Category Archives: Technology Enhanced Learning

Digital literacies and digital fluency – a process of development?

Definitions and difficulties

“Digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.” (JISC / Beetham 2010)

“I am digitally fluent when I confidently, critically, skilfully and appropriately select and use digital technologies to achieve my goals.” (Baume 2011-12)

These are of course both empty-shell definitions, needing to be filled before they can be used.

The wish to use empty shell definitions is understandable – they push the responsibility of populating the definition on to the particular users, and thus increase local ownership.

But such definitions can frustrate users who, in answer to a question about what digital capabilities (whether literacies or fluency) they need to learn or toteach, may be told (or hear) “It’s up to you.”

By analogy: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” (Presumably the same is also true for a woman). A good principle. Except for the danger of our hungry person starving to death during their fishing lesson.

How to proceed? With a judicious mixture of fish and fishing lesson. Back to our digital concerns. Fish; suggestions about likely elements of digital literacy or fluency, maybe including making rational choices of technology rather than being dazzled in the toyshop; devising a search strategy rather than leaping straight into Google and, yes, how to use Word and email and Twitter. Fishing lessons; structured and responsive help and support on producing a locally, personally and professionally appropriate account of digital literacies or fluency. This mixture may be more helpful and developmental than either element alone.

A process of development?

It may be tempting to see the progression from digital literacies to digital fluency as a developmental sequence. ‘Teach them the skills, and in due course the skills will add up to fluency.’

A more productive approach may be to concentrate on the final outcome. If the final outcome (for now) is something like digital fluency, as described above, then maybe fluency is the place to start. Learners, whether students or staff, could audit their current state of digital fluency. They could unpack the extent and nature of their confidence, their critical approach & etc. in their use of digital technologies to achieve their goals. And then they could seek and obtain the necessary support. (Fluency, as described here, has an important affective component as well as describing capabilities.)

At the same time, they will know what specific digital capabilities, what specific digital literacies, they are likely to need – because some at least of the demands and expectations of the subject, the course, the institution are known. So we can provide enough fish to ensure survival in the short term.

Where next?

We have to support the development of digital literacies or fluency.

Blue Morpho

Blue Morpho

Changing metaphor: Let’s photograph the butterfly, not pin it to the board.

Our most valuable digital capability is probably to continue to review and enhance our digital capabilities. (Of course we could ditch the word ‘digital’.)

There, above all, may be where we should focus our development efforts.

David Baume

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Filed under Digital Fluency, Digital Literacies, Seda Sig, Technology Enhanced Learning

Lessons From FASTECH

The JISC-funded FASTECH project investigates the educational and practical effects of using digital technological tools in assessment and feedback processes. The research team is collecting data about staff digital literacy, students’ learning and experiences, and practical implications. Over our first year, we’ve learned some valuable lessons about introducing technology into educational practices. Most of this won’t be news to you, but if, like us, you can do with a little reminding now and then, the following points might help you save some time and energy.
1. Staff comfort levels and opinions about technology vary wildly
If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you are at least interested in the implications of technology on educational practices. Residents of the blogosphere/Twitterverse can quickly become ethnocentric and forget that not everyone is reading the latest copy of Wired on their iPad while they take a break from developing an online learning space. Some colleagues are not interested in digital technology, are intimidated by it, ignorant about its applications, and/or fed up with pressure to adopt quickly-changing practices, tools, and theories. Educational developers should try not to make assumptions about their colleagues’ familiarity or capabilities with any particular tool or anyone’s basic ‘digital literacy’.2. Some staff concerns are valid (but these usually have a solution)
It’s not always fear, laziness, or ignorance that prevents academics from using digital tools in their practice; sometimes teachers have tried new pieces of technology and been disappointed, frustrated, or thwarted by any number of challenges. Health and safety concerns, especially, need to be taken seriously and potential issues and adjustments identified. Educational developers should work carefully to fully understand any reasons behind resistance and act with sensitivity to help break down barriers and provide workable solutions.

3. ‘It’s better for the students’ isn’t a convincing argument for staff
Like us, our colleagues are under tremendous pressure in their myriad professional roles. While evidence may show that a digital tool improves student learning and/or experience, we must also consider the implications on staff time, workload, and health and safety. If some subject teachers already find pedagogical research a drag, then the introduction of an extra layer of tech know-how certainly won’t appeal. Educational developers need to be sensitive to the pressures our colleagues are under and find ways to present digital tools as solutions to problems, not another symptom of micro-management and the  dehumanising, corporate educational context.

4. Training and support – on a personal level- is key to success
Providing ongoing training and 1:1 support is one of the best ways to overcome resistance to the adoption of potentially useful tools. Working with HR, IT, and other relevant departments,  educational developers should expect to offer friendly, helpful advice about any new technological innovations.

5. Students need help too
Educational developers can also work with learning development teams to provide support for students who may not be ‘digital natives/residents’. Just as staff have a variety of reasons for resisting technological innovations, students can find the adoption of new digital tools and systems overwhelming.

6. Engage students to help develop and implement your project
Don’t stop at simply offering help; get students involved in a substantial part of your development activity – not just as tokenistic questionnaire-fillers, but as researchers, trainers, and consultants. On FASTECH, the Student Fellows are key members of the team and the most successful change agents.

7. Institutional regulations can be a barrier to good practice – or a starting point for change
Using some emotional intelligence and political savvy, educational developers can use quality assurance and other regulations to work for (or at least in tandem), rather than against, positive educational change with technology. Again, students might be able to help effect some ‘top-down’ changes.

8. Students aren’t always keen for technology
We sometimes assume that students want us to use the latest technology in our teaching and assessment, but check first. Have a look at the relevant literature, run pilot interventions, and examine student feedback. Students sometimes prefer the status quo to ill-conceived or hasty implementation of technological interventions.

The FASTECH team is working hard to embed technology that improves staff and students’ experience of technology, but we’re learning the need to proceed slowly and gently with staff and students alike.If you have any questions about the project, please visit our website at www.fastech.ac.uk or email p.hyland@bathspa.ac.uk.

Joelle Adams and The FASTECH Team

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