroles, are what Prensky refers to as ‘digital immigrants’ who are characterised as not sharingthe supposed digital abilities of those born after 1980.Characterisations of the net generation and related concepts infer broad characteristics that areunquantifiable. For example the quotation above from Tapscott refers to the ‘choice,convenience, customization, and control’ of young people suggesting they have a degree ofindependence that older generations do not have. However there is no evidence provided thatthe customisation that new technology allows is reflected in the dispositions of users. Similarly,Oblinger and Oblinger also suggest that ‘most Net Gen learners prefer to learn by doing ratherby being told what to do’ (ibid: 2.6). It is difficult to envisage any group of learners that prefer 7
  8. 8. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)being told what to do rather than doing something themselves. Again, the possibilities thattechnology enables does not automatically give the users those skills and aptitudes. On theother hand ‘learning by doing’ has been enshrined in alternative schools since Rousseau (Forbes2003) and is not a sudden innovation of digital learning.The digital native concept has been criticized on a number of levels.In the UK, Selwyn presentsevidence to suggest that young people’s engagements with digital technologies are ‘varied andoften unspectacular’ (Selwyn 2009). He argues there is a need to go beyond assumptions of thedigital native to a stronger theoretically and empirically understanding. In particular, he pointsout that the social, cultural and cognitive backgrounds of a seven year old are very different tothose of an eleven year old and a fifteen year old inhabits a different social, cultural andcognitive background to that of an eleven year old. A study by Brumberger (2011) refutes thestatement by Oblinger and Oblinger (2005) that the ‘Net Gen are more visually literate thanprevious generations’. Furthermore Bennett et al. suggest that the current debate about digitalnatives is unhelpful and can be linked to an academic form of a ‘moral panic’ (Bennett, Maton etal. 2008).International empirical studies also indicate wide disparities in digital competence within thisgeneration. For example Yan and Ranieri (2010)suggest that Chinese teenagers do not scoreparticularly highly on digital competence tests and that performance is not significantlyinfluenced by access to technology within the home. They highlight the important role ofeducation in improving teenagers’ digital competence. Similarly, a Canadian study of theintersection of age and ICT competency in pre-service teachers showed no difference betweenthe ‘native’ and ‘immigrant’ group (Guo, Dobson et al. 2008). These studies all draw attention tothe variation in levels of digital competence. For some, new technology clearly provides newopportunities. For example, Merchant reports on an interactive writing project for nine and tenyear olds where the young writers use digital writing in new and sophisticated ways (Merchant2005). However, such engagement is not simply dependent on the availability of, and familiaritywith digital tools.Studies that look at specific aspects of digital skills such as students’ searching behaviours havediscovered a similar, relatively restricted, use of academic tools. Most of these studies arelooking at beginning university level students but are instructive at the school level since theyindicate what skills students are entering university with.A study by Kennedy and Judd (2011)describes a surface approach to the learning engaged in bystudents and refers to it as ‘satisficing’1an information-seeking behaviour which is notappropriate in all academic contexts(Kennedy and Judd 2011).Students, they suggest,‘knowingly preferenced less reliable tools and sources in their search for study-relatedinformation in order to access and gather information quickly and easily’ (Ibid: 124). They pointto the tension between the need to provide students with user-friendly search interfaces andthe need to educate students in more sophisticating searching skills.A further challenge to the generational interpretation of digital natives has come from a recentstudy by JISC and the British Library which sought to identify how researchers of the future willaccess and interact with digital resources(Rowlands, Nicholas et al. 2008). As with otherstudies, the authors argue that the impact of ICTs on the young has been overestimated. Despitethe confidence young people have in their searching abilities, they ‘rely heavily on searchengines, view rather than read and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess theinformation that they find on the web’. However, the more unusual claim the authors make, isthat such characteristics are not limited to the young but characterise adults’ search behaviour.1 ‘satisficing’ is a portmanteau word combining ‘satisfy’ with ‘suffice’ 8
  9. 9. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)The authors conclude ‘we are all the Google generation, the young and the old, the professor andthe student and the teacher and the child’ (ibid: 308).All these critiques share a similar conclusion: that the native/immigrant divide is misleadingand may distract researchers and teachers from more careful consideration of the variety ofdigital experience young people and teachers have.3.2 REPRESENTATIONSAs well as being misleading, the characterisations referred to above affect how childhood isdefined in the modern era, oras Stainton Rogers suggest, ‘What practices our stories makecredible and what they make incredible’(Stainton Rogers and Stainton Rogers 1992). Theappeal to ‘neuroplasicity’ relates to ana-social neuro-scientific model of identityin which digitalcompetence is naturalised as an inevitable aspect of young people’s identity. This has profoundconsequences in an educational context since if young people are assumed to have ‘natural’ orautomatically acquired digital abilities then there is no need to teach them. The widespreadbelief in the digital competence of young people creates a set of assumptions taken on by adultsand children alike that becomes part of self-identity. As suggested above, however, the highlevels of confidence young people have in their digital skills is not reflected in their actual skillslevels (Helsper and Eynon 2010).Representations of the ‘digital native’ conflict with an alternative representation of childhoodthat is particularly relevant to younger children. Seiter (1999) describes two alternativerepresentations of childhood, one where children and seen as active meaning makers, the otheras passive victims. The digital native representation presents an active view of childhood asmeaning makers. At the other extreme, arguments seeking to restrict young children’s access totelevision or computer games reflect a passive view of childhood where they are seen as in needof protection.The challenges that teachers face in integrating digital literacy into the curriculum are complex.For example, despite the difficulties with levels of computer knowledge amongst students andteachers alike alluded to above in UK schools, it cannot be assumed that those with high levelsof computer knowledge necessarily use these skills effectively in other lessons. For example, astudy of inquiry based learning indicated that students with greater familiarity with computersacquired significantly less knowledge (Wecker, Kohnle et al. 2007). Furthermore, such labellingaffects those to whom the label is applied. Helsper found evidence that the younger generationis less likely to seek help with digital technology, referring to it as the ‘ostrich tactic’(Helsper2008).3.3 HOME-SCHOOL EXPERIENCEResearching young people’s out of school experience is difficult, what Wellington refers to as the‘secret garden’ of the learner at home (Wellington 2001). Furthermore, Marsh points to the lackof research at the early years level of children’s digital technology (Marsh 2004). Part of thisneglect, she suggests, may be due to the negative views held by some early years educatorstowards digital technology in early childhood.Marsh explored the environment that young children engage in literacy practices (Marsh 2004).She argues that the use of the term ‘emergent literacies’ which refers to the way in whichchildren’s engagement in print literacies from birth contributes to their literacy development,does not pay sufficient attention to wider definitions of literacy, particularly those associatedwith the use technology. Following Lankshear (1997) Marsh prefers the term ‘emergent techno- 9
  10. 10. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)literacy’. She illustrates how technological practices such as text messaging are absorbed bychildren well before they own mobile phones, citing the traditional ‘loveheart’ sweets that usedto contain short messages and now have text speech: Toys have always played a vital role in inducting children into socio-cultural practices and values of a society and many children own artefacts such as toy computers, laptops, DVD players and mobile phones from an early age. (Marsh 2004: 61)Her study of Sure Start pre-schoolers found that 36 out of the 44 children survey owned a toymobile phone from an average age of 12 months.Stephen et al. (2008) explored the experiences of pre-schoolers with technology in the homethrough a case study approach that including engaging directly with the children as well asparents and asking about their preferences. The researchers found a general interest intechnology activities inside the home and physical activity outdoors. However, the detailedconversations revealed a more complex picture with children communicating a significant levelof negative or ambivalent emotional responses to technology. As the authors comment: Parents were sometimes surprised at the children’s negative comments about ICT. Particular incidents or activities featured much more highly in children’s evaluations that they did with parents’ who were inclined to assume a generalized interest in and competency with new technologies on the part of their child, while underestimating the degree of adult or sibling support that children need to achieve this apparent competency. (Stephen, McPake et al. 2008: 108)Facer et al. looked at four groups of children in England and Wales to determine how computerswere used at home (Facer, Furlong et al. 2003). They found significant differences in the use ofcomputers in the home. They also found significant gender differences with boys owningcomputers and playing games more than girls. The data for this study was carried out between1998 and 2000, before the advent of social networking; since then computer ownership hasgone up within families and access to the internet has diversified with 47% of UK teenagersbelow the age of 16 now owning a smartphone (OFCOM 2011).Digital practices have become the subject of more research with concerns about the potentialrisks the internet may face young people as well as opportunities. For example, The EU KidsOnline surveyed over 25,000 children aged nine to sixteen across Europe. This found that 93%go online at least weekly and 85% use the internet for school work (Livingstone, Haddon et al.2011). The Report looked at children’s exposure to risk such as sexual content but makes adistinction between risk and harm. It concluded that exposure to sexual content is not generallyupsetting to children, although online bullying, though relatively rare, is experienced as muchmore upsetting.Davies demonstrates the variety of experiences that characterise parental/child interactionswith technology which ‘is by no means simply a field of conflict between progressive youth andreactionary adults’(Davies 2011: 333). He characterises two distinct attitudes towardstechnology, one ‘pro’ and one ‘more reserved’. The former seems associated with strong ties insocial networks and home support. The more ambivalent attitude is associated with acceptanceof parental concerns over the quality of knowledge online (compared to written knowledge intextbooks) and a distancing from contemporary dominant modes of peer group onlinebehaviour. 10
  11. 11. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)The focus on home culture challenges the home-school mismatch hypothesis advocated byauthors such as Buckingham (Buckingham and Willett 2006) who contrasts students’ positiveexperiences with digital technology compared to a negative school experience. Bulfin et al alsochallenge the clearly demarcated boundary between the digital literacy practices of children inand out of school (Bulfin and North 2007; Bulfin and Koutsogiannis 2012). They argue thatthere is a complex interaction between home and school experiences and influences extend inboth directions.3.4 STUDENT PERCEPTIONSResearch by Selwyn (2006) identifies a level of frustration expressed by students at therestrictions placed on internet use at school. However, Selwyn also suggests that most studentsin his study displayed a ‘pragmatic acceptance rather than the outright alienation from schoolthat some commentators would suggest’ (Selwyn 2006: 2). Selwyn goes onto argue that ‘netsavvy’ students are also ‘school-savvy’ in accepting the rules and regulations of school life; hepoints to the danger of romanticising the internet as the single feature of schooling which doesnot resemble students’ ‘real lives’ outside school walls.An Israeli study (Kolikant 2010) of secondary school age students explores the internet as amediator of learning practices and values. The research found that the majority of studentsbelieve that the internet over-simplifies schoolwork which diminishes their ability to learn. Theauthors suggest students inhabit two value systems; outside of school where sharing andinnovation are encouraged and in school where ‘person-solo’ learning operates under theassumption that knowing means ‘ having knowledge in one’s head’ (ibid: 6). The examinationsystem still focuses on the performance of the individual student, sometimes with reference toclosed books but not the internet.The Kolikant study raises a number of important issues that are of relevance to the Britisheducational system. On the surface it might be seen as recapitulation of the home-schoolmismatch. However the values described by students are similar to the reserved attitudetowards technology described by Davies above (Davies 2011).This study raises the possibilitythat, despite the confidence of young people in using technology, there is still a concern that it isnot ‘serious learning’ (Harris and Rudduck 1993). This reflects an issue in a study of universityteachers attitudes towards digital literacy where participants identified students as beingresistant to technology because it did not follow the traditional forms of learning they expect(Brent, Gibbs et al. 2012). The BECTA survey (Rudd, Teeman et al. 2009) of university studentsfound a similar conservative attitudes amongst students towards the use of technology.3.5 THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVESExploring children’s engagement with digital literacy beyond the classroom requires aconsideration of complex issues surrounding the home environment and the home-schoolinterface.This emphasis has enabled researchers to draw on a wider range of theoreticalperspectives, and such work has enriched recent debate in digital literacies. Because so muchresearch in this area is small-scale in nature,studies that draw on theoretical perspectives areable to situate their findings in a broader conceptual frame. This provides a necessary antidoteto the theoretical vacuum much research into digital literacy is carried out within. Populartheorists that are cited include Bourdieu, Goffman and Vygotsky. 11
  12. 12. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)Bulfin et al. (Bulfin and North 2007; Bulfin and Koutsogiannis 2012) use Bourdieu’s notion ofhabitus2 to challenge the binary opposition imposed by some researchers between home andschool to suggest that meanings and practices do not wholly emerge from one social andphysical domain. They suggest a complex interaction between home and school with parentalattitudes playing an important part.Hollingworth et al. (2009) use the same Bourdieuianperspective to look at variations in parental attitudes towards technology and learning in thehome. They identify universal concerns of harm and risk together with nostalgia for childhoodin a pre-digital age. However, the habitus of parents affects their response to risk. In particular,middle class parents with higher degrees of media literacy (derived from lengthier educationalcareers and professional employment) are able to relate to technology and constructeducational experiences for their children beyond restricting access. This forms part of whatAnnette Lareau refers to as ‘cultivated enrichment’ that is characteristic of middle classparenting where leisure is structured on the basis of educational values (Lareau 2000).The work of Vygotsky is popular in many areas of educational research. Exploring multimodalliteracies (literacy practices that involve more than one semiotic mode, e.g. combinations of textand photo), Mills (2010) uses Vygotsky’s notion of scaffolding to describe a situated practicethat teachers can provide to develop digital literacy. Providing expert guidance by teachers, books, or technologies is one of the key responsibilities of schooling, and it is unreasonable to expect students to reinvent pivotal literacy practices of adults in social, recreational, and civic engagement by themselves.Marsh (Marsh 2004; Marsh 2005)also uses Vygotsky in her t account of children’s developmentof digital literacy practices at home, particularly through play which children ‘make sense of thenarratives they encounter in a range of modes and relate these narratives to their livedexperiences’ (Marsh 2004: 56). In this context, the toy phones and ‘loveheart’ sweets describedin the previous section by Marsh can be seen as part of the enculturation of a new sign systemthrough play.After a hiatus of twenty years, Erving Goffman has become more popular as a meansofilluminating digital social practices. Goffman’s work predates the digital age; he wasinterested in identity and impression management(Goffman 1971; Goffman 1982). Researcherswriting about online identity have drawn on Goffman’s concepts, for example Marsh (2011)usesGoffman’s later work on frame analysis (Goffman 1974)to describe children’s engagement withthe ‘online interaction order’. Goffman’s work is particularly helpful in providing a reference tounderstand the micro-analysis of online behaviour and contextualise it within a broaderperspective.There are many other theoretical approaches that could be cited in relation to digital literacy.The three above are frequently cited and they are influential in the wider field of educationalresearch . Each provides a means of situating what are often small scale studies in a broadercontext and each focuses on a different aspect of social relations; for example, Bourdieu isparticularly relevant for questions involving the home-school interface whereas Vygotsky isoften used to explore issues of the cultural context and process of learning and teaching.2The habitus is ‘embodied history, internalized as a second nature and so forgotten as history – is theactive presence of the whole past of which it is the (Bourdieu 1990, p. 56) It mediates the individual’spersonal consciousness with the power structures of society. 12
  13. 13. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)4: TEACHERS’ ENGAGEMENT WITH DIGITAL LITERACY4.1 TEACHERS’ PERCEPTIONS OF DIGITAL LITERACYResearch on teachers’ attitudes towards the use of digital literacy is patchy and tends to focuson pre-service rather than experienced teachers.Most existing studies use teachers engaged inteacher training (e.g. Kafai and Nixon 2007; Guo, Dobson et al. 2008; Burnett 2011)and are oftensmall scale.Furthermore some were conducted in different contexts; caution should beexercised in applyingthe findings of these studies to the UK context. Student teachers are easierto access as research subjects; however their age sometimes puts them in the same category astheir students in terms of growing up with technology. Very few studies take into account agedifferences in teacher attitudes which is curious given the age emphasis in the ‘digital natives’debate.A small scale study of teacher perceptions for the Canadian Centre for Digital and MediaLiteracy (MediaSmarts 2012) found a general caution amongst teachers in using technologybecause of the disruption itmay cause. In exploring this, it also challenges the digitalnative/immigrant binary byarguingthat older teachers actually have an advantage over youngerteachers because they may have stronger classroom management skills which will enable themto use technology with less disruption.In another study, O’Brien and Scharber note that those insenior roles may resist some technologies on the basis of an ethic of conserving resources basedon an outdated view of digital scarcity (OBrien and Scharber 2010). Pountney (2003) findsteachers’ dispositions towards training in ICT to be shaped by complex models of complianceand autonomous activity.A Spanish study found general support amongst secondary school teachers for the use of theinternet in the classroom with no reported differences between men and women. (Ramírez-Orellana, Cañedo-Hernández et al. 2012). However, they did find some differences in supportaccording to years of experience, with teachers with fewer years of experience reporting morepositive attitudes than those with over fifteen years of experience. The study also found subjectdifferences with a more sceptical attitude reported in science and technology subjects.Student teachers constitute the largest group studied with regard to their attitudes towardstechnology. Studies show a positive attitudes towards the use of technology which increaseswhen technology is covered in their training that relates to their subject (Friedman and Kajdar2006). Research indicates that a single course on technology is not enough successfully effectthe practice of student teachers (Vannatta and Reinhart 2000).4.2 USE OF TECHNOLOGY BY TEACHERSAs has been stated, a difficulty of literature reviews on technology is that conclusions may beoutdated very quickly; a study published in 2006 may draw on research carried out a year or soearlier when many of the technologies common today were non-existent or at very early stages.For example Underwood and Dillon cite research into involvement with video games thatsuggested that the it is not age or sex, but membership of the teaching profession, that is thedefining characteristic of low involvement with video games (Sandford, Ulicsak et al. 2006).However, just because teachers may not be enthusiastic games players does not mean that theyare ‘inherently low technology users’ (Underwood and Dillon 2011). Teachers may not bedevoted games players but social networking and technologies of relevance to their particularprofessional interests may indicate high levels of technology use. There is evidence that 13
  14. 14. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)personal use of computers outside of school is a significant indicator of teacher use oftechnology in the classroom (Wozney, Venkatest et al. 2006)Before its closure BECTA reported a positive assessment of the state of technology inschools(Rudd, Teeman et al. 2009). The Report argued that there has been good progress in theprovision of infrastructure and that teachers, school leaders and ICT co-ordinators are broadlyhappy with the ICT resources that they have (ibid: 26).However, as Underwood and Dillon(2011) comment, introducing new technologies into theclassroom does not automatically bring about new forms of teaching and learning. The type oftechnology is also important to consider. As to Merchant argues, popular classroomtechnologies such as the interactive whiteboard and PowerPoint tend to extend didacticpedagogies, rather than transform classroom practice (Merchant 2005).5: CONCLUSIONThe difficulties encountered in conducting this review were similar to those reported in theEPPI3 literature review of ICT and literacy learning in English (Torgenson and Zhu 2003) whichfound a lack of large-scale studies and an emphasis on studies outside the UK. During the searchprocess, UK studies were emphasised and these are well represented. However, with thenotable exception of Marsh et al. (2005),these studies were often small scale and descriptive innature, covering a diversity of topics that did not cohere into discreet themes. This may reflectthe early stages of the research and practice covering digital literacy. The digital native debate(and other characterisations of the so called ‘digital generation’) formed a convenientorganising theme. The claims made have been the focus of a great deal of research, most ofwhich refutes the notion that there is a distinct generation with ‘in-built’ digital skills. Adiversity of approaches and skills have been identified, some structured by gender and access totechnology, others by personal factors all of which make generalisation untenable. Furthermore,the critical role of the teacher and the school has been identified and the need for well-structured teaching in order that young people leave school with the skills and dispositions tosucceed in the digital world.The binary characterisation of a home-school mismatch is also challenged by the literature. Howoutside school experience and parental attitudes effect students’ approach to technology isclearly important but is as yet under-researched. Bourdieu’s work provides a useful conceptualbasis for certain studies that address how home and school environments are mediated by oneanother and avoid simple binaries of the technology haves and have-nots. Although someauthors have criticised the use of Bourdieu (and particularly habitus) by educationalresearchers (Reay 2004), such perspectives introduce questions to the research that transcendthe merely technical. After a hiatus of twenty years, Erving Goffman has also been used toilluminate digital social practices. These examples of conceptual lenses provide an antidote tothe theoretical vacuum much research into digital literacy is carried out within.Further work is clearly required in this field, both empirically and conceptually. It is hoped thatas the field becomes more established, researchers and teachers will be able to locate theirwork within a broader research tradition relevant to the concerns of teachers. For example,though the importance of teacher attitudes in using technology is recognised, there is littleresearch on this topic and hardly any acknowledgement given to teachers’ age differences.Also,the reservations expressed by students that digital learning is not ‘serious learning’ suggests3The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre which is part of the SocialScience Research Unit at the Institute of Education, University of London 14
  15. 15. Digital Futures in Teacher Education (DeFT) Project (November 2012)that schools and families continue to convey value judgements based on a set of understandingsabout the nature of schooling that predate the digital era. However, again, very little is known.Such research on teacher and student dispositions and the broader context in which digitalliteracy is located will help future effective planning of digital provision.6: IMPLICATIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCHThe following are offered as indications of the need for further research in digital literacy foreducation: Although the diversity of digital literacy as a concept and practice is acknowledged, some agreement about research goals and questions in the area would strengthen the evidence base for educators The home environment is extremely important in understanding how young people and their parents approach digital literacy. This area would benefit from more qualitative research that illuminates the variety and complexity of at-home digital use. Despite the affordances that digital technology provides forcollecting the perspectives of young people directly, there are relatively few studies that focus on their views in a way that is unmediated by school context. The digital native debate has obscured the need to consider age as a variable in relating to digital literacy rather than generation. This is particularly the case with teachers who are generally treated as a homogenous group. More research is required that looks at teachers’ engagement with digital literacy and how this relates to their age, experience, subject and other contextual factors. The value placed by students and parents on digital learning compared to traditional ‘book learning’ should be explored further. There is a need for larger-scale research studies 15
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