This is a blogpost is based on a presentation I recently did for the Flexible, Distance and Online Learning open module that Chrissi Neranzi and her colleagues are currently running. It was part of Unit 2 that focuses on the theme of Digital Literacies.
Digital literacies is a very “hot” topic right now, and one that deserves our attention given the influence of the web on our working and social lives. And worthy of note is that the web is not only influencing the way we work nor solely the way we use it to socialise. The separation between formal and informal, public and private spaces has never been less straight forward and, as many would argue, the boundaries are blurry(ing) (See here, here, and here, for instance).
In its Developing Digital Literacies briefing paper, JISC state that
digital literacies define those who exhibit a critical understanding and capability for living, learning, and working in the digital society.
I think this is a good definition. It goes beyond the initial concerns regarding the searching and retrieving of information online – as important as they are – to reflect the participatory culture that the social web supports because of its very interactive nature.
Yet, not everyone perceives the web in this way nor does everyone value it for its social(lisation) potential. The web as a field of participation and socialisation is not deprived of tensions, and it is far from being evenly distributed in the current global and network society [just to throw a couple of more ready made phrases in there!]. Consequently, different practices, and agendas, co-exist in a space that aggregates a wide variety of groups of people with a multitude of approaches on how the web can be appropriated to serve their needs.
This takes me to consider the Digital Visitors and Digital Residents debate initiated by White and Cornu. In wanting to take the digital native discussion to a new level, the authors devised a topology that looks at the frequency of use and explores the needs and motivations of individuals when using the web. This is translated into two different types of users: those who have embedded the web in their day-to-day practice (the residents) and those who use it sporadically for specific purposes (the visitors). Attached to this dichotomy between intense and occasional use of the web is a feeling of belonging, with the former feeling more attached to the “online world” than the latter. Although the Digital Visitors and Digital Residents metaphor provides us with an understanding on how individuals are taking to the Social and Participatory Web, it still offers, in my opinion, a binary interpretation of a more complex reality; one that educational institutions are struggling to get to terms with. And that has as much to do with how learners are using the web as it has to do with why some learners are more predisposed to do so than others, not to mention those who may be excluded of this topology altogether because of other factors that may preclude them from having access to technology or perceiving it as a useful tool for learning.
This makes me wonder what role individuals’ social, cultural and economic background play in prompting them to engage with the web for living, learning and working.
And more important even, it leads me to question as to the role (or duty) of educational institutions in cultivating and enhancing learners‘ cultural capital in a world mediated by technology.
Providing access to technology and wifi is necessary, but it’s effects will only be felt if the implementation of such technological infrastructures are accompanied by practices that promote its effective use.
The University of Southampton has recognised that and launched a module on Living and Working on the Web in an attempt to equip their students with relevant skills for the changing job market that the so called digital economy is bringing about. In our preliminary study we realised that the student population participating in the module was very diverse, not only in terms of their digital literacies but also, and above all, in terms of their attitudes with regard to digital forms of working and learning. This might be related to the way students have been socialised into learning and how they are predisposed to engage with digital practices. In this sense, I wonder how different these students are from staff who also feel less keen in changing their practices and attitudes to accommodate digital practices.
With learning technologies (and implicitly digital literacies) starting to feature heavily in Educational Institutions’s policies, what does it really mean to (and in) practice?