Developing digital literacies in practice


Picture Credit: Scaffolding by Victoria Pickering

Last week I took part in The Guardian Higher Education Network's Developing Digital Literacy in HE live chat. How we defining digital literacy obviously shapes how we take work in this area forward, and I added the definition I use to the conversation:

Currently, my favourite definition is the one Sarah Knight uses here and in the recent Guardian article:

digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society

The definition I use most frequently is based on the version introduced by the wonderful Tabitha Newman in her still pertinent 2009 presentation Digital Literacy literature review: from terminology to action:

The 'short hand' definition I most frequently use is this one:

Digital Literacy =
digital tool knowledge +
critical thinking +
social engagement

My version only changes Tabitha's in the last point – she uses the term 'social awareness' whereas I'd always use the term 'social engagement' or even 'social activism', to highlight the importance of real world practice and activity as critical to socially situated digital literacy. Digital literacy is not just about supporting learners to understand and engage with the world, but about enabling learners to challenge, shape and change their worlds.

JISC adviser Helen Beetham replied to my definition post with a great link and a summery of how we can go about translating our aspirations for digital literacy into practice:

 Hello Josie, thanks for the chance to come out in public and admit to coining that definition – along with my colleagues Allison Littlejohn and Lou McGill, in our report Thriving in the C21st.

More important than our definition, I stick by what we concluded about actually developing digital literacies in practice, that it requires:

– providing authentic contexts for practice, including digitally-mediated contexts
– individual scaffolding and support
– making practices of meaning-making explicit
– anticipating and helping learners manage conflict between different practice contexts
recognising and helping learners integrate their prior conceptions and practices

Anyone doing all that? I thought not. But it's very important to me that the Developing Digital Literacies programme involves groups of staff that have always taken this person-centred, culturally-situated approach to student development i.e. careers/employability staff, and learning development/learning skills staff. As well as student-facing staff in libraries of course.

I'm currently developing and rolling out a city-wide digital literacy programme across Leicester's Secondary Schools, as part of my role with Leicester City Council as ICT Strategy Lead for Children's Capital. One of the approaches I am taking is to work with the schools to talk about and to design a range of activities that support the development of digital literacy in the context of meeting challenges and solving problems faced by school communities. I'll write more about these and the process of supporting them as we get further along – there are some really exciting projects – but in this post I'm going to focus on the framework I'm using with schools to structure conversation around the ways in which developing skills, and reviewing or introducing new policies and processes can meet current needs and support learner outcomes.

The topics have been identified and developed in discussion with schools and with a range of individuals, governing bodies and working groups. They act as development framework markers to frame discussion, activity and research, and to structure the ongoing review of projects and commissioning taking place at individual school and estate-wide level.

The bullet points are indicative of areas that actions might be agreed and developed with schools to address. The majority of the 25 secondary (supporting students between 11 and 16 years old) have completed their first draft of actions and from these a range of activities and projects – either at individual schools, or where shared interests and issues have been identified, across clusters of schools, subject areas, or role.

Space & Place

  • Ensuring the best possible use is made of digital environments in relation to the physical environment of the school buildings and grounds in supporting learning and teaching.
  • Ensuring access and active participation as appropriate for all members of the school community from any location via both school and user owned internet connected devices; recognising that the function and role of the school is not confined to the school grounds and restricted by the school day.
  • Increasing the numbers of parents and carers actively engaging with and contributing to school activities.
  • Ensuring schools’ digital presence supports whole school community development, takes full advantage of engagement opportunities and keeps it’s community well informed of activities.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Innovation

  • Identifying and addressing ICT training strengths and weaknesses at estate-wide and local school level.
  • Raising the level of skills and confidence across the estate to ensure schools and individual staff are equipped to recognise and take advantage of opportunities for technology to support and enhance learning, teaching and school management.
  • Promoting and supporting learner-centred and learner-led practice and pedagogy.
  • Supporting staff in modelling effective and positive uses of technology for both learners and peers.
  • Targeting the development of staff skills, competencies and confidence to support innovative and effective use of technology by learners.

Network Learning and Communities

  • Supporting staff and learners to participate within, develop, create and manage collaborative web and mobile based networks.
  • Ensuring staff and learners are equipped with the skills to support their own developmental personal learning networks.
  • Supporting and developing collaborative working practices and activities between learners across schools, the city, nationally and internationally, including learner-organised activity.
  • Supporting learners to utilise mobile and social technologies and practices for learning.
  • Embedding a whole community approach to school practice and engagement in decision making.
  • Ensure digital environments are safe and inclusive, support and promote equality of access for all members.

Information Management

  • Supporting a city wide, robust approach to information management school policy and practices which address the management, handling, storage and disposal of data legally, effectively and safety.
  • Managing the move to cloud based services and storage.
  • Planning and support for the management of User Owned Devices and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) across the school estate.
  • Promoting the creation and use of Open Education Resources.
Green ICT

  • Ensuring a robust and accessible approach to Green ICT issues in schools, focusing on reducing unnecessary energy consumption and using technology to support schools in developing a culture of practical engagement with energy reduction.
  • Ensuring that energy consumption data can be easily and effectively used to support the curriculum and evidence the schools commitment to ensuring energy consumption is kept to a minimum.
  • Supporting effective user engagement programmes which allow learners and staff to manage their school environment.

e-Safety and Cyberbullying

  • Ensure robust internal education, policy and processes are in place to effectively address e-safety and cyberbullying with regard to awareness, prevention, reporting, incident reporting, response and sanctions.
  • Ensure that issues are addressed through whole community education and discussion, and responsible and safe use of technologies is addressed across the curriculum, wherever appropriate.
  • Ensure that discussion, planning and accounts for the schools wider responsibility to learners and employees, and activity taking place outside of the school day, premises and networks are recognised and action taken where the school has responsibility/liability.
  • Ensure that e-safety and cyberbullying guidance and activity accounts for the ways in which learners are using technologies, and that information, policy and planning remains up to date and relevant, and that learners are actively involved in shaping and supporting the schools approach.
  • Ensure that the needs of vulnerable learners are identified and met.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.