Monthly Archives: January 2017

The importance of digital literacy and digital diversity for students and staff

Dee Vyas
Classroom Technology Teaching Adviser
Learning Innovations
Manchester Metropolitan University

Reflections from the UCISA conference Spotlight on Digital Capabilities

I am employed by Manchester Metropolitan University as a Classroom Technology Teaching Adviser and I am a member of the Learning Innovation Team, based in the Department of Learning and Research Technologies. My primary responsibilities are to support academic colleagues across the university in their use of institutionally supported technologies for learning teaching and assessment, and to research and to provide advice on emerging technologies that may have a role in higher education.

The UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities event was a two day conference held at the Austin Court from 25-26th May. I had applied for a UCISA bursary to attend the conference and was amazed when I was awarded one.

The conference theme was of particular interest to me as in a world of fast changing technologies, it is important to enable staff and students to develop and apply them in effective and efficient ways within their teaching and learning environment.

I have worked in the IT related field for over twenty five years, and the development and use of technology within HE, changes at an exponential rate. We have gone from having no PCs in the classroom to now being able to submerse students within virtual worlds and immersive experiences. Was my generation digitally naïve, as we didn’t use technology as an all-inclusive aspect of our childhood, education and adulthood?

The Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference offers an insight into how to enable staff and students to keep up with the pace of change in using technologies. It is not simply about introducing a technology within a classroom setting but it is also about the effect it will have from the organisational perspective.  With a wide range of technologies similar in features, how do we choose which technology to implement, develop and highlight to staff and students in order to provide an inclusive experience.

Within my organisation, there are many pockets of innovation, implementation and development, and examples of use of technology within the classroom to enhance the student experience. There are areas where the use of technology and development of digital skills is engrained, and areas where lectures are simply delivered traditionally. Addressing these issues is important, and highlighting good practice and trying to engage students and staff to develop these skills forms, are a fundamental aspect of the work I do.

Digital literacy

Do we all need digital skills, but with a difference in the level and range of skills required? How do academics interpret having a digital capability? Is it the ability to use Twitter, LinkedIn, training for Word or using Padlet? Should the effective use of technology by institutions provide a comparable experience for students?  These are questions that arose from the conference and further research into developing answers for them is required. James Clay, Jisc, in his presentation Building digital capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency  highlighted the fact that three key areas need to be developed for digital literacy to be effective:

  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Support for learners.

Participation in digital teams and working groups based on development of the curriculum and review

Effective collaboration in digital spaces sharing calendars, task lists and building shared resources

Support for learners for collaboration using digital tools and work effectively across all boundaries.

Institutional change is organic rather than transformational, where communication and resilience are cornerstones of change. It’s not about the shiny new technology, as changes in technology can often have a diverse effect on the stakeholders. The language we use to describe technology is not common to all, and providing a discourse and bringing externality (sector specialist/companies) into universities, is an important issue to consider. There is therefore, an important need to share a common language. Scott (2016) highlights how the use of the word “very good” to describe programmes at the University of Toronto in feedback to the Vice-President for Research, resulted in being chastised when the outcome “world-beating” was expected.

The key to implementing change includes the need for a communication plan, a dialogue that is open for all, and an understanding of the cultural, emotional and personal processes which will be affected. How do we inform our stakeholders? If we are to change the future of technology enhanced learning, do we use blog posts, email, notices a month in advance, or digital champions, to provide a sustained process?

Student engagement

Student digital literacy is defined by Jisc (2015) as:

“the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society.”

Without a clear definition of the term “student engagement” or an equivalent shared framework for action and enhancement, a higher education institute may not be able to provide a uniform approach. Is student engagement about the level of investment students make in their learning i.e. as autonomous learners? Student engagement as a policy priority within universities is relatively recent and there is a need to move beyond systems and instead, to describe a concept whereby students are seen as partners. This new concept is based on the opportunity for students to have an influence in determining what their learning should look like, rather than the current traditional approach.

This partnership should exist as a culture within higher education to produce more than a fuzzy feeling. Similar to many partnerships, this new approach will result in changes and enhancements that aim to build a more inclusive learning community.

How can technology enhanced learning (TEL) be used to support the student voice? One of the requirements highlighted as part of the analysis carried out in the Student Engagement Partnership, was how could TEL be used to support the student voice. The availability of adequate wifi within institutions was highlighted as a major factor.

To assess whether things that are being called partnerships can actually provide an opportunity for ongoing conversations to determine people’s needs and expectations, requires some form of assessment criteria. One approach highlighted could be to develop an optional set of questions specifically targeting the use of technology within the learning environment, to be an integral part of the National Student Survey (NSS) and furthermore, an internal institute specific ISS.

Ultimately, some form of change must occur if these partnerships are to be seen as constructive, and whereby students are able to determine that their ideas are being listened to and incorporated into the decision-making process. Avenues of engagement must be kept open for a continuous dialogue between students and the institute.

Finding and minding the gaps: digital diversity

Digital capabilities do not always match reality. The battle we face is a major challenge, as technology is constantly changing. Metathesiophobia is the fear of change and is apt in describing resistance to changing the way we work digitally. Digital literacy is about the concept rather than the technology, whereby it is seen as a functional tool (without our thinking of how to use it). Therefore, development is required in engaging academic staff to build a digital residency where the web becomes the focal point of interest, and an active online presence is not seen as being pervasive. To carry this out, a programme of inclusive CPD and teacher education should become a part of the skills enhancement process. Developing a synergy between pedagogical frameworks and teaching that allows ‘good practice’, as highlighted by a QAA strand, to be disseminated to colleagues, should be seen as the norm rather than the exception.

Sue Watling, University of Hull, highlights the term “digital diversity” as including those who are digital visitors and see the web as a tool and are not actively engaged online, or those who have no online presence and are not digitally immersed. We are all focussed on doing the same work, using the digital skills we are familiar with, but we must not forget those who are wedded to traditional roles – like teaching.  How do we address the digital skills for staff who are employed without these skills? By increasing shared practice as outlined above, through internal and external processes and organisations, such as UCISA, JISC, local events and networks.

Academics may not be aware of how social media can enhance the student experience, how to make the technology relevant to their content, or understand how it can improve their teaching and student learning. There is a need to move away from using generic terms for literacy such as media, numeracy etc. and concentrate on the core abilities of what staff need to know. The Alexandria Proclamation (2005) highlights that literacy should be a human right:

Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations.”

How we achieve this as part of the educational experience can, I believe, only enhance the knowledge-sharing society and skills universities aim to deliver within the twenty first century. Some may say that digital is a red herring, but is it an opportunity we should all grasp and for which we should endeavour to determine a solution? The government recognises it as an integral part of the economy, and companies are using it, but there are many who do not engage with it. To achieve collaboration between departments is important, as is developing an innovative approach to delivering training, which may include incentives such as prizes and tokens. It is important to work with students as partners to develop a joint literacy that allows teaching to be carried out in an informal manner. The bottom up approach has worked, as has asking students what they use.

References:

Scott, P. (2016) Beware, the central control that grips schools is heading universities’ way. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/04/control-schools-universities-knowledge-business  (Accessed: 02 June 2016).

Jisc (2015) Scott Hibberson. Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy (Accessed: 06 June 2016).

UNESCO. (2005). The Alexandria Proclamation “Towards an information literate society” Retrieved June12, 2016 from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/11876051.pdf