Distributed literacy in the digital department
By Clive Young, on 20 October 2011
Early last year the ESRC/EPSRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme published ‘Digital Literacies’ (Gillen and Barton 2010) useful overview of the theoretical background. It traced the conceptual evolution of the term from its origin as a synonym for ‘IT skills’ through the addition of ‘soft skills’, in an academic context mainly criticality and evaluation and on to the Web 2.0 notion of the student as a consumer/creator/collaborator. The latest manifestation revolves around the idea literacy as a ‘situated practice’ i.e. it is intimately linked to the specific context of use and cannot (should not?) be considered in isolation.
Most of the discussion concerns student literacies, about how the individual acquires digital expertise in a disciplinary domain and within a specific teaching context but that this ‘literacy’ contributes (among other things) to the transformation of the student into a skilled practitioner, ready to take her place in an increasingly ‘technologised’ professional world.
Nonetheless the authors detect a distinct shift from the original formulation of digital literacy as ‘the skillset of the individual’ towards a more modern model of literacy as a ‘social practice’. As the authors put it, “a single act of digital literacy’ is founded upon a network of practices with sociohistorical antecedents” and it only has meaning “if it has a relation to others’ understandings and activities”.
Although the original TDD proposal focused on the CPD and the portfolio-building of the individual we emphasised the development of a community of practice as a dynamic resource network providing an external perspective as well as a source of expertise. Reading Gillen and Barton I suspect this goes even further. The digital department is itself both a social practice and an active process. We cannot ultimately look at the literacies of one the TAs alone; we should think of distributed digital literacies across the department. As the literacies of TAs improve, what is the effect of the other participants in the departmental social practice; the students and particularly the academics? Can the students own literacies be enhanced by interacting with a ‘switched on department’? Will academics, relieved of basic digital management have the time and inclination to engage more fully with online activities? What effect could this have on course design?
But that is what makes TDD so interesting, as Gillen and Barton explain
“Digital literacies are always dynamic – in part because technology is perceptibly developing so fast in front of our eyes – but also because human purposes continue to develop and are reshaped by collaboration. This is the moving backcloth for the current explosion of creativity in digital literacies that makes this such a fascinating arena”.