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Digital educationStudent engagement

Digital literacy – who’s responsible?

23 October 2014

by Catherine Emmett and Joe Nicholls (guest blogger)

Over a coffee with colleagues last week, discussion turned to digital literacy in learning and teaching. A question was asked – who is responsible for our students’ digital literacies? The answer’s pretty simply really. You. And that’s really to say, all of us!

To understand why that is, let’s first answer the question ‘what is digital literacy anyway?’

JISC defines digital literacy as “those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society” (JISC, 2011). Digital literacies should build upon core IT skills, and they are best developed in combination with other kinds of learning literacies, such as information, academic, social and media literacies. These are most effectively learned in ways that are meaningful and relevant to student learning, ideally integrated with the academic subject the student is studying.

We are at a point in society where we know, without question, that people need digital literacies for all areas of life – in learning, in work, in our social life – because our world is digital. So it’s critical that we develop “students who can learn and thrive in a digital society” (JISC, 2014). But we also need to recognise that, “it takes time and patience to develop digital literacies… [and it’s] as much about cultural change as it is about technology.” (Nicholls, 2012).

What we’re describing here is a process of change and adaptation in the way we educate. We need to provide support and guidance through integrated learning and teaching, as well as the means and mechanisms (safe spaces), which allow failure to happen in a constructive way, a way that allows people to make mistakes and learn from them. And we have to work together to do it. A key part of that means giving our staff opportunities to develop their digital literacies, just as much as students. If staff aren’t up to speed in using digital tools effectively, how can we expect the design of appropriate learning opportunities for students?

We need to use any and all opportunities to help students in learning about digital literacies. This means fully integrating digital opportunities in assessment, in skills development, in employability strategies, into any learning opportunity where we can use feedback mechanisms to guide students in their development. This approach can help students to develop these skills in context, rather than as an afterthought or as standalone training and teaching activities. And this is essentially the fundamental cultural shift described in the quote above.

And why do we need to facilitate this? Because there isn’t the luxury of hoping our students can figure it out and catch up by themselves; the world is digital and we need digital survival skills (Hicks and Turner, 2013).

Some useful links: