Digital literacies

I was asked to provide some thoughts on digital literacies for the Vice Chancellor, but rather than just do a dead email, in keeping with the spirit of the topic, I thought I’d put them in a blog post.

This isn’t the research related view, but rather a personal perspective. Here are what I think are interesting about what we might term new digital literacies:

  • Different voices – think of the bloggers you read the most. It might be people like Stephen Downes, David Warlick, Will Richardson, D’Arcy Norman, Alan Levine, Scott Leslie, Tony Hirst, etc. Now consider the top-cited researchers in educational technology journals. I’m not sure who they are, but my guess is it probably won’t bear much resemblance to your top blog list. There are a few exceptions (Grainne Conole, Terry Anderson come to mind), but generally I think blogs have allowed people to find a different voice, and that has allowed very good writers who perhaps didn’t find the academic journal an appropriate publishing outlet to have a voice.
  • Reuse as an artform – Steve Jobs is fond of quoting Picasso’s “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”. The same might be said for new digital literacies “good educators borrow, great educators mashup”. Taking existing material be it content, data, tools, and remixing it isn’t just a shortcut or convenience, it is an independent skill of its own.
  • Becoming a broadcaster – educators need to re-envisage themselves as broad-(or narrow)-casters. A lecture is a form of broadcast. You now just have many alternatives. Creating videos on your PC is, if not simple, at least achievable. Creating podcasts is a doddle. You can blog, slidecast, webcast, or hold forth in SecondLife. These are considerable skills to acquire, see for example the videos of Michael Wesch for how good they can be. Also, if you have the time watch all of Wesch’s hour long lecture on a portal to media literacy to appreciate how the new digital literacies are not just nice add-ons but essential if we are to get students to participate in education.
  • Multiple outlets – an additional point to the above, you now have many different possible outlets for your material, and often for the same material. A paper may appear in the conference proceedings, on your blog,on slideshare, scribd, etc. There are multiple ways of finding an audience.
  • Social motivation – why do all this? Partly it’s for the creative itch, we like to express ourselves, but more prominent in the digital literacies is the social motivation. If you post something you may get comments back, which may start a dialogue, which may lead to the expansion of your network.
  • New metrics – I have talked a lot about this in the past, and I still don’t know what the answer is. As I’ve often said, I don’t want technorati to replace my RAE rating because it would end up influencing behaviour. But I do know that many of the traditional metrics we apply in higher education (e.g. publishing in ‘quality journals’ whatever they are), are simply irrelevant to understanding digital literacies.
  • Openness as a starting point – following up from my previous post, part of acquiring digital literacies is about a mindset also. One of the cornerstones of this is that you start out with openness as a default – it may not always be appropriate, but it’s where you start from. That way reuse, conversation and your own literacy develop.

5 Comments

  1. Josie Fraser says:

    These are all good – but maybe outputs of digital literacy rather than types of digital literacies? For me, digital literacy is fundamentally about competencies. These are to do with being able to evaluate new technologies, understand the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, & be able to manage data effectively – in terms of audience & confidence of course, but also in terms of security, innovation, personal safety, legal and technical issues etc.

  2. Martin says:

    Hi Josie, yes you’re right. I didn’t mean to say they _were_ digital literacies but rather they are issues that digital literacies bring to light. Actually the VC wanted stuff on digital scholarship, so perhaps that was a better title – these are things the digital scholar needs to bear in mind.

  3. Josie Fraser says:

    Digital scholarship – is much clearer :) issues of legitimacy are probably key, also models of ‘origional’ research vs. how ideas develop across distributed networks. Might be interesting to look at how informal networks develop alternative measures of legitimacy too? Might be more relevant to ‘the new metric’ than technorati rankings or A lister discussions.

  4. Jon Mott says:

    To your last point RE openness, I think there’s a significant *cultural* difference between traditioanl scholarship and digital scholarship. In the digital publishing world, there’s a much greater emphasis on open access and shareability of data, both ideas which are much more consistent with the academic research tradition. Much of the proprietary mindset in traditional scholarship comes from journal publishers, not from the scholars themselves. Remove traditional publishers from the equation and things get much more open.

  5. Brian Lamb says:

    I don’t disagree with Jon’s assertions that the current state of periodical publishing is a barrier to moving toward open access, but a similar mindset prevails with sharing teaching and learning materials in which publishers have little interest. So often when I’m meeting with instructors who want to use blogs, wikis, or other online tools, one of the first questions I get is “can we make this private?” The default mentality is to hide… I agree, Martin, when you’ve spent time working in the digital realm the risks and rewards one experiences tends to push one toward sharing and openness… but that’s one of those “you gotta experience it to believe it” sensations.
    Fantastic post.

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