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Digital literacy, stewarding and reflection

May 27th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

The explosion of powerful, innovative and free to use social software has transformed the potential approaches to using technology for teaching and learning. Long gone are the days when e-learning meant logging on to a Blackboard system. However, this reliance on commercial providers, for many of whom education is not a major part of their business plan, has its downside.

Data security is obviously an issue, although I suspect most commercial providers systems are more secure than the average school or university. More seriously services may cease to be provided for free, overrun by intrusive advertising, or even cease operating. At some point or other, all companies, even Twitter will be looking to generate revenue. In Twitters case this seems to be through the introduction of new features like email notification that many of us do not want, to probably provide a new outlet for advertising.

What is the answer? Providing such services in-house seems a tall order, although some universities, see SAPO Campus, are attempting to develop social software as part of an approach to Personal Learning Environments. The problem here though is that many social software services depend on scale to provide real traction as a learning tool. Furthermore, it is doubtful as to whether institutions can continue to provide access and services, long after students have finished a course.

For some time we have been talking about the importance of learners being able to manage their own digital identity. Perhaps it is time this idea was extended to students learning how to steward their content, be it micro blogs, photos, video or other online content. The growing availability of cheap cloud based storage may make this task easier. But there may be a pedagogic gain to be made from looking more carefully at stewarding. Stewarding would involve thinking about what is important and what is not, and the interlinking between different aspects of online activity and artefacts. In other words it would involve reflection. And reflection on learning, whilst almost universally advocated as a learning strategy, has been far less easy to foster in practice.

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