Perceptions are shifting with regard to digital literacies. The phrase is now taking on much broader professional and public dimensions as well as personal ones.
Recently the Guardian Higher Education Network published twenty ways of thinking about digital literacy. Helen Beetham calls for ethical responsibilities in environments where public and private are blurred. This is the professional aspect of digital literacies; recognising the need for multiple identities and knowing where to draw the lines between them. Presentation of self online to family and friends is different to the presentation of self in work environments. Digital interaction with clients, customers and service users differs from interaction with students, colleagues and management. Understanding the permanence of digital footprints and the speed at which digital content can be taken out of context and spread across world wide networks is too easy to underestimate, as is the unpredictable behaviour of strangers online. We don’t know what other people will do with our content making it critical to think before uploading and bear in mind the limitless breadth and depth of digital landscapes.
Sue Thomas says nothing exists in isolation. We need to consider a range of information and communication media and adopt holistic and inclusive approaches to transliteracies. However, inclusion means more convergence across than multiple forms of expression. Inclusion is the public aspect of digital literacies. It refers to the dichotomy of digital practices where the technology which enables access can also deny it unless steps are taken to ensure barrier free ways of working. The university of the future needs to be many things and one of these is the producer of students who are aware of the parameters of digital divides and know how to recognise and challenge instances of digital exclusion.
The triad of the public, the professional and the personal lies at the core of higher education with its focus on critical reflective practice and social responsibility. If the relevant and appropriate digital literacies for a digital age are to be embedded as whole institution strategies then their public, professional and personal dimensions must be recognised and supported too.
At the SEDA Conference ‘Using Technology to Enhance Learning’ it was good to see recognition of the value of transition into higher education activities and the need to address support for digital literacies. The concept of support for transition needs little explanation but defining the term digital literacies can be challenging. Inevitably we use phrases like ‘preparing students for a digital world’ often without consideration of all the prerequisites this entails. In a Keynote speech ‘10 years of technology enhanced learning – how far have we (really) come?’ Helen Beetham spoke of the role of public education to prepare students for a time in the future. In an increasingly digital society, it should go without saying this requires support for graduate attributes of the digital kind. At the moment the vehicle for technology enhanced learning has multiple wheels and all of them round. There is a lot of replication across the sector, much of it through individual pockets of excellence located within the Library, Student Support or Study Skills – where preparing students for a digital world remains a bolt on extra rather than any adjustment to curriculum design appropriate for the university in the 21st century. It will be interesting to watch the current round of JISC funded projects as these contain the proviso of embedding digital literacies as a whole institution approach.
Resistance to digital pedagogy is often disguised and conferences like these are useful for surfacing the issues. I attended a session on podcasting where staff followed guidelines to keep file length to under 5 minutes yet student responses included ‘ they’re too long’, ‘I’ve got too much else to do’, ‘I don’t have time,’ ‘I don’t like podcasts’. The myth of the digital native continues to be laid to rest. In another session we looked at teacher education where staff have opportunities to be students, in this case actively engaging with content creation, rather than content consumption, and using a range of Web 2.0 tools. Responses were inevitably mixed and it was interesting to see how in an age of ubiquitous PowerPoint, there are still many educators for whom this is a bridge too far. Supporting staff to be digital learners is key to this conference and it would be a shame for it to be a one-off theme. SEDA is for Staff Educational Developers so participants re seeing both sides of the digital divide. It’s not tech-heavy but tech-aware; accepting the necessity for digital ways of working and working on ways to make his happen. Recognition of the issues around digital literacies are being surfaced but we need to be sure the solutions are accessible and involve the enthusiasts who remember what techno-fear feels like as well as the technologists who are pushing at the boundaries with their digital hearts and minds.