The Library’s Digital Literacy group recently had an away day to discuss the concept/definition, the vision, and how we can take this forward at the University of Sheffield. We had some very interesting and though provoking discussions, and raised more questions than answers.
Here is a summary of our thinking at the end of the day:
Is the definition for us or for the students? Will it communicate to the students the skills they require to be ‘digitally literate’? Are we trying to redefine IL, add to it, or subsume it?
Are we trying to define how to develop students digital literacy(ies), or just trying to define it? Should we be using the term digital literacy at all?
Why have we started considering a vision with a label we don’t currently use? Why have we stated digital literacy above a new vision for information literacy, or any other terminology? Our thinking needs to include a critical discussion of the appropriate term to define. The focus should be on skills not technologies. ‘IL’ doesn’t mention the media/medium. Could ‘Digital Literacy’ actually sound out of date quite soon?
Bawden (2008) states that digital literacy seems an appropriate and sensible name in an age where information comes mainly in this form, though an important part of digital literacy is knowing when to use a non-digital source. – so why not just say information, not digital? From a recent Westminster briefing: ‘Digital Literacy’ doesn’t connect with people’. Digital literacy is in this sense a framework for integrating other literacies, though we do not need “one literacy to rule them all” (Martin) However, whether it is what is meant or not, the term ‘digital literacy’ seems to denote technology, and is therefore limiting. Information literacy is much broader.
Whatever we say needs to be meaningful – we need people to understand as far as possible when we haven’t got the time/opportunity to explain. Otherwise we’ll create another ‘insider’ terminology and what would be the point of that? It needs to be meaningful to staff and students. Think about the context.
“Digital literacy is a condition, not a threshold” (Martin, cited in Belshaw, and Bawden). There are no digital natives just ‘digital wisdom’ (Lyn Hilt, Connected Principles blog, on Belshaw’s work) – it is a scale.
Technical skills view of digital literacy is limited, it is about a mindset.
Although definitions vary, there does seem to be a general consensus where DL is seen as an expanded version of IL (e.g. OU), that it includes collaboration, communication and creation of information. Whatever terminology we use, these are key areas for development for us.
The focus on what we’re aiming for/trying to define being an adaptable mindset was key in the literature and our discussions. How can we teach/encourage/judge a mindset? Although there is no agreed definition, if we consider fluency as a developed, confident state of literacy (in line with the adaptable mindset) we cannot teach that, but we can teach and support the development of the skills that underpin that mindset/fluency.
Most important thing is still integration into the curriculum. It all seems to comes back to inquiry-based learning (IBL) that we were doing 6 years ago in CILASS, as this sort of assessment is required to embed these practices into the curriculum especially for assessment purposes.
We need a focused clear offer, to get acceptance from academics. We have got a very small air time to convey that offer and get it accepted. Might only get 2 lines at L&T committee, or a one minute pitch. We need to get in on the pedagogy – we should be central to Achieve More, not just to exam times. We need to develop a package relevant to Achieve More, which can be done if the themes stay the same for a few years. We need to have something relevant to offer. We need to be clear on what our output/offer is. Don’t over-offer! Best to start with outputs and work from there.