digital design, doodling and divides

Condensing the complexity of digital literacies is always a challenge. At the recent Student Staff Conference on Future Learning, I reduced them to professional practice with social media and how SM might best support teaching and learning. SM and the use of mobile technology has relevance for learning design. It can be disconcerting when an audience appears engrossed in their digital devices but banning them is not the answer. Finding ways to maintain engagement with the subject matter while constructing an agreed code of conduct is more realistic.

This short video on the potential of digital technologies for education is a useful introduction to the concept of digital natives and immigrants. First outlined by Prensky in 2001, the digital dichotomy is now acknowledged as more complex than division by age and more related to use e.g. the CIBER report on the research skills of young people and Carr’s polemic Is Google Making us Stupid.

Digital Baby Digital child

A decade after Prensky, learning design has shifted from constructivism to connectivism, with both support and critique, but also some consensus. When it comes to technologies, education is less about the tools and more how they’re used. With regard to social media the debate includes appropriate and inappropriate behaviours, in particular in lectures and seminars. Wherever learning design incorporates ‘real-time’ collaboration and/or interaction via social media it raises issues like shopping on eBay or personal tweeting irrelevant to the subject. This is part of the wider digital debate around personal versus public online identities, which in itself is only one component of digital literacies. An agreed code of conduct may be one way forward. Most discussion forums now include guidelines for appropriate use and behaviour and finding consensus on the use of mobile technology in teaching and learning is no different to agreeing capital letters equate to shouting and personal abuse will not be tolerated.

Digitally literacies are embedded in individual personalities making it hard to pull out a one size fits all model of use. New technologies amplify the affordances of traditional tones like pen and paper. We all doodle in learning situations. Doodling in itself can be a form of reflective practice. Today there are more choices on the formats that doodling can take and learning design learning needs to take the ever changing nature of ways of being, seeing and doing into account.

The design of learning is a continually evolving science, not least because space between users and non-users still exists.  Replication and reinforcement of digital divides is less visible, but in the push to use social media to empower student voices and flip the classroom, technology remains exclusive. In an increasingly digital society enabling/disabling binaries are more relevant than ever. The potential for digital exclusion should not be forgotten.

Universities must rethink their approach to student digital literacy…

Universities must rethink their approach to student digital literacy in the Guardian Higher Education Network puts digital literacy training and critical reflection together in the same sentence.  The word ‘training’ is a bit Pavlovian but applying critical thinking to Internet content and behaviours is an increasingly essential requirement.  I’ve worked in higher education since 2000 and witnessed a growing need to be more proactive in addressing the digital literacies of students and staff, for example in the development of both graduate attributes and teacher education programmes.

When the first virtual learning environments arrived, the sector focused primarily on embedding technology rather than investing in the management of the cultural shift to virtual pedagogic practices. Today, the user-generated content and file-sharing nature of Web 2.0 style technologies, has increased the broader social impact of the Internet, while higher education is currently subject to market forces creating increased interest in online learning, for example the Collaborate to Compete Report to HEFCE. Research findings have raised concerns about levels of digital competence as in the JISC/British Library CIBER Report into the Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future at and the NUS report to HEFCE Student perspectives on Technology.  Key areas are still missing like enhanced quality assurance with regard to digital learning (covered in this blog post)  and the means of ensuring the appropriate digital literacies, including awareness of the parameters of inclusion, are embedded into both the student and the staff experience.

Virtual Revolution and Heavy Rain

I was disappointed in the BBC’s Virtual Revolution series. It completely failed to address the potential of technology to ensure equal access to the Internet. The invisibility of this issue is really quite sad. For all the parallels made with the legacy of Gutenberg there was no awareness that from Gutenberg to Google those in need of assistive technology are having access denied. Even with all the technical assistance in place, most of today’s virtual environments remain inaccessible. Current debate on the BCAB forum reaffirms this – BMI Baby and Easy Jet should know better or do they just not care?

Episode 4 started promisingly but didn’t really go anywhere. It asked if the Internet is altering us but failed to cover issues like those raised in the CIBER report about the changing behaviours and attitudes of young people online and the implications this has for ensuring appropriate future digital literacy. Maybe my horizons are too narrow. I accept programmes have to be selective but I believe passionately in equity of access – how could they not care about such blatant discrimination – and I worry about the effect of continual digital engagement on young brains. Which is my other point and it’s not the Internet. Heavy Rain is the new PS3 game by Quantic Dream. Described as a classic film noir thriller, the level of available interaction is amazing.  The graphics are so fantastic you’re not sure if you’re watching a film or playing a game. I had to watch because I couldn’t play it. I struggled with Grand Theft Auto and Heavy Rain was totally beyond me. My brain isn’t capable of the multiplicity of actions required to operate at this level and I’m not sure I really want to. I’d rather be out in the sun on the allotment.  I suspect the greatest danger of virtual environments is as Sherry Turkle said in Virtual Revolution 4 ‘We are no longer nourished but we are consumed by what we have created.’