digital scholarship

A literacy, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little

I did a presentation for an online session on digital literacy hosted by Josie Fraser last Friday. Here is my slidecast:

It was well attended with some of my favourite online people and we had some good discussion.

A few things occurred to me:

i) We forget the literacies we wear in life  – it's a broad term, and we all come to it with different sets of skills and concerns. If you're interested in schools, then digital literacy has a whole different set of connotations and issues than for higher education. It is debatable even whether lumping all of these groups together is useful.

ii) It is the best of terms, it is the worst of terms – we debated back and forth about the term, and whether we should even debate the term, whether it should be literacy or literacies, etc. In general there was consensus that a) we shouldn't get bogged down too much in terminology, b) as the term is out there we may as well stick with it, c) there are issues with it.

iii) There is a literacy of the head and a literacy of the heart – conventional literacy is reasonably well defined, and while it is not an either/or, we can at least set some definite targets. Should digital literacy be specific or aimed at more general skills? For example, is it a checklist of technology mastery eg have captured and uploaded video to video sharing site, or more general skills eg using appropriate technology to communicate effectively.

I have some reservations (see my post about being a spoilsport) that whenever we cast our bespectacled academic eye over such a subject we over-analyse it. The result is then something which can be implemented but has had much of the initial spirit that made it attractive removed from it, in the process of pinning down exactly what we mean. This is a dilemma we will need to work around carefully. Don't get me wrong, it may seem that I don't carry in my countenance a letter of recommendation, I really think it is an important debate and task. Just want to make sure it's not a tedious checklist and instead is a joyous explosion of creativity (and flowers no doubt).

(Apologies for extended, laboured Dickens theme, no real message from it, just playing).


  • Andy Lane

    I enjoyed the slidecast but came away thinking it didn’t match up well to the post. By that I mean the slidecast talked mainly about a modern day skillset that relies on digital technologies or tools. the relationship to literacy or literacies being only partial. To over analyse, person(s) to person(s)communication involves the manipulation of words, numbers, sounds, ‘symbols and pictures’. Words can be as speech or written text, and the skill of understanding (aka listening/reading) or manipulating them (speaking/writing) are known as oracy and literacy. Similarly, symbols and pictures, static or dynamic involve graphicacy.
    Now forget the terminology for a moment, the issues are with being able to be a participant in society and everyday life and work either because you can understand/interpret/enjoy the communicative outputs of others and/or because you can make your own outputs that others can understand/interpret/enjoy.
    For me, the interesting developments are how technology defines and determines which mode of ***acy is used and who is able to use it (effectively). I have long written and promoted the use of diagrammatic techniques (graphicacy?) for understanding and interpretation but this has been hampered by tools (pen and paper) and costs in producing printed paper based diagrams. Digital tecgnologies are changing the affordances of graphical representations greatly such that it is becoming a serious area of research and activity (despite practice being hampered by no agreed grammar for such outputs). Video use has been even more influenced by digital technology such that skills of producing and interpreting such outputs are more widespread and more familar than ever.
    Even more interesting, is how compentent do we all need to be in the different ***acies as well as how competent in the technologies that enable us to participate (if we want to) in that particular form of communication?
    Lots of diagnosis and no prognosis I am afraid – the abiding role of academics. Hmm but perhaps there is a research proposal in this and at least I can stick to simple digital literacy to write it ….

  • Martin

    Hi Andy, thanks for the comments. I think there may be a bit of a mismatch as you say between my talk, and some of the broader literacies stuff. What I have been thinking about is digital skills or scholarship in higher ed, and a lot of the dig lit work is aimed at schools.
    I think video is a good example – on the one hand Dean Shareski and others have argued that video could be one of one those key skills for young people now, because it’s so ubiquitous. But does this mean technical stuff like editing, adding soundtrack, uploading? Or does it mean being able to conceive an idea and convey it via video? Or does it mean being confident in front of a camera? Or is it some more abstract skill that is realised through video? Or all of these?
    (I think this is what you’ve said in your penultimate para).
    I think there are general aptitudes we can encourage and skill sets we can foster without getting too bogged down in very specific technologies.
    Yes, definitely some research proposals in this.

  • Lou McGill

    I hope that our ongoing JISC funded research study on Learning Literacies for a Digital Age (LLiDA) (Helen Beetham, Allison Littlejohn and myself) will contribute some useful information for this current dialogue.
    Due to report in the next few weeks, we have focussed on actual practice in HE/FE but also infomed by schools work. The study has included desk research, institutional audits, snapshots and exemplars of current practice and an examination of frameworks. see http:/

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