Digital Literacy and #FLWebSci : Some Reflections

As we are now in the final hours of week 5, I thought it might be a good idea to pull together a few thoughts on what I have learned from the experience so far, and its implications for Digital Literacies development within the University.

Over the past 3 years we have drawn upon the Digital Economy Research Group as a vehicle for pioneering multidisciplinary research-led and technology-informed educational innovation here at the University of Southampton. Students have been very much included as partners in this process through participating in research projects such as SMiLE, and acting as ambassadors and change agents via the Digital Champions and Curriculum Innovation programmes.

Many students have contributed directly to the MOOC as Educators, Facilitators and bloggers. The Curriculum Innovation module Living and Working on the Web aims to “eat its own dogfood” by encouraging students to create and then critique the course materials through blog posts and online interactions with their colleagues and tutors. It covers a number of key aspects of digital literacy, some of which have been explored in the MOOC:

  • proactive, confident and flexible adoption of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use
  • use of appropriate technology effectively to search for and store high-quality information
  • curation and critical evaluation of the information obtained
  • building networks and engaging creatively and productively in online communities
  • creating relevant and compelling digital content in written, pictorial and video form
  • awareness of the challenges in managing online identities and ensuring online privacy and security

This list of module topics shows that the key point about the increasing emphasis on digital literacy at all educational levels is that it’s not just about knowing the basics of how to use a computer. It’s many of the things we’ve discussed and practised throughout this MOOC. Whether we are consumers, learners or organisations, we increasingly are required to navigate our way through these activities regardless of whether or not we “work in IT”

There are still many jobs that don’t require digital skills, but this number is diminishing. BCS (the Chartered Institute for IT) states:

“Employers increasingly require validation of digital literacy skills and employability can depend on it. Why is Digital Literacy important to employers and employees?

Digital literacy is required in 77% of all employment
Digital literacy is expected to be required in 90% of all employment by 2015
Employability for graduates increasingly requires a broad range of digital literacy skills
Employers expect graduates to be able to communicate using digital media”
(http://www.bcs.org/category/17854)

BCS encourages digital literacy development in schools and universities to help people prepare for the workplace, as part of the Digital Literacy for Life Programme:

“Understanding the impact of new technologies on society
Understanding and being able to manage digital identities appropriately
Being able to locate, organise, understand, evaluate, analyse and present digital information”

The Living and Working on the Web module can be studied by students from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, but it still forms only a very small part of a learner’s overall study programme. The next stage is to embed the principles of digital literacy much more broadly – we will see this come into effect next year when an innovative multi-disciplinary programme in Natural Sciences is launched by the University.

A common theme that jumped out at me from reading comments on the MOOC materials was that of the digital divide. Increasingly we will see benefits accrue to the “digitally literate”, while those without these skills may become more marginalised. So what can be done about this?

Firstly, publicity about the MOOC and participation in it should help to raise awareness about the value of online education, and encourage more tutors to experiment! Learners and tutors can practice their digital literacy skills by engaging with the course materials and the emerging online community within the MOOC itself.

Secondly, as tutors we can find out in real time what content and exercises learners are enjoying or struggling with, and address their feedback in real time.

Thirdly, there are obvious benefits to be gained from applying content and /or process from the MOOC directly into campus-based classes to introduce an online element – this could be in terms of a course entry “test” to aid the selection of high quality students, or the provision of supplementary resources to enable a programme to be completed in a shorter period of time. And probably many more…

More details about various university digital literacy projects and students as change agents can be found from these links:

http://www.hei-flyers.org/wordpress/is-digital-literacy-the-new-frontier-in-employability/ by Aaron Porter

http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2011/dec/15/digital-literacy-employability-student-experience by Sarah Knight

Many thanks are due to Cristina Costa of the University of Strathclyde for her enthusiastic and knowledgeable input to this post, the MOOC materials and indeed many of our digital literacy projects :-)

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