Thursday, 12 November 2009

Digital literacies (1): They've read the research so we don't have to

One of the sessions which excited me at Alt-C was the workshop by Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe on "Frameworks for developing digital literacies". But why it was exciting isn't very evident from the PowerPoint - hence this further blog.

What was exciting was that they drew on two enormous pieces of summarising work - one on conceptions of digital literacy, and one on learners' experience - and brought them together.

Conceptions of digital literacy

The summarising work here was done as part of the Learning Literacies for the Digital Age (LLiDA) project. From nine major frameworks attempting to define the components of digital lteracy, or learning literacy in a digital environment, they constructed a "framework of frameworks" (see the project report, pp 35-38). The resulting set of "top-level terms, framing ideas" is not so exceptional: learning to learn, metacognition; academic practice / study skills; information literacy; communication and collaboration skills; media literacy ; computer literacy; employability; citizenship. What is more interesting is the way they break these top-level framing ideas down into practices, both non-digital ("what competent learners do") and digital ("what competent digitally enabled learners do"). For example, "learning to learn, metacognition" is broken down into the following non-digital and digital practices:

  • manage time and study commitments / use digital tools to manage time and study commitments
  • balance learning and life / use digital networks and online resources to fit learning into life
  • know where and how to access support / access support online including learning communities
  • construct strategies for learning, articulate goals / diagnose learning needs [and] choose appropriate learning tools
  • reflect on own learning and progression / use digital tools to record and reflect on progress.
What this presents very clearly is the position that digital learning literacy is just a matter of doing learning literacy practices, only with digital tools and in a digital environment. Or, to put it another way, there's no such thing as e-learning: only learning done with e-tools.
The "framework of frameworks" seems like a good starting place for planning progression in digital learning literacy across course pathways.
(See also comment on the LLiDA report by Robin Goodfellow, for the Literacy in a Digital University project.)
Learners' experience
The summarising work here was done by the Support and Synthesis Project at Oxford Brookes University, synthesising outputs from the many projects in the JISC "Learners' experiences of e-learning" programme.
The "Dissemination" section of the project website includes workshop materials, of which the ones used at Alt-C are:
  1. a document "Developing effective e-learners", presenting a pyramid model of development, listing both technical and learning competences at the ascending levels of Access, Skills, Practices and behaviours, and Attributes and identities (under "Session 5: Learners are different")
  2. a set of one-paragraph summaries of students' strategies for learning with technology (not all of them necessarily desirable), suitable for printing on card for use as a workshop activity (also under "Session 5: Learners are different")
  3. a set of "Key messages" cards, as a nutshell summary of the results of the JISC projects (under "Session 3: Themes and issues" - although a nicer designed-up and slightly different version is on the JISC website)

These "Key messages" are worth reproducing here, for the benefit of all those of us who are never going to read through all the reports of all the JISC learners' experience of e-learning projects (the originals include illustrative quotes also:
  • Expectations of technology - Learners have high expectations of technology with respect to access, choice and reliability.
  • Expectations of VLEs - Learners expect consistency across modules in use of the VLE: most see it as an essential aspect of course admin and communication.
  • Expectations of tutors' skills - Learners have high expectations of their tutors’ use of technology. They expect use of technology for learning to be appropriate and skillful.
  • Keeping the balance - Students stress that learning with ICT should be balanced with face to face and paper-based learning. A minority positively dislike the distractions from study that computers entail.
  • Tutors as mentors - The way in which learners use technology is still led by their tutors and the design of their courses. Even ‘google generation’ students are often introduced to educationally important technologies by their tutors.
  • Playing the game - As the use of technology makes more learning happen in ‘public’, learners are being socialized to play the academic game in new ways.
  • Personalisation - Learners expect to be able to personalise institutional technologies and to use personal technologies in the institutional environment. Disabled learners may be excluded if they cannot do so.
  • Meaningful choices - Learners want meaningful choices from technology. This is not about the look and feel of online services, but about key issues in how they learn.
  • Google generation - The Internet is the first port of call for information: sites such as google and wikipedia are referred to before academically approved resources.
  • Academic digital content - Access to academic digital content is regarded by learners as a unique benefit of attending HE and FE institutions.
  • Underworld - Communication technologies most used by learners are also often outside institutional control (mobile phones, skype, chat): there is an ‘underworld’ of social networking in support of learning.
  • Digital divide - There is evidence that the ‘digital divide’ is becoming deeper but narrower: a minority of students lack basic access and ICT skills, while an increasingly large majority have a wide range of devices and competences, especially with laptops
  • Skills gap - Despite their facility with personal technologies, learners often lack skills in using technology to support learning. This can be true even after considerable time at college.
  • Maturing - Students report an increased use of technology as they mature in their studies
  • Different strokes - Learners display enormous differences in past educational experiences, needs, and motivations. These have a profound influence over their preferred strategies for using technologies.
  • Attachment - Learners attach emotional significance to technologies, particularly ‘their own’ technologies, which many perceive as extensions of themselves.
  • Social software - Many students make extensive use of social software such as Facebook, including for informal discussions about their learning, but rarely for formal collaboration.
  • Public / private spaces - There are divergent opinions among learners about the use of social networks such as Facebook to support learning, and about how they manage their online identities.
  • Digital conservatism - Only a small minority of students actively investigate the potential of new software or technologies beyond those in general use. Disabled students can be among the most pioneering.
  • Technology hurdle - Where technologies require learners to adjust their usual study practices, they can become a barrier. Such technologies require careful introduction and clear communication about the benefits of use.
  • 1000 words - Very many learners, particularly younger learners, are used to accessing knowledge via images and video. They can struggle with an academic practice which only values text as a medium for communicating ideas.
  • Collaboration - Technology-mediated collaboration is increasingly common. Student experiences range from pride in their collaborative work to fear of ‘free riders’ and frustration at the available technologies.

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