Friday, March 27, 2009

digital literacy

Why do I really dislike the term 'digital literacy'.

history
Part of it is due to history - we've been through a whole range of terminology starting with the change of library and information skills and computer skills to information literacy and computer literacy. Whilst these new terms broadened the landscape and tried to articulate that both of these areas were not just about skills with tools but about transferable skills and deeper conceptual learning. We also had (often not connected to these terms) the whole range of academic/study and research literacies which were the province of a whole different group of people- academics.

Then we tried the term 'e-literacy' which seemed fairly sensible considering the increased use of the term e-learning. None of the current debates seem to mention this term - is it due to embarassment now? Many of the people who contributed to the debates around e-literacy (which were just as passionate and covered the same stuff - different tools maybe but the literacies were the same - how to make best use of electronic tools and communication mechanism in life, work and learning) came from the computer and information literacy fields and gradually started involving more academics. Are the people involved in the current debate from different groups - learning technologists and educational developers? Is that why we seem to not be acknowledging the work from the past on this?

Skills...
I always has a BIG problem with the term e-literacy because of the focus on the 'e' and for I dislike the term digital literacy for the emphasis on the 'digital'. I feel that the use of these terms can result in people focussing on the technologies. This can mean that people concentrate on the skills to use these and not the underlying drivers, approaches and mechanisms needed to support development of the various competencies that make up these literacies. The Dearing Report and the whole govt focus on the skills agenda also impacts on this. Hence my concerns - if the govt drivers shape the institutional drivers and the focus is employability then what happens to the need to enhance the capacity of student to learn in a broad sense - to become lifelong learners. The term literacy in itself has always been contentious too and is hated by many. I prefer it to skills for that breadth that it offers us.

These terms are broad descriptions of a range of different literacies - some of which are important in life, some in learning and some in a work/professional context (and many which cross all three). Here is a link to a mind map which looks at some of these.

We have spent a huge amount of time with these definitions and if a government or European body takes up on one and produces a definition we are often led by this.

I am torn about the current digital literacy 'flavour of the month' terminology. It has caught on beyond the educational sector and is referred to in UK govt, documents so at least I should be pleased that it is actually on the agenda in a big way. It gives many of us who have been working in this area (on the outside or in silos) a chance to finally use this to highlight our work and our efforts within institutions. However the latest announcement about changing the primary school curriculum again focuses on tools that may not even be used in 5 years time! I rest my case...

I guess I'm just a bit jaded by terminology debates.

institution-wide strategies and frameworks
What I think is actually more important and does deserve our time and energy is that we look at those component literacies/skills/competencies and think about how we, as educators and as educational instituions, can support learners to develop these to interact, learn, contribute and enhance their lives. At the moment provision from educational institutions is still piecemeal, and many institutions would find it challenging to articulate how they support all of these literacies, but a few HE institutions are starting to take an institution-wide view and are developing their own frameworks. Halleluyah!!!!

Lots more to come about this in the new LLiDA (Learning Literacies for the Digital Age) report - coming very soon!

Big rant over - will be joining digilit debate later today - so likely to come back to this post later. also need to add in refs to support my outragous pontifications too...

3 comments:

LSE Learning Technology Librarian said...

Well said Lou - I agree there is too much debating about terminology and amongst the library profession we hope we are getting beyond this debate and starting to talk about what really matters - learning and learners and whether they can do all the things they need to function in a digital information society!

Owen said...

"However the latest announcement about changing the primary school curriculum again focuses on tools that may not even be used in 5 years time! I rest my case..."

To be fair - this is a report based on a leaked document. I don't think it is at all clear that the document 'focuses' on specific tools (I know mentions of Twitter and Wikipedia are what have grabbed the headlines). The overall impression given by the Guardian report is that the curriculum would encompass aspects of communicating using computers and the internet - from keyboard skills to interacting online.

Lou said...

yes owen thanks - that is a point well made and I really do hope that the broader aproach will be included in the actual document.