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  • Embedding digital literacies

    By Mira Vogel, on 22 July 2013

    Changing the Learning Landscape

    I’ve been at the July meeting of Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Practice Experts Group (aspiring expert, in my case).

    The day began with an overview of outcomes from the E-Learning Programme, pointing us to the Design Studio as a repository of programme outputs – tools, activity designs, models, and a synthesis report of outcomes from Jisc’s Curriculum Design Programme.

    Sarah Davies summarised the Changing The Learning Landscape Programme (CLL), a multi-organisation collaboration to mainstream outcomes from the projects in Jisc’s E-Learning Programme. The projects challenge existing assumptions and imply a change of practice. Without good management processes, change is liable to be resisted. Resources from these projects are available at The Design Studio where you can find – among other things – Manchester Metropolitan’s groundbreaking work on technologies fit for the practicalities of assessment, including double and blind marking. It’s always worth keeping in mind that while institutions need to change, the technologies also have a long way to go.

    The Quality Assurance Agency’s UK Quality Code now sets out the Expectation (capital ‘E’!) that “Higher education providers take deliberate steps to engage all students,
    individually and collectively, as partners in the assurance and enhancement of their educational experience“. Simon Walker with colleagues and students from Greenwich summarised some initiatives which surpass the attitude survey and involved students as champions, project workers or helpers. They circulated a leaflet outlining the way they recruit these students: the roles are advertised, student applicants submit an expression of interest, then they create an artefact which demonstrates the competencies of the role, and finally they attend a selection workshop. I assume there is feedback to all applicants. Greenwich invests in an authentic work-seeking experience for students and, in return, capable and committed people are delivered to work on projects. The crucial issue in these straitened time is recognising student contributions in other ways than payment – alternatives to payment include academic credit or an award which could be aligned to the HEA Professional Standards Framework. There was a discussion about the point at which providing opportunities for students becomes exploitation of free student labour (for example, see the recent outcry against the kind of  unpaid work experience which compounds disadvantage by excluding people who can’t afford to work for free). Close work with Student Unions is important in avoiding this. For more on integrating students’ personal and professional development with institutional initiatives, Simon points us in the direction of the new-born National Student Change Agent Network.

    A digital literacy statement from Bath

    Digital literacy statement, Bath

    After lunch Helen Beetham presented outcomes from the £1.5 million Developing Digital Literacies Programme.  These projects – including UCL’s The Digital Department – are intended to elevate the concept of digital literacies beyond a simplistic ‘software skills’ and towards capabilities that fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. Not that software skills aren’t important – they are, but they don’t define digital literacies. We revisited an influential Beetham and Sharpe model of e-learning practices known as the Digital Practitioner Framework, which articulates different levels of use from functional access (‘I have’) through skills (‘I can’) and practices (‘I do’) to identity (‘I am’). Bath has taken this framework into each faculty discussions and generated disciplinary-specific descriptors for each of its stages, one of which is pictured here.

    I find this model very helpful – Liz Bennett’s doctoral research develops it further, indicating that as well as being influenced by them, attitudes and identity (‘I am’) themselves influence access to technology, skills and practices (I’m thinking that a different visual representation than a pyramid would be better). It’s clear from the model that without the access to technologies no e-learning can take place. But professional services departments responsible for these – eg estates and IT services – are rarely involved in curriculum design processes. Without them, there may not be anybody able to respond encouragingly to exciting but half-formed ideas or vague impressions of needs which are vulnerable when they butt up against the reality of what’s currently in place. At UCL, E-Learning Environments has taken steps by creating new bridging role – Paul Burt is our Learning Spaces Specialist.

    Greenwich Five Resources Model of critical digital literacy

    The Five Resources Model, Greenwich

    Since digital literacies are diverse and subject-specific, we then considered how institutions involved in the DDL programme had interpreted the definition of ‘digital literacies’. We looked at Greenwich’s Five Resources Model, (pictured), Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, graduate attribute statements about ethics, safety, discrimination and criticality, and other models to improve on teaching procedural how-to skills and tips in isolation from practices. The most important point is that embedding is crucial – digital literacy activities must have meaning for students. And for this to happen, institutions need to be clear about what is at stake and what success looks like. Experiences which cross boundaries – for example, between public and private.

    Helen Beetham made some summary points about academic development. One of the most interesting suggestions, for me, was for academic developers to step back from urging academics to use a technology before students use it – but instead to ask them to have confidence in the technologies and encourage students to experiment. Following from this, if staff are expected to learn from students, it needs to be in a collaborative partnership where staff are valued, and not a remedial context where students’ technical expertise is treated as more important than academics’ disciplinary knowledge. I’m not sure where this has happened, but find it significant that Helen felt she had to warn us about it.

    Two parallel sessions followed. I went to one titled Short and Sweet, an initiative by James Clay (Gloucestershire College and ALT’s former Learning Technologist of the Year) to improve take-up of staff development in e-learning. He identified an important barrier: “Why would I give up 2 or 3 hours of my time for a workshop about something when I have no idea what it is or what it could do for me?”. His response was sessions lasting just 5-15 minutes, often piggy-backed on existing meetings across his institution, He reported a growth in contact. The second session was a discussion chaired by Sarah Knight which sought contributions to research Jisc is about to carry out into the technology expectations of new starters in HE and FE. UCL will contribute data from our survey of the entire student population earlier this year.

    Incidentally, E-Learning Environments has recently been offered a portion of CLL money to integrate mobile technology practices into induction. We’ll focus on socialising, creating media, and vicarious learning and we’re very pleased to be working with Southampton Solent – watch this space.