While digital literacies are seen as an important area of current research and practice, most accounts of this rely on capability or competence models of what "digital literacy" means. These decontextualised, cognitive accounts ignore the insights developed in areas like New Literacy Studies, (e.g. Lea & Street, 1998) which have shown that research that focuses on a 'free floating' learner, ignoring settings, resources and cultures, fails to explain important aspects of how literate practice is achieved and enacted.
Adopting a sociomaterial account of learning provides an alternative to these free-floating narratives about student literacy. From this perspective, 'literacy' is an achievement that involves the successful coordination of human and non-human actors – including teachers, other learners, pupils, devices, texts and so on. Drawing on work undertaken as part of a JISC-funded project, we will present a critique of exclusively learner-centred accounts of digital literacy; outline the theoretical framework on which our work has been based; and present a series of case studies that show how an individual's ability to act in a digitally literate way depends on much more than an assumed set of stable, internalised qualities. These will involve data collected by students through multimodal journalling that took place over a period of 9-12 months, and from in-depth interviews that explored what these meant to them.
We will then draw out implications for both research and institutional practice. We will focus on three themes that were developed in the analysis: the importance of textual practice in understanding studying in Higher Education; the idea of spaces and places for study as things that are made, rather than just found or given; and the interactions between technology and temporality. These three themes intersected in rich and complex ways for students. We argue that if institutions wish to develop students' digital literacy, they need to recognise that students are already 'building new cultures of learning' (as the conference themes it), and are doing so out of people, devices, texts and other resources. Institutions therefore need to take these considerations into account in the way that they manage resources and provide services to students.
Delegates will have the opportunity to try out elements of the research approach used, in order to see how these data reveal the role of situational as well as individual elements of students' experiences, and will be have the opportunity to explore implications of the research for resource management and the provision of services to students.