The Trouble with Terminology: rehabilitating and rethinking digital literacy


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Paper given as part of a symposium at the Society for Research in Higher Education Conference - 9-11th December. The paper suggests that digital literacy is a problematic term - it ignores 40 years of work in information literacy.

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  • Add background to IL and Zurkowski – 40 year history
  • This is our original graphic of how we perceived the field of IL and its relationships with other areas.
    Our representation situates information literacy as the central concept, overlapping with areas of specific information application (new learning literacies), practices involving a specific type of information (digital literacies), and information in use in a particular context or community (academic and media literacies). The graphic was designed to show that we perceive information literacy as interwoven with all these areas – but it also suggests visually that information literacy is a grand narrative: the overarching, ‘master’ concept that relates and makes meaningful all the others.

    However, we soon began to see an equal degree of complexity in other areas, in particular recognising the strength of the claim that learning development constitutes a legitimate, epistemologically autonomous, and empirically grounded field of inquiry. In other words, learning development could equally validly claim to occupy the central, relational role in our diagram, as a lens through which to see and connect the other areas – including digital and information literacies. And equally, what Jane and I refer to as ‘information literacy’ is now often seen as being subsumed within the larger concept of ‘digital literacy’, which then becomes the grand narrative.

    In all these professional areas in the last decade or so we have been moving away from a functional, remedial, simplistic enforced or normalised label-hanging approach. Because of the way our thinking in all these areas has developed, maybe we’ve reached a point where although we’re coming from different specialties and start points, we’re all converging on the same goal: to provide opportunities for our students to construct and sensemake the academic landscape for themselves.

    The way in which UCC is approaching this landscape, with a convergence between academic writing, research skills and digital literacies, echoes how our own thinking around ANCIL has developed as well as how we are implementing this thinking in our institutions. We’re excited by your approach!

    In the same way as our thinking about learning development has moved on from study skills – Wingate - so information literacy was once distressingly functional, process-based and the province – and the ‘gift’ - of librarians (we decided who got to be qualified as “information literate”). Now, however, it’s starting to be seen as a crucial ingredient in learning and in the development of an individual’s identity as a learner, a graduate, an employee and an informed citizen. Zurkowski ECIL keynote 2013 (Istanbul) – IL is about empowering the general population, making it harder for those in authority to fool people. A revolutionary tool. Information can be dangerous, so if IL is not challenging, we are doing it wrong!
  • ANCIL is divided into ten strands which together encompass not only key skills but also higher-order critical and intellectual thinking abilities. These strands offer a useful way of investigating existing IL provision within an institution. Each strand has learning outcomes, sample activities and sample assessment.
    4 learning bands from key skills through application of those skills within the subject context; advanced information practices like synthesis, argument structuring and problem-framing, and reflective understanding of how our information practices affect our identity in academic, socially and in the workplace
    It is LEARNER centred – not a competency framework with externally assigned tickbox skills expressed in universal, monolithic language!

    What is actually is, despite the name (“curriculum” – assigned to us by the academic lead) is not 10 classes or training sessions but rather a way of thinking holistically across all the ingredients needed to use the appropriate information in the most persuasive way in any academic context (and beyond). So this also gives us a way to audit the insitution’s offering across all these strands. Who’s doing what, and how? Are there gaps? Overlaps? Contradictions? Is the student getting a seamless experience from all the providers involved in helping them to construct and sensemaking their learning?

    In the higher education context, information literacy is developed over the whole course of the study career, so there must be an ongoing, modular ‘chunked’ approach.

    We looked hard at whether we needed to include ‘digitalness’ or technology as a discrete strand in our curriculum, but ultimately we figured we were looking at it the wrong way up and that ‘digitalness’ is a bit of a red herring.

    Our view is that information literacy refers to all forms of information, including analogue, digital, visual and and anything else as a part of a broad landscape of information. What matters is not the platform or the format, but the context, and the uses to which students are expected to put various types of information at each stage of the scholarly career. Our research doesn't split off digital or other literacies into a separate conceptual container - the focus is rather on developing students' abilities, attitudes and values across all aspects of information use and handling so that they are equipped to deal with information judiciously, no matter what format they encounter it in – and no matter when.
  • In the research I did back in 2011 with Emma Coonan – here are the first few strands

    Transition is not just the first few weeks at university – it can happen when a student gets their first bit of feedback, when they first write a dissertation
  • Jane

    Following our findings being endorsed at the Teaching, Learning and Assessment committee we spent some time devising an appropriate IL framework
    Purpose to inform academics of info & digital literacy skills with examples
    Enable mapping of existing provision
    Tool can be used by teaching librarians and learning technologists when planning
    Informed by work of other institutions 
    8 competencies

  • First up – let’s dispell a few myths – digital natives do not exist – fact

    Some students may be tech savvy – some are not –

    Students may use Facebook, students are not experts in their discipline and scholarly practices
  • Jane
  • The Trouble with Terminology: rehabilitating and rethinking digital literacy

    1. 1. The trouble with terminology: rehabilitating and rethinking ‘Digital Literacy’ Dr Jane Secker London School of Economics and Political Science SRHE Conference: 10th December 2015
    2. 2. The trouble with terminology… Image: ‘Path path path’ by Hockadilly, CC BY-NC 2.0
    3. 3. What is digital literacy?
    4. 4. What is information literacy? Information literacy empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion in all nations. UNESCO (2005) Alexandria Proclamation
    5. 5. Information Literacy and other literacies Secker and Coonan, 2011
    6. 6. IL as a threshold concept ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (2015) Authority Is Constructed and Contextual Information Creation as a Process Information Has Value Research as Inquiry Scholarship as Conversation Searching as Strategic Exploration
    7. 7. A New Curriculum for Information Literacy (ANCIL) Secker and Coonan (2013)
    8. 8. Is technology a red herring?
    9. 9. Information literacy ... … supports transition Higher education is “not just more education, but different”. Students coming from school are not sure what learning is - it’s always been managed for them. … develops independent learners It involves students being able to articulate the expectations of a new information context, and also being able to reflect on their own learning. Part of the process of becoming an independent learner also involves helping a student understand more about the process of learning. … includes the social dimension of information As a profession, we need to think about what students need to know and be able to apply in the information environment. Our commitment should be to life-long learning rather than the longer life of our library resources. (ANCIL Expert Consultation Report, 2011) Secker and Coonan, 2011
    10. 10. But too easily can be outside the curriculum… Image by Miki Yoshihito: SAKURAKO looks in the window. Licensed under CC-BY 2.0 Technology and information are not neutral “Broader literacy practices are not going to emerge spontaneously as a result of technology proliferation” Hinrichsen and Coombs (2013) Teaching outside the curriculum risks alienating academic staff Who’s responsibility is it anyway?
    11. 11. Digital literacy as an opportunity…
    12. 12. Developing an LSE Framework  Developed in 2013  Covers digital and information literacy  Based on ANCIL and other frameworks  Provide examples and used to review existing provision  Can be used to plan teaching  But needs to avoid being overly prescriptive Image cc from /
    13. 13. Digital natives? Photo by Flickingerbrad licensed under Creative Commons Photo by starmanseries licensed under Creative Commons
    14. 14. Building partnerships  Collaboration with academics  Closer working between learning support professionals  Aligning digital, academic and information literacy programmes  Joined up approach to liaising with academic departments
    15. 15. Further reading CILIP (2013) Information Literacy Definition. Available at awards/advocacy-campaigns/information-literacy/information-literacy Godin, Seth (2011) The Future of the Library. Available at: future-of-the-library.html Hinrichsen, J and Coombs (2013). The five resources of critical digital literacy: a framework for curriculum integration. Research in Learning Technology. 21: 21334. Jacobson, Trudi E., and Thomas P. Mackey. (2013) “Proposing a Metaliteracy Model to Redefine Information Literacy.” Communications in Information Literacy 7, no. 2: 84–91. Mary R. Lea & Brian V. Street (1998) Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach, Studies in Higher Education, 23:2, 157-172. Meyer, Jan, and Land, Ray. (2003). Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practicing within the Disciplines. Edinburgh, UK: University of Edinburgh. Secker, J and Coonan, E. (2013) Rethinking Information Literacy: a practical framework for supporting learning. Facet Publishing: London. UNESCO (2015) Media and Information Literacy. Available at: information/media-development/media-literacy/mil-as-composite-concept/ Zurkowski, P (1974). The Information Service Environment: Relationships and Priorities. Related Paper No.5." National Commission on Libraries and Information Science.