Teaching digital literacies

Last week I attended an event run by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professional’s Multimedia and IT special interest group, The Digital Individual: how to become a better digital citizen, teacher and researcher.

The event focused on digital literacies from the perspective of both learners and teachers. The Jisc definition of digital literacies was used to frame the discussion:

Digital literacies are those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.

Iain Baird started us off by looking at the evolving digital student experience. We discussed how digital has changed our work as librarians and information professionals, and our relationship to the people we work with.

Claire Beecroft presented a case study of the digital teacher and of her work creating courses for online learners. The featured image for this post is taken from her slides.

Luke Burton rounded off the day with a look at the role of public libraries in shaping digital citizens. He presented a brief history of the purpose of public libraries and how Newcastle Libraries are teaching information and digital literacies through a variety of activities.

Challenges for educators

Two key challenges discussed on the day have stuck with me.

The first touches on our own professional development as educators. How do we develop the skills within our teams to teach digital literacies? The development of teaching in this area is often led by one or two interested individuals who take responsibility for learning new skills and approaches. This is rarely formal, and not necessarily an expectation or requirement of their role. What happens in an organisation when those individuals move on? The challenge for organisations is how to build on those interests, to keep developing the skills of these front runners and filter that knowledge to others. To shift the teaching of digital literacies, and the development of staff to be able to do that, from an add-on to part of the fabric of the service.

Secondly, we need to move the focus of our teaching away from specific tools and systems. Instead, we need to develop the capabilities of learners to explore new technologies and critically evaluate them. We need to give people the confidence and ability to try out a new tool for themselves, ask questions, understand the benefits and costs of using them, and decide whether they’re worthwhile.

Following the event, I read about the House of Lords Communication Committee recommendation that children need to learn digital literacy alongside the three Rs. While I completely agree with this there are a lot of questions that I’m searching for answers to:

  • Who sets the curriculum?
  • Who are the teachers?
  • What skills do the teachers have and need?
  • How do we develop those skills if the teachers don’t already have them?
  • What about the school leavers, graduates, employees who have already missed out on learning these skills through formal education?

I’m coming at this from the perspective of an educator in higher education. So it’s this last question that is particularly prominent in my thinking.

I’ll be exploring the topic further on this blog in the future, trying to find answers to some of those questions. I’m interested to hear from you if you’ve got any thoughts on the subject too.

Image credit: #6wordmission by Denise Krebs.

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