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Rethinking digital literacies: a sociomaterial analysis of students use of technology


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Seminar at Leicester University, 11th June, 2013

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Rethinking digital literacies: a sociomaterial analysis of students use of technology

  1. 1. Rethinking digitalliteracies: asociomaterial analysis ofstudents use oftechnologyMartin Oliver & Lesley GourlayInstitute of Education, University of
  2. 2. Digital literaciesSociomaterialityThe projectOverviewMethodologyThemesConclusions
  3. 3. Digital Literacies
  4. 4. Considering these points, the DigEuLit project hasdeveloped the following definition of digital literacy:Digital Literacy is the awareness, attitude and abilityof individuals to appropriately use digital tools andfacilities to identify, access, manage, integrate,evaluate, analyse and synthesize digital resources,construct new knowledge, create media expressions,and communicate with others, in the context ofspecific life situations, in order to enable constructivesocial action; and to reflect upon this process.(Digital competence; digital usage; digital transformation)(Martin & Grudziecki, 2006)
  5. 5. Belshaw‟s Eight Elements of Digital LiteraciesCulturalCognitiveConstructiveCommunicativeConfidentCreativeCriticalCivic
  6. 6. “Digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit anindividual for living, learning and working in a digitalsociety.” (Beetham, 2010)Four-tier framework:AccessSkillsSocial practicesIdentity
  7. 7. ElementsCapabilitiesSkillsAttributesIdeology of graduate as a quality-assuredproduct?
  8. 8. Moving on fromtaxonomies…Drawing upon the frameworks outlined above, wepropose as a definition of digital literacies:the constantly changing practices through whichpeople make traceable meanings using digitaltechnologies.Within this broad definition, specific aspects of digitalliteracies can be investigated and explored further,understood as in many ways offering a continuity toour understandings of literacies in general as socialpractice.(Gillen & Barton, 2010)
  9. 9. …towardsdigitalacademicpractice• Academic practices areoverwhelming textual• These are situated insocial and disciplinarycontexts• Textual practices areincreasingly digitallymediated• These practices take placeacross a range of domains• Students create complexassemblages enrolling arange of digital, material,spatial and temporalresources
  10. 10. Sociomateriality
  11. 11. „If you can, with a straight face, maintain thathitting a nail with and without a hammer, boilingwater with and without a kettle...are exactly thesame activities, that the introduction of thesemundane implements change nothing importantto the realisation of tasks, then you are ready totransmigrate to the Far Land of the Social anddisappear from this lowly one.‟(Latour 2005: 71)
  12. 12. Humans, and what they take to be their learning andsocial process, do not float, distinct, in container-likecontexts of education, such a classrooms orcommunity sits, that can be sits, that can beconceptualised and dismissed as simply a wash ofmaterial stuff and spaces. The things that assemblethese contexts, and incidentally the actions andbodies including human ones that are part of theseassemblages, are continuously acting upon eachother to bring forth and distribute, as well as toobscure and deny, knowledge.(Fenwick et al, 2011)
  13. 13. Universities and textualpracticesRemoving the agency of texts and tools informalising movements risks romanticising thepractices as well as the humans in them; focusinguniquely on the texts and tools lapses into naïveformalism or techno-centrism.Leander and Lovvorn (2006:301), quoted in Fenwicket al (p104)
  14. 14. Reflexive relationship between textual media andknowledge practices in higher education (Kittler2004)Need to explore ramifications of devices & digitallymediated semiotic practices on meaning making
  15. 15. The research
  16. 16. Digital Literacies as aPostgraduate Attribute?JISC Developing Digital LiteraciesProgramme of Education, University ofLondoniGraduate survey / Focus groups /multimodal journalling in year 1Case studies across four areas inyear 2:Academic Writing CentreLearning Technologies UnitLibrary
  17. 17. Survey
  18. 18. Focus groups
  19. 19. PGCE, MA students, PhD students, Online masters‟studentsMapping exercise, leading to discussion of what,where and when of studyingDifficulties recruiting PGCE students due tologistics of school placementsPros and cons of videoing focus groups
  20. 20. The only thing I struggle with, like I just mentioned itearlier before, is the issue of like keeping your private lifeseparate from your work life because I think increasinglythe two, youre being forced to kind of mush the twotogether. Because like [college] used to have its ownemail server and it would provide you with an email. Nowit’s provided by Gmail and it’s like everybody knows thatGmail is the nosiest thing in the world and tracksabsolutely everything you do. And […] Im a little bituncomfortable with the idea that my work email knowswhat shopping I do and, you know what I mean? I justfind the whole thing is starting to get a little bit scary.(PhD student focus group)
  21. 21. “The student experience”No evidence that the student experience issingularMarked differences in experiences and prioritiesacross the four groupsCoping with whiteboards and staff room politics ofaccess; using the VLE to access materials; librarydatabases; using the VLE to create a sense ofcommunity (…and Skype behind the scenes…)Professional, personal, study
  22. 22. Neither all „institutional‟, nor personalOffice tools (primarily Microsoft, plus Google docs and Prezi)Institutional VLEs (Moodle and Blackboard)Email (institutional, personal and work-based)Synchronous conferencing services (Skype, Elluminate)Calendars (iCal, Google)Search engines and databases (including Google, GoogleScholar, library databases, professional databases such asMedline, etc),Social networking sites (Facebook,, LinkedIn) andservices (Twitter)Image editing software (photoshop, lightbox)EndnoteReference works (Wikipedia, online dictionaries and socialbookmarking sites such as Mendeley)GPS servicesDevices (PCs at the institution and at home, laptops includingMacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and E-book readers).
  23. 23. A taxonomic list would be problematicTime specific (and rapidly dated)Unfeasibly longContaining much that‟s irrelevant for individualsDigital literacy as a kind of copingPersonal and situated, not monolithic andgeneral
  24. 24. Journaling12 students recruited from the focus groups3 from each of the four groups (distance students viaSkype)A structured programme of interviewsA digital „biography‟, exploration of current practice,guidance on data generationStudents capture images, video and other forms ofdocumentation to explore engagement withtechnologies for study2-3 further interviews, building student analysis of datavia presentations
  25. 25. Identification of orientations towards technologyuseCuration, combat and copingExamples from this to followRich body of dataImages, videos and presentation a powerfulstimulus for discussion“Interview plus” (e.g. Mayes, 2006)What can we do with these data in their ownright?(e.g. Pink, 2012; Rose, 2007)
  26. 26. Themes
  27. 27. Orientations
  28. 28. Yuki: „curation‟
  29. 29. For example when I attend a lecture or a session Ialways record the session, and it‟s after the session,but sometimes I listen to the lecture again to confirmmy knowledge or reflect the session...when I, forexample we‟re writing an essay and I haveto...confirm what the lecturer said, I could confirmwith the recording data. (Yuki Interview 1)
  30. 30. Sally:„combat‟
  31. 31. I was like bullied into it by people saying, oh, you‟ll be leftbehind if you don‟t use Facebook. So yes, that waswhen I got into it, so... And then... so now I would sayFacebook, I‟m not the most... like I said to you in thefocus group, I‟m a bit uncomfortable about the whole kindof like Big Brother aspect. (Sally Interview 1)I feel like, also that Google is equally watching you. Youknow, they‟re all watching you, they‟re all trying to sellyou things, and the thing is not, I don‟t so much mindbeing bombarded with advertising as I mind having thingsput about me on things like Facebook that I don‟t want.You know, I don‟t want my friends to spy on me, I don‟twant my friends to know what I listen to on YouTube.(Sally Interview 1)
  32. 32. Faith: „coping‟
  33. 33. In my school, I… we had… our staff room wasequipped… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven… sevencomputers now we can use and only one of themattached with a printer. So, actually we‟ve got six PGCstudents over there, so it‟s, kind of, everybody wants toget to that computer where you can use the printer. Yes,so in the end I found actually I can also use the printerfrom the library in the school.So, six student teachers tried to use other computer. So,it, kind of, sometimes feels a bit crowded. And when theschool staff want to use it, well, okay, it seems like we arethe invaders, intruders?
  34. 34. Spaces
  35. 35. YukiJapanese, female in her 40s, MA studentFor me the most important thing is portability, because I usetechnologies, ICT, everywhere I go, anywhere I go. Forexample of course I use some technologies, PCs andlaptops and my iPad in the IOE building, and in the IOEbuilding I use PC, I use them in PC room, in library, and forsearching some data or journals. In the lecture room I recordmy, record the lectures and taking memos by that.
  36. 36. 36
  37. 37. InterludeTrying mapping out where you undertake yourworkAre spaces associated with particular times orpatterns?Which spaces do you feel in control of? Where doyou feel supported?Are there spaces where you avoid undertakingcertain kinds of work? Why?
  38. 38. Identity
  39. 39. Managing the separation and integration ofpersonal, professional and study placesEmail accountsSocial network profilesetc
  40. 40. One of the challenges of undertaking an onlinecourse is that most probably you will do thisalongside „other‟ activities such as a job or other. Asa result you end up with multiple email addressesand different folders, files and docs in yourcomputer. I am finding that one needs to be veryorganised and a practical thinker in order to: retrievethe information you need, navigate between one andin the other. (Lara email)
  41. 41. Texts
  42. 42. Yuki‟s booksFrom print to digital and backagain
  43. 43. “The bathroom is a good place toread”Digitally connected texts in a very embodiedsetting – neither „virtual‟ nor „real‟ (Jurgenson 2012)
  44. 44. Conclusions
  45. 45. Substantive conclusionsUndermines taxonomic conceptions of digitalliteraciesComplex, constantly shifting set of practicesPermeated with digital mediationStrongly situated / contingent on the materialDistributed across human /nonhuman actorsTexts are restless, constantly crossing apparentboundaries of human/nonhuman,digital/analogue, here/not here, now/not now
  46. 46. Reflections on the processTensions between generation of a rich data set andmanageability of data collection and analysisLater versions of NVivo can embed non-textual mediaHelps with the integration of multimodal dataRaises question about the status of images – ethnographic linksto practice, illustrations, an object of analysis in their ownright…?Extent to which multimodal journaling should be structuredand guidedCross sectional vs case study analysis of the data setOne group of twelve?Four groups of three?Twelve individuals?
  47. 47. Project blog: webpage: contacts:Lesley Gourlay ( Oliver (
  48. 48. ReferencesBelshaw, D. (2011) What is „digital literacy‟? A pragmatic investigation. Doctoral Thesis, Durham University.Available online:, T., Edwards,R. & Sawchuk, P. (2011) Emerging Approaches to Educational Research: Tracing theSociomaterial. London: Routledge.Gillen, J. & Barton, D. (2010) Digital Literacies: a research briefing by the Technology Enhanced Learningphase of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. London: London Knowledge Lab. Availableonline:, N. (2012) When atoms meet bits: Social Media, the Mobile Web and Augmented Revolution.Future Internet, 4, 83-91.Kittler, F. (2004). Universities: wet, hard, soft, and harder. Critical Enquiry 31(1): 244-255.Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.Martin, A., & Grudziecki, J. (2006). DigEuLit: Concepts and Tools for Digital Literacy Development.Innovation in Teaching And Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 5 (4), 249 -267.Mayes, T. (2006) The Learner Experience of e-Learning: Methodology Report. Available online:, S. (2012) Advances in Visual Methodology. London: Sage.Rose, G. (2007) Visual methodologies: an introduction to the interpretation of visual materials. London:Sage.