UoL Library Blog

Develop, debate, innovate.

JISC Digital Literacies workshop

Posted by emmakimberley on 13 July, 2011

I recently attended a JISC workshop on Digital Literacies in Birmingham with a view to finding and sharing some ideas about graduate study and web technologies in HE. Coffee and wi-fi, collaborative activities, and an agreeable workshop space, led to a discursive and thought-provoking day of practice sharing and creative thinking, both face to face and on twitter.

We began by splitting into groups in which we discussed the ‘anatomy of a digital graduate’, labelling an image of a ‘graduate brain’ with its ideal contents. Across all the groups it was generally decided that graduates should leave university equipped with a range of competences. Among these were: the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing digital environment, or ‘digital agility’; an awareness of the need to use discrimination when it comes to digital materials and sources; a conversational/open approach to learning; and an understanding of digital profile and identity issues and their implications. Some of our brains can be seen here:

This exercise led to a lot of tradition vs technology discussion, raising questions such as: ‘Can you Google your way to a first?’ and ‘Is the ‘Facebook brain’ any good for learning?’. No-one present wanted to turn back the clock to times when information gathering was a ‘quieter’ process, but most groups identified possible negative implications of the digital age such as information overload or a decline in the quality of information. It was generally agreed that such issues should be dealt with by supporting the development of judgement, discrimination and awareness rather than using a head-in-the-sand style approach. Predictably, we all challenged the idea of the digital native, concluding that knowledge of a technology does not always equip students for using it in ways tailored to learning or research. We tried to visualise the way educational values might change over the coming 15 or so years, anticipating that there will be new meanings and expectations to contend with, especially in the areas of critical thinking, judgement and ownership of knowledge.

Discussion soon moved on to the role of the lecturer or facilitator in accommodating the technologies and behaviours needed for learning. We decided that educators must increasingly address and adapt to issues such as:

  • The transfer of attention from sheet to screen
  • The growing conception of information as something always in progress
  • The expectation of constant connection
  • Aspects of learning that were once hidden being made visible for sharing, reflection and assessment
  • The use of mobile phones and digital devices in contexts that are traditionally tech-free
  • New meanings of being critical or thinking critically

Culture change is needed from teachers in order for productive learning to take place: for example, we all agreed that we need to be open to a seminar-room backchannel, including the use of mobile phones, if we’re going to say that embedded practices are better than separate skills-based modules for digital learning.

Several interesting projects were presented, including JISC’s Supporting Learners in a Digital Age project, whose case studies are available here:

The day finished with a paper chase exercise – which was rather like a digital support version of the game ‘consequences’ – encouraging us to share our ideas on the roles of teachers, learners, support staff and management in developing digital learning initiatives, and to answer the question ‘Who is responsible for digital literacy within an institution?’. We didn’t find an easy answer, but there was a sense that general digital literacy across the board is not necessary. If people become digitally literate within the context of their own disciplines or areas, then these pockets of expertise will connect into institution-wide networks working horizontally rather than imposed centrally – a particularly good example of this being the network of UoL tweeters! Less confident users can then gain confidence from the web of support and examples of good practice this creates.

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