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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Digital Literacy: Friend, Foe or Fad?

By Moira Wright, on 16 December 2015

The UCL DL SIG invites UCL staff and students to an afternoon of discussion, networking and debate on digital literacy on Thursday January 7th 2016 from 2-4.30pm.

This event is planned to address the question ‘Digital literacy: friend, foe, or fad?’ through an exploration of the benefits and challenges in the conception, delivery and evaluation of this hot topic. Delegates will be encouraged to reflect on their practices and discuss.

Highlight of the event is that Helen Beetham, Education Consultant to UK HEI’s and Jisc, will speak. Helen Beetham is an author, researcher and innovator in the field of e-learning, with particular expertise in Higher Education. Since 2004 she has played a leading role in the JISC e-learning programme as an advisor on pedagogic issues. She is an experienced workshop leader and a regular speaker at conferences in the UK and abroad. An edited volume of essays, Rethinking Pedagogy for the Digital Age, was recently published by Routledge. Her areas of research and advisory expertise include: e-learning policy and practice; learners and learning in the digital age; pedagogy and educational theory; design for learning; e-portfolios for learning; academic writing and academic literacies.

The QAA HER at UCL is upcoming and as part of this they have asked UCL to provide a snapshot of digital literacy activity at UCL. This report is not part of the scored element of the review. Steve Rowett and myself have been conducting interviews to learn more about what is happening at UCL. Some of this work was conducted using Jisc tools and it has uncovered a fabulously rich and varied picture – this event will include some presentations and examples of exciting current practice from UCL staff and students including Diana Lee – hack organiser, blogger, tech society and student, Free Hype – voluntary student society, Professor Martin Oliver and Dr Lesley Gourlay UCL Institute of Education, Dr Viv Jones UCL Department of Geography and Dr Sunny Bains (please use Eventbrite link for tickets below to view the full programme).

About the UCL DL SIG

When the UCL E-Champions network was formed a UCL Digital Literacies Special Interest Group (UCL DL SIG) was set up at the same time. The SIG was created for UCL staff to promote the use of technology in learning, provide a platform to ask questions, exchange ideas and also to get support from colleagues beyond E-Learning Environments.

We’re using the Jisc definition of digital literacy: ‘the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society’ (see link Jisc: Digital Capabilities 6 elements below).

Refreshments are provided along with time to network.
Tickets are via Eventbrite (use the password: UCLDLSIG) :

Click here for tickets and programme details – Digital Literacy:Friend, Foe or Fad?

Further reading

Jisc Blog: Building capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency

Jisc: Landscape Review
Jisc: Frameworks mapped to 6 elements

Jisc: Digital Capabilities 6 elements, Helen Beetham pdf

QAA: How we review higher education

QAA: Higher Education Review: Themes for 2015-16

The great Wikipedia controversy

By Mira Vogel, on 11 August 2014


wikipedia logoYou’ve been warned about Wikipedia.

You’ve used it before but it would be pointless to cite it – anybody can edit so how can it be a credible source? Searching Google yields better sources for your work. You’ve never tried to edit Wikipedia – why would you?

Comparing Wikipedia to Google’s search engine as sources of information, danah boyd sets out the differences. Google runs on private algorithms designed by a few software engineers. Though these algorithms are agnostic about the veracity or quality of the sites they reference, they are readily manipulable through search engine optimisation. Google’s commercial model has driven increased personalisation in these algorithms which in turn promotes social network homophily,  an encompassing network of like-mindedness also known as the filter bubble. As Tarleton Gillespie argues, “That we are now turning to algorithms to identify what we need to know is as momentous as having relied on credentialed experts, the scientific method, common sense, or the word of God.”

In contrast, boyd explains, Wikipedia is produced through transparent protocols negotiated by its community of volunteer editors. Entries are debated in public on their respective Talk pages, sometimes passionately, towards resolving what is “legitimate, notable and of high quality”. The History page for each entry reveals who edited, when, and how often. Editors are encouraged to provide reasons, allowing biases to be identified. Where editors introduce false or inadequate information, Wikipedia has a transparent and systematic approach to address this.  As such, boyd argues, while Wikipedia may or may not be better than expert-vetted content, it makes a contribution beyond the “product of knowledge; it’s also a record of the process by which people share and demonstrate knowledge” and “a site for reflection on the production of knowledge”.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales wonders why any student would rely on Wikipedia for their essay – “For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia”. Producing Wikipedia entries, though, that’s different. This is where digifest comes in. Digifest is a community-organised festival of technological stuff planned for early November with the aim of bringing UCL’s digital literacies agenda to life.

Digifest logoProposal

The following proposal for digifest – just a sketch at this stage – focuses on contested Wikipedia entries, to which it brings a number of questions. What is the nature of argument in different disciplines? What can scholarship contribute in a controversy? What is a scholarly way to comport oneself when weighing into a controversy which has turned belligerent? How are these things to be boiled down into a Wikipedia article?

To explore these, we propose an edit-a-thon. An edit-a-thon is an in-person events, over a finite period (usually a day or less), bringing interested people together to edit Wikipedia on a particular theme. Historically these have tended to focus on content. Perhaps they are addressing gaps on Wikipedia – Women in Science and Art + Feminism, for example. However, by focusing on a number of contested entries, and with facilitation, students and staff together could participate in editing, discussion and reflection on the process of negotiating an encyclopaedia entry. Suitable entries might be those which involve hoaxes, alternative medicine, the paranormal, feminism, racism, climate change, contested territories, and religious beliefs. Participants would bring the Wikipedia principles into their editing and discussion activity, and reflect on their own standpoint and modus operandi.

There are plenty of resources available for planning an edit-a-thon including the expertise shared by Wikimedia education organisers like Toni Sant (University of Hull) and Sarah Stierch (Smithsonian). In addition this one would require suitable entries or subjects to be identified, steady and experienced facilitation around sensitive topics, and a programme of activities including editing, use of Wikipedia’s Talk page, and in-person reflection.  A further possibility is for teaching teams to incorporate these activities into assessment on an academic course – again, there are well-documented precedents.

Get in touch

Would you like to be part of this? Or do you have other ideas for bringing Wikipedia into digifest?

Contact Mira Vogel in E-Learning Environments, or @TrabiMechanic.



Video HT: @mattjenner



What do students really use?

By Fiona Strawbridge, on 20 November 2011

Did you know that current graduates can expect to have between 5 and 9 different professions by time they are 42? If I heard correctly this is what has been predicted from the growth of the knowledge-based economy and emergence of new professions.   This means that in addition to having strong IT skills, our graduates also need to be highly digitally and information literate and to be able to ‘knit together’ their use of institution and external – often cloud-based – technologies into a coherent learning experience. This was the theme of a thought-provoking presentation on a JISC-funded student digital literacies project by Helen Beetham (independent consultant) and Neil Witt (Plymouth Uni) given at the SEDA conference last week.

The project involved student focus groups which looked into students’ real study habits and strategies – for instance how – and how much – they really use and depend on Wikipedia, Google, the e-library etc. Students were asked to do a ‘technolog

Technology card sort choices

Technolgy card sort

y card sort’ – they were given cards with different technologies on them and asked work in pairs to group them according their usefulness for study.  Then – and this was the revealing part – they had to say which five could be taken away. And then to sacrifice three more. The facilitators were as interested in the dilemmas and arguments the students were having about their choices as in the choices themselves – these conversations gave a lot of insight into the students’ learning strategies.

The outcomes?

  • The bare essentials were – Google, Google Scholar (“it’s more up to date than the library”), online journals and Athens
  • Valued – lecture notes, textbooks, the VLE, Metalib (i.e. official course resources); Google books; Citation software and e-portfolios (both were highly valued by those who used them)
  • Background use included – Assignment criteria, module overview, own use of capture media – photos of what they’ve done

One interesting observation was that ‘game changing’ technologies – portfolios was given as an example – had almost always been introduced to them in class by tutors. This is counter to the common assumption that the game changers are the gadgets in students’ pockets.

JISC have a toolkit of resources for institutions to run similar studies – maybe worth considering at UCL…