Open Thinkering


Tag: Dave White

JISC Online Conference session on digital literacy (#jiscel11)

JISC Online Conference - Digital Literacy panel discussion

I’ve just been in an interesting panel discussion at the JISC Online Conference on the subject of ‘digital literacy’. The recording of the Elluminate session is available.

The session reinforced to me just how diverse people’s views on digital literacies are. Most new to the field make the assumption that digital literacy is singular and consists of basic skills in the digital realm. In effect, digital competency. Those more experienced in the field, such as Helen Beetham, talk of the importance of this baseline – the ‘ABC’ of digital literacy as she called it, but higher-level skills as well.

Helen talked about how difficult it can be for learners to know what it is that they need to know, and also how to express it. For example, they may be confident using blogs, wikis and social networking sites, but be extremely unsure as to what’s expected in the form of a 5,000-word essay. The problem comes because we lack a coherent approach: different people and organisations own different parts of the digital landscape.

Another panellist who ‘got it’ was Dave White. Happily, both Dave and Helen are expert consultants to the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme I’m supporting! Dave expanded briefly upon his idea of Visitors and Residents but spent most of his time talking about his intriguing idea of there being a ‘Learning Black Market‘ in education. Students, he contends, develop their ‘user-owned’ literacies that are highly effective, but these are devalued or ignored by institutions. An example of this would be their use of Google searches and Wikipedia, which they are loathe to admit to because of uncertainties around where line around ‘plagiarism’ is drawn.

It was a very interesting session, with the 102-strong members of the backchannel having a conversation at the same time. Ewan McIntosh, for example, who’s giving the closing ‘crowdsourced’ keynote trying to make sense of the whole conference, asked how we all came across our digital literacy skills. It was, in effect, a rhetorical question, as we all reflected on the fact that they were primarily self- or peer-taught on a ‘need-to-know’ or ‘interest’ basis.

It certainly got me thinking about the best ways of developing the essential elements of digital literacies I’ve identified in my research and thesis.

Digital literacy and the public/private boundary

Dave White writes:

Social media platforms, with their inherent hyper-connectivity require the user to hold highly complex multi-dimensional maps of them as social spaces, with many thresholds of differing permeability. It’s a long way from closing-the-front-door type methods of creating privacy boundaries. Some people are very skilled at managing the ‘edges’ of these social maps and manage their digital identities with great skill and to great effect. The rest of us have come to expect occasional moments of disjuncture.

I would argue that our notions of the public and the private don’t yet account for the width of these social thresholds or for the speed at which they can shift. We constantly negotiate the boundaries between the public and the private but we have an expectation that these boundaries, while moving, will remain sharp. The web and especially social media platforms defocus our understanding of these boundaries. Our ability to map and remap our relationship with these social thresholds is a key form of digital literacy, and possibly a new life-skill (if I can call it that).

Dave brings up an important element of digital literacy here: the ability to negotiate multiple spaces, some purely digital and some blended. This will inevitably involve shifts, even subtle ones, in the way that an individual projects themselves into that space. The boundary between this as a ‘literacy’ (reading/writing oneself) and a life-skill is itself blurred, I would suggest.