JISC Developing Digital Literacies projects blog roundup

Blog definition

Digital literacy vs. Information literacy

In an interesting post on Reading’s Digitally Ready blog, Helen Hathaway notes that ‘digital literacy’ often has a functional skills definition:

Much of the discussion on “digital literacy” seems to look at the plumbing of digital tools rather than the quality of the information flowing through them, or the nuts and bolts of technology rather than what it is supporting – and neglect the notion of literacy. For me being digitally literate means having all the cognitive skills of information literacy PLUS the technical skills to make good use of resources PLUS a dimension of creativity in outputs which are difficult to achieve through the written word and an immediacy and step change in communication whether as a learner, teacher, support staff or creator.

Project as programme?

Chris Follows at the University of the Arts’ DIAL blog reflects on the growth of their JISC-funded Developing Digital Literacies project into a university-wide programme:

The DIAL project was always going to be bigger than a project and by acknowledging this and looking at DIAL as a potential UAL programme we can better build a case for developing a UAL wide digital strategy and sustainability plans to develop and maintain progressive digital practice at UAL. So DIAL will run as a programme and do its best to acknowledge as wide a spectrum of issues as possible although it can not address everything. DIAL will concentrate supporting a small number of DIAL project groups, these focused mostly ‘grassroots’ projects  will address issues identified in the DIAL project plan, ‘Open education at UAL’ is one of DIAL’s first pilot groups

University College London presentation

Representatives from the UCL Digital Department project gave a presentation last week on their work thus far. Their slides can be found before:

All of the blogs for those projects involved in the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme can be found here.

Image CC BY dougbelshaw

What’s up with evaluation for developing digital literacies?

by Jay Dempster, JISC Evaluation Associate


Sound evaluation designs for developing digital literacies stem from projects achieving clarity in two aspects: first, having a strong sense of what they are trying to do, for whom (beneficiaries) and in what ways; and second, identifying relevant and valid ways of measuring outcomes related to those aims and activities.

Outcomes may be short term, tangible outputs and benefits within the project’s funding period, medium term indicators of impact during and beyond the project lifetime, or shared successes that make a difference over the long term to institutional strategies and practices.

In the context of the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme, a review of project plans and discussion with project teams reveals aims and outcomes that span various levels and affect many different stakeholders, including:

With such scope and complexity come inevitable challenges to evaluation. As with any change initiative, it’s been important for projects to avoid trying to ‘change the world’; to resist biting off more than they can chew within the funded time frame and resource. Focusing early activities on baselining has been one way of identifying the relevant scope and parameters.

Right now, the synthesis and evaluation support role has been about helping projects to clarify, ratify and stratify the framework they are using for developing digital literacies, as well as to identify the practicalities of baselining methods and tools. Evaluation is supported by baselining, but it’s doing a different job. Support and guidance has centred on not seeing evaluation necessarily as separate and distinct to core proejct activities.

For many projects, baselining has helped kick start this more integrated approach to evaluation, one that involves key stakeholders in continuous data gathering and reflection. Some of the audits and surveys created for baselining may be reused or repurposed at key stages across the project lifecycle. Project plans have evolved as teams find opportunities to carry out evaluation tasks as part of the project’s development and consultative activities.

Projects will also need to reflect regularly on the effectiveness of their work processes and collaborations to maximise their short and medium term outcomes and bring about their organisational change objectives in the longer term. Projects are encouraged to develop their plans iteratively and transparently on the programme wiki, sharing the various ways in which they have been capturing evidence that is both credible and relevant.

We’ll be running an ‘evaluation’ webinar next month to talk through how projects have approached some of the ideas and challenges emerging from their plans and baseline reports. As we resolve some common challenges of evaluation collaboratively, we’ll be back to blog some more.

Image CC BY-NC-SA ecstaticist

Guardian live chat: Developing digital literacies in Higher Education

Guardian live chat - Developing Digital Literacies in Higher Education

Last Friday a number of those involved with the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme participated in a Guardian live chat online event.

Comments are now closed, but it’s worth going through the whole transcript. Some highlights are included below.

Helen Beetham, a consultant for the JISC Digital Literacies programme commented:

It’s easy to get hung up on terms, and I think we can agree that what we are talking about is the interface of academic and digital practice – and the personal capability to engage in both. For me, ‘literacy’ has some currency as a term for describing foundational capabilities that have a lifelong, lifewide impact.


It’s always useful to have different terms in use – I think it’s a sign of a healthy, developing field of interest!

Sarah Knight re-iterated JISC’s reference point for a definition of ‘digital literacy’:

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

Gwen van der Velden raised an interesting issue:

I am struggling to see digitial literacies as a separate subject. I’d rather assume that digital literacy is an embedded characteristic of so much of what we do, that it would be hard to keep it separate.

In terms of simply getting started with digital literacies, Josie Fraser provided some advice:

My top tip is to begin by exploring the ways in which the group are already using mobile and web based technologies. Many of them will already engaging with tech for personal use – Skyping relatives, keeping in touch on Facebook, using mobile phones etc.

Dave White was interested at the point at which we can consider a skill, competence or attribute no longer part of digital literacy:

When does a Digital Literacy become a Traditional Literacy? Is texting a Traditional Literacy yet?

There’s much to read, think about and discuss in the exchanges over at the Guardian live chat. In addition, at least a couple of those involved have blogged about the event:

Fascinating insight into technologies being used by the JISC Digital Literacies projects

Sheila MacNeill from JISC CETIS wrote a fascinating post earlier this week about some of the technologies being used by projects who are part of the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme.

Technologies being used by JISC DL projects

Interestingly, the larger bubbles (which indicate more planned use) all tend to have a social element to them.

Sheila will be following up this work throughout the programme. We look forward to her finding out more about how the projects are choosing and using technologies:

One of the things I was curious about was if these projects would be more “literate” in their choices of technologies to use, and what would be the balance between use of institutionally based services and more general web based services. I don’t think I have an answer to the question, but I have seen a healthy sense of pragmatism displayed by all the projects in terms of their approaches.

Sheila’s full post: http://bit.ly/AhGgLR

Listen or watch again: Outputs from JISC ALLE session

Last Friday we had the privilege of welcoming Lyn Greaves and her colleagues at the University of West London to present some of the findings from their JISC-funded work on an Anytime Learning Literacies Environment (ALLE). Slides, audio and a recording of the Blackboard Collaborate session can be found below:


Speaker icon Listen to recording

Blackboard icon Watch recording

PDF icon Read chat transcript

Book now: Outcomes from JISC-funded ALLE project session


After the success of the Visitors and Residents session before Christmas, we’re excited to announce another equally-exciting (and free!) session for which booking is now open.

Lyn Greaves from the University of West London will share the findings of the JISC-funded ALLE project. The session will run from 14:00 on Friday 20th January 2012 and Lyn’s overview can be found below:

Whilst there is a wealth of experience across the sector in supporting digital and information literacies with our learners, it is often dispersed and difficult for students most in need to access at the appropriate point in their studies. They need the very skills they are searching for before they can find them. Using the LLiDA findings our response was the development of a digital learning literacy environment.

The literacy environment is comprised of a series of learning objects organised in three parts: the Academic Journey, the Library Learning Journey and Digital Tools for Learning. The literacy environment has been used and evaluated by over 200 first-year business students.

As well as creating new resources, existing interactive materials customised for generic reuse were brought together in a cohesive and structured framework enclosed in a wraparound shell. We will share how we made effective use of ‘best’ pedagogy knowledge and resources to maximise OER potential.

Please do book your place using the following link (and encourage others to do likewise!)

Book now: http://bit.ly/jisc-alle

Image CC BY kevin dooley

Looking forward to events in 2012

Image of hollySeveral JISC e-Learning programmes started in late 2011, including the Assessment & Feedback and Digital Literacies programmes. As we’ve already flagged-up, building on the success of the Digital Visitors and Residents online session, we’ve got several free events coming up which may be of interest:

Outcomes of ALLE JISC Digital Literacies project
Lyn Greaves, Thames Valley University
(14:00 GMT, Friday 20th January 2012)

Making Assessment Count project
Peter Chatterton and Gunther Saunders, University of Westminster
(13:00 GMT, Friday 3rd February 2012)

e-Portfolios to support assessment and feedback
Emma Purnell and Geoff Rebbeck, University of Wolverhampton
(13:00 GMT, Friday 17th February 2012)

Digital Enhance Patchwork Text Assessment (DePTA) project
Caroline Macangelo, CDEPP
(13:00 FMT, Friday 24th February 2012)

Keep an eye out for further details of these events – or better yet, subscribe for free updates using RSS or email!

Guardian article on JISC’s Digital Literacies work

Digital Literacies wordle

An article by JISC Programme Manager Sarah Knight in last week’s Guardian highlighted the work of JISC in the digital literacies arena over the last few years:

Work by the JISC/British Library commissioned Researchers of Tomorrow team shows that there is little difference in the capabilities of younger and older students when it comes to online research. Most learners use only basic functionality and are reluctant to explore the capabilities of technology, preferring to passively consume content rather than create or curate it. The same study into young post doctorate researchers’ behaviour shows that they are unaware of some of the digital tools available to them.

Looking at the other side of the coin, universities and colleges do not always take sufficient steps to help their students acquire these skills. A JISC report, Thriving in the 21st century, found that there is poor support for learners to make effective use of technologies for learning, and in some institutions there are still barriers to the use of personal technologies, such as mobile phones, and social networks, such as Facebook. Tutors are still insufficiently competent and confident with digital technologies for learning, despite evidence that tutor skills and confidence with technology are critical to learners’ development. There is also often a lack of opportunity and motivation for learners to integrate digital literacy in authentic tasks.

The article goes on to flag up the current JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme.

Read the article in full at the Guardian website.

Digital Visitors and Residents: Project Feedback

Last Friday we had the privilege of welcoming David White (University of Oxford) and Dr. Lynn Silipigni Connaway (OCLC) to present some of the findings from their JISC-funded work on Digital Visitors and Residents. Slides, audio and a recording of the Blackboard Collaborate session can be found below:

Speaker icon Listen to recording of Digital Visitors and Residents: Project Feedback

Blackboard Collaborate icon Watch recording of Digital Visitors and Residents: Project Feedback

Update: Thanks to Ann Priestley who has given us a nudge to get the chat transcript up along with links to blog posts about the session:

Read chat transcript

Read blog posts by Dave White, Bex Lewis, Helen Beetham and Alan Cann about the session.

Social or Professional?

Attending the Developing Digital Literacies programme start-up meeting was an excellent way to get an overview of the projects within the strand. Each project had 2 minutes to describe their approach and planned activities. (The 2 minutes were strictly managed by Marianne Sheppard’s lightly avant-garde use of a ‘barking dog’ alarm.)

All of the projects had also created posters which lined the room with varying levels of text, graphics and diagrams. Reading the posters and discussing them with project team members I was struck again how broad the notion of digital literacy was. On closer inspection I discovered that it was possible to identify a key phrase on each poster which was indicative of that particular project’s underlying approach to developing digital literacies. These phrases made visible two standpoints:

1. Digital literacy as professional practice
Key skills or approaches which can be closely mapped to professional goals or standards. There is a sense here that digital literacies will be defined in terms of ‘competencies’ and that they should sit in a larger professional framework or tool-kit.

2. Digital literacy as a social practice
The notion that digital literacy is closely tied to identity and that there is not a hard line between the professional and the personal. The approach here is usually more individualistic and based on ideas around becoming a legitimate participant in experiential spaces.

Generally I would expect the professional practice approach to be ‘top-down’ while the social practice route is likely to facilitate or make visible ‘bottom-up’ activity. I’m not certain that this will be the case though as the link between these underlying approaches and actual project activities is likely to vary significantly.

I have captured the key phrases from the posters and mapped them on a continuum spanning from the professional to the social.

Professional Practice

“Developing professionalism in the digital environment”

“…professionalise the digital literacy of teaching administrators”

“…develop a range of short qualifications for both lecturers and students in digital literacy…”

“…a set of core graduate attributes, including Digital and Information Literacy”

“For work and employability. For learning. For the future.”

“…involving students as ‘change agents’ in design and delivery of the curriculum”

“Students as ePioneers”

“Personal Actualisation and Development through Digital Literacies in Education”

“Digital literacies as social practice”

Social Practice

This is of course a crude mapping and I’d be interested to hear from projects if they feel they have been positioned incorrectly or if the phrase I have chosen is not a fair representation.

Digital Literacies spectrum

My own ‘Visitors and Residents’ project which aims to support a number of JISC activities is developing an mapping tool which contains an vertical axis with the terms ‘Personal’ and ‘Institutional’ on it. For early stage students the distinction between the personal and the institutional is marked but as they progress through their educational career we envisage this compartmentalisation blurring.

It is certainly not the case that digital literacies as a social practice or as a professional practice can be mapped directly to the personal and the institutional but there may be connections. For example:

The web gives us the technical capability to collapse geography and to blur traditional role boundaries but the extent to which this is actually taking place culturally is difficult to quantify.

Whatever you views on the questions above it’s important to recognise that staff and students are already employing many successful digital literacies. We need to understand what these are and in what context they are being used if we are going to ‘develop’ them or if we want to embed new modes of engagement. The digital literacies we consider to be crucial must be positioned relative to user owned literacies that have already ‘disappeared into use’.

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