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Digital literacies and new pedagogies for learning with technology

August 13th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

This post continues this weeks mini series on new pedagogies for tecahing and learning. This is based on work I am doing for a literature review.

I have been particularly interested in some of the work on digital literacies. The notion of digital literacies has been around for some time, but, at least in an Anglo Saxon context, has tended to be dominated by narrow skill set definitions. Such thinking has not gone away – Learn Direct offer a entry level Digital Literacy certificate based on

  • Computer Basics
  • The Internet and World Wide Web
  • Productivity Programmes
  • Computer Security and Privacy
  • Digital Lifestyles

And Microsoft’s First Course Toward Digital Literacy claims to  teach absolute beginners to computing about what a valuable tool computers can be in society today, and the basics of using the mouse and the keyboard. The interactive, hands-on lessons will help novices feel comfortable manipulating the mouse and typing on the keyboard (is this what Bill Gates is referring to when he says the Internet will displace the traditional University in 5 years).

But at the same time there has been some more advanced thinking on the meaning of digital literacy, based in part on new understandings of the mulitmodality affordances of Web 2.0 and in part on research into the way young people are using the web.  There is growing evidence that young people have difficulties in interpreting and making judgements and meanings about online materials, be they text, hypertext or multi media. A third influence on this wok is the expanded idea of the importance of design as a means of communication in the wider social environment of Web 2.0.

The wider understandings of Digital Literacies is leading in terms to a move away from narrowly defined skills training towards an exploration of pedagogies in teaching and learning using technologies. I am particularly interested in a pedagogic model developed by the New London Group as long ago as 2000 and represented in the UK Teaching and Learning Programme’s recent publication entitled Digital Literacies (although sometimes a little dense this is well worth reading). The New London Group put forward four components of pedagogy:

  • Situated Practice, which draws on the experience of meaning-making in everyday life, the public realm and workplaces;
  • Overt Instruction, through which students develop an explicit metalanguage of design;
  • Critical Framing, which interprets the social context and purpose of Designs of meaning; and
  • Transformed Practice, in which students, as meaning -makers, become designers of social futures.

(Cope and Kalantzis, 2000, p. 7)

What is missing from this model is a social dimension around collaboration. But the model is strong in  its focus on the new social realities engendered by technologies. It is the need to be able to understand and critique those social realities which should inform the development of new pedagogies.

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    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

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    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

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    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”


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