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Friend, foe or fad:
Exploring students’
digital literacies
Martin Oliver & Lesley Gourlay,
Department of Culture, Communication and
Media
UCL Institute of Education
Digital Literacies as a
Postgraduate Attribute?
JISC Developing Digital Literacies
Programme
Design Studio:
http://tinyurl.com/q92jhzh
iGraduate survey / Focus groups /
multimodal journalling in year 1
Case studies across three areas in
year 2:
Academic Writing Centre
Learning Technologies Unit
Library
“Digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an
individual for living, learning and working in a digital
society.” (Beetham, 2011)
Four-tier framework:
Access
Skills
Social practices
Identity
Both a solution and a problem…
“All Aboard”
(http://allaboardhe.org)
Anything goes…?
Application types (“Speadsheets”)
Resources (“Screencasts”)
Pedagogies (“Flipped Classroom”)
Media (“Journals”)
Processes (“Search”)
Representations of histories (“Digital footprint”)
Psychological frameworks (“Metacognition”)
Literacy practices
Drawing upon the frameworks outlined above, we
propose as a definition of digital literacies:
the constantly changing practices through which
people make traceable meanings using digital
technologies.
Within this broad definition, specific aspects of digital
literacies can be investigated and explored further,
understood as in many ways offering a continuity to
our understandings of literacies in general as social
practice.
(Gillen & Barton, 2010)
Sociomaterial practices
If you can, with a straight face, maintain that hitting a nail
with and without a hammer, boiling water with and
without a kettle... are exactly the same activities, that the
introduction of these mundane implements change
‘nothing important’ to the realisation of tasks, then you
are ready to transmigrate to the Far Land of the Social
and disappear from this lowly one. (Latour, 2005: 71)
Removing the agency of texts and tools in formalising
movements risks romanticising the practices as well as
the humans in them; focusing uniquely on the texts and
tools lapses into naïve formalism or techno-centrism.
(Leander and Lovvorn, 2006: 301)
Journaling
12 students recruited from four focus groups
3 each from PGCE, taught masters, taught
masters at a distance, PhD
Distance students interviewed via Skype
A structured sequence of interviews:
A digital ‘biography’, exploration of current
practice, guidance on data generation
Students capture images, video and other forms
of documentation to explore engagement with
technologies for study
2-3 further interviews, building student analysis of
data via presentations
4 Members of staff
What our students do
Office 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, Google
Scholar, library databases, professional databases such as
Medline, etc),
Social networking sites (Facebook, Academia.edu, LinkedIn)
and services (Twitter)
Image editing software (photoshop, lightbox)
Endnote
Reference works (Wikipedia, online dictionaries and social
bookmarking sites such as Mendeley)
GPS services
Devices (PCs at the institution and at home, laptops including
MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and E-book readers).
Why taxonomies fail
A taxonomic list from this would be problematic
Time specific (rapidly dated)
Unfeasibly long
Containing much that’s irrelevant for specific
individuals (e.g. ignores disciplinary variation)
Instead…
Digital literacy as a kind of coping
Personal and situated, not monolithic and
general
It’s about more than
humans
Literacy practices are not ‘free floating’
Success involves networks of people,
things, spaces, devices, infrastructure…
“The third half of my brain is Google Scholar”
(Frederick)
In my school, I… we had… our staff room was equipped…
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven… seven computers now
we can use and only one of them attached with a printer. So,
actually we’ve got six PGC students over there, so it’s, kind
of, everybody wants to get to that computer where you can
use the printer. Yes, so in the end I found actually I can also
use the printer from 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 the school
staff want to use it,
well, okay, it seems
like we are the
“The student experience?”
Variation, not homogeneity
Differences in experiences and priorities across
the four groups
Coping with whiteboards and staff room politics of
access
Using the VLE to access materials
Library databases
Using the VLE to create a sense of community
(…and Skype behind the scenes…)
Multiple, parallel experiences simultaneously
Managing boundaries - professional, personal,
study
Conclusions
• Digital literacies widely discussed as if they are
stable, generic and transferable entities, i.e.
taxonomic
• Seen as residing in the individual, and amenable
to ‘development’ (of the student) – a deficit model
• However, accounts are not consistent about
whether these are cognitive, attitudinal,
capabilities, skills, attributes…
• Students’ experiences vary widely, between
programmes and individuals, but also for the
same person at different times and in different
So…
Fad
Any study (or policy, or employer’s wish list) could
be turned into a new taxonomy
No theoretical consistency, so constant novelty,
rather than building a coherent evidence base
… best not to get too hung up on any one list
Foe?
Shifting goalposts creates the risk that learners
are always re-framed as in deficit
Friend
Understanding how are students are digitally
literate (when, with what and whom) can ‘sanity
check’ policies and initiatives
Recognising students’ creative coping strategies
helps us value their expertise, and helps build a
repertoire of solutions to challenges
But … this requires us to be clearer about our
theoretical commitments
References
Beetham, H. (2011) Developing Digital Literacies: Briefing
Paper in support of JISC Grant Funding 4/11. Available online:
http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/funding/2011/04/Briefin
gpaper.pdf
Gillen, J. & Barton, D. (2010) Digital Literacies: a research
briefing by the Technology Enhanced Learning phase of the
Teaching and Learning Research Programme. London: London
Knowledge Lab. Available online:
http://www.tlrp.org/docs/DigitalLiteracies.pdf
Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to
Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Leander, K. & Lovorn, J. (2006) Literacy networks: following the
circulation of texts, bodies and texts in the schooling and online
gaming of one youth. Cognition and Instruction 24 (3), 291-340.

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Oliver and Gourlay

  • 1. Friend, foe or fad: Exploring students’ digital literacies Martin Oliver & Lesley Gourlay, Department of Culture, Communication and Media UCL Institute of Education
  • 2. Digital Literacies as a Postgraduate Attribute? JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme Design Studio: http://tinyurl.com/q92jhzh iGraduate survey / Focus groups / multimodal journalling in year 1 Case studies across three areas in year 2: Academic Writing Centre Learning Technologies Unit Library
  • 3. “Digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.” (Beetham, 2011) Four-tier framework: Access Skills Social practices Identity Both a solution and a problem…
  • 5. Anything goes…? Application types (“Speadsheets”) Resources (“Screencasts”) Pedagogies (“Flipped Classroom”) Media (“Journals”) Processes (“Search”) Representations of histories (“Digital footprint”) Psychological frameworks (“Metacognition”)
  • 6. Literacy practices Drawing upon the frameworks outlined above, we propose as a definition of digital literacies: the constantly changing practices through which people make traceable meanings using digital technologies. Within this broad definition, specific aspects of digital literacies can be investigated and explored further, understood as in many ways offering a continuity to our understandings of literacies in general as social practice. (Gillen & Barton, 2010)
  • 7. Sociomaterial practices If you can, with a straight face, maintain that hitting a nail with and without a hammer, boiling water with and without a kettle... are exactly the same activities, that the introduction of these mundane implements change ‘nothing important’ to the realisation of tasks, then you are ready to transmigrate to the Far Land of the Social and disappear from this lowly one. (Latour, 2005: 71) Removing the agency of texts and tools in formalising movements risks romanticising the practices as well as the humans in them; focusing uniquely on the texts and tools lapses into naïve formalism or techno-centrism. (Leander and Lovvorn, 2006: 301)
  • 8. Journaling 12 students recruited from four focus groups 3 each from PGCE, taught masters, taught masters at a distance, PhD Distance students interviewed via Skype A structured sequence of interviews: A digital ‘biography’, exploration of current practice, guidance on data generation Students capture images, video and other forms of documentation to explore engagement with technologies for study 2-3 further interviews, building student analysis of data via presentations 4 Members of staff
  • 9. What our students do Office 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, Google Scholar, library databases, professional databases such as Medline, etc), Social networking sites (Facebook, Academia.edu, LinkedIn) and services (Twitter) Image editing software (photoshop, lightbox) Endnote Reference works (Wikipedia, online dictionaries and social bookmarking sites such as Mendeley) GPS services Devices (PCs at the institution and at home, laptops including MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and E-book readers).
  • 10. Why taxonomies fail A taxonomic list from this would be problematic Time specific (rapidly dated) Unfeasibly long Containing much that’s irrelevant for specific individuals (e.g. ignores disciplinary variation) Instead… Digital literacy as a kind of coping Personal and situated, not monolithic and general
  • 11. It’s about more than humans Literacy practices are not ‘free floating’ Success involves networks of people, things, spaces, devices, infrastructure… “The third half of my brain is Google Scholar” (Frederick)
  • 12. In my school, I… we had… our staff room was equipped… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven… seven computers now we can use and only one of them attached with a printer. So, actually we’ve got six PGC students over there, so it’s, kind of, everybody wants to get to that computer where you can use the printer. Yes, so in the end I found actually I can also use the printer from 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 the school staff want to use it, well, okay, it seems like we are the
  • 13. “The student experience?” Variation, not homogeneity Differences in experiences and priorities across the four groups Coping with whiteboards and staff room politics of access Using the VLE to access materials Library databases Using the VLE to create a sense of community (…and Skype behind the scenes…) Multiple, parallel experiences simultaneously Managing boundaries - professional, personal, study
  • 14. Conclusions • Digital literacies widely discussed as if they are stable, generic and transferable entities, i.e. taxonomic • Seen as residing in the individual, and amenable to ‘development’ (of the student) – a deficit model • However, accounts are not consistent about whether these are cognitive, attitudinal, capabilities, skills, attributes… • Students’ experiences vary widely, between programmes and individuals, but also for the same person at different times and in different
  • 15. So… Fad Any study (or policy, or employer’s wish list) could be turned into a new taxonomy No theoretical consistency, so constant novelty, rather than building a coherent evidence base … best not to get too hung up on any one list Foe? Shifting goalposts creates the risk that learners are always re-framed as in deficit
  • 16. Friend Understanding how are students are digitally literate (when, with what and whom) can ‘sanity check’ policies and initiatives Recognising students’ creative coping strategies helps us value their expertise, and helps build a repertoire of solutions to challenges But … this requires us to be clearer about our theoretical commitments
  • 17. References Beetham, H. (2011) Developing Digital Literacies: Briefing Paper in support of JISC Grant Funding 4/11. Available online: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/funding/2011/04/Briefin gpaper.pdf Gillen, J. & Barton, D. (2010) Digital Literacies: a research briefing by the Technology Enhanced Learning phase of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. London: London Knowledge Lab. Available online: http://www.tlrp.org/docs/DigitalLiteracies.pdf Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Leander, K. & Lovorn, J. (2006) Literacy networks: following the circulation of texts, bodies and texts in the schooling and online gaming of one youth. Cognition and Instruction 24 (3), 291-340.