Looking to the future: general recommendations
1.Tutors need to be proactive in helping learners to develop learning and digital literacies
The evidence is growing that despite familiarity with personal technologies, learners are generally poor at deploying their digital skills in support of learning. They lack critical media and information literacies, and struggle to translate the capabilities they do have into different contexts. Because of this they remain strongly influenced by their lecturers in the technologies and strategies they use for learning. Tutors’ confidence and capacity to be innovative in their use of technologies are critical to learners’ development.
2. Learning and digital literacies need to be embedded into the curriculum
Tutors and central service staff, including ‘outreach’ and hybrid staff such as subject librarians, must work together to embed opportunities for literacy development into the curriculum. To take information literacy as an example, while the first four ‘pillars’ of SCONUL’s information literacy framework deal with generic skills of planning, searching and managing information, the remaining three deal with information in ways that make little sense outside of a curriculum context. ‘Compare and evaluate, ‘organise, apply and evaluate’ and ‘synthesise’ are all tasks that call on disciplinary means for making and communicating meaning. It could be argued, indeed, that these disciplinary means are what elevate information into useful knowledge. Judith Peacock, a pioneer of integrating academic and information literacies in Australia, has summarised the evidence that information literacy demands ‘a fusion of discipline and generic knowledge and skills, [drawing] upon the full potential of problem-based learning experiences and critical thinking development ‘(Peacock, 2005).
3. Learners need to be engaged in their own development
The literature on developing effective learners highlights motivation and self-efficacy as key factors. (e.g. Zimmerman). There is now evidence to suggest that separate skills modules undermine motivation. The focus of provision in curricula should, therefore, be on developing understanding and practice through authentic academic tasks, in digital contexts where appropriate. Assessments must be designed to recognise learners’ developing literacies, and feedback must make transparent which strategies lead to success.
Self-efficacy in development can be promoted through timely feedback and regular reviews of progress. Extra-curricular opportunities are important here, including workshops, surgeries, self-study materials and guidance sessions, though some learners will need to be reached pro-actively e.g. by student ‘ambassadors’ and outreach workers in departments, or on referral from tutors. A deficit model is unhelpful: learners own knowledge practices and study habits need to be acknowledged while introducing them to a range of successful academic strategies, and the idea of academic communication as taking a stance. Learners benefit from activities such as portfolio building and PDP, which are under their control. Through reflection and practice, skills can become internalised, integrated, and more transferable.
The social aspects of literacy development also need to be acknowledged, for example through peer review, promoting opportunities for peer support, and collaborative tasks.
4. Academic staff need to be engaged in rethinking their own knowledge practices
We have already noted that there are different traditions of meaning-making, and that this might constitute the gap between information and knowledge which learners have to cross if they are to succeed in their chosen subject. The Glasgow Caledonian i-learn strategy expresses this extremely well, calling for students to develop an ‘awareness of the provisional nature of knowledge, how knowledge is created, advanced and renewed, and the excitement of developing knowledge’. But academic staff have few opportunities to reflect on the impact digital technologies are having in their field, and those opportunities which exist e.g. around curriculum (re)validation and review do not always foster an open and enquiring approach.
There are far more examples of embedded practice in professional and vocational subjects, especially where professional bodies are open to exploring how practice in their profession is changing. Less well embedded are notions of digital scholarship – the changing research practices of disciplines and how these need to be reflected in learning tasks and assessments. Disciplines also have ideas to contribute to generic notions of ‘digital literacy’. How do specific subject areas make meaning in digital contexts? Analyse and collate data? Innovate (ideas, products, social systems, technologies, interfaces, designs and design protocols)? Think creatively using digital tools? Solve problems of the digital economy and society?
Anecdotally, academics report that learners struggle particularly with tasks of judgement and evaluation, i.e. when they are required to take up a stance in relation to knowledge. This throws up the question of how students develop and manage different identities – including as learners, researchers, professionals, and members of a community – and how they can own their own judgments in an age of shared opinions and ‘the power of the crowd’. Other potential clashes of academic and internet knowledge practice are noted below.
potential clashes of academic and internet knowledge practice
|Academic knowledge practice
|Internet knowledge practice
|The individual occupies a stance/position from which a judgement can be made
|The individual is ‘a node through which various kinds of message pass’ (Lyotard)
|Quality of method
|Quantity of links/citations/uses
|(Disciplinary) tradition of what knowledge matters, and how it comes to mean
|The eternal ‘now’ of what technology makes possible
|How I come to know
|Who I know
|Synthesis (in a dialectical sense)
|Discipline/profession as resources (of methods, codes of practice, etc)
|Multi-modality, interdisciplinarity as resources
|Qualification (followed by reputation)
|Subject knowledge and know-how
|Generic skills and aptitudes | ‘just in time’ knowledge and how-how
|Text-based communication of ideas
|Multiple media used to express ideas
|Sharing within scholarly communities, according to established roles and rules
|Sharing without boundaries, across ephemeral and unregulated networks
5. Information literacy needs to be broadened to include – or needs to be supplemented with – communication and media literacies
The distinction between information and communication technology is becoming less clear, thanks to practices associated with wikis, blogs, social tagging, commenting, file sharing, and online communities. Academic practice is following – and in some instances leading – this trend, so it makes little sense to support information literacies in isolation from these other practices. It is noticeable that use of the term ‘digital literacies’ is strongly associated with web 2.0 applications in our study, while ‘information literacies’ is used almost exclusively to refer to digital (content) resources.
The agenda needs to be clearly formulated around informed and critical use of technology for learning. SCONUL’s fifth pillar, ‘the ability to compare and evaluate information obtained from different sources’ seems in Moira Bent’s recent review to overlap considerably with what we have called critical or media literacy: ‘knowledge about the way the media operate, and certain processes which are particularly important in the academic context, such as peer review of scholarly articles’. Different disciplines demand proficiency in different (combinations of) media, and create/share meaning in different ways: learners need to both inhabit and critique these modes.
Current information literacy models also tend to assume that academic ideas will be expressed (predominantly) in text. All the background research points to the need for learners to become proficient at creative self expression, and critical argumentation, in a range of media. This presents many challenges, not least in relation to assessment.
In relation to digital technology itself, the point is not to encourage more technology use but to encourage more insightful, more reflective and more critical choices about technology and its role in learning.
6. Employability needs to be more carefully and critically defined
Employability at present is very variously interpreted. It appears in many strategies but very few actual interventions in student learning. In some institutions and contexts, ’employability’ seems to have given way to the ’21st Century Graduate’ as a concept, recognising that a college or university education is only the starting point for most graduates, and that employees in high-skill sectors will continue learning (and providing markets for FE and HE provision) throughout their careers.
There is a need for further investigation, and strategic thinking, around:
- economic futures: are we educating students for highly skilled jobs in a global knowledge economy, or are such jobs likely to be in a small minority? In which case, should the curriculum focus more broadly on using ICT critically, confidently, capably, in a wide range of different social and workplace setttings?
- entitlement and diversity: is there just one ‘digital literacy’ or many? How should a basic entitlement to digital technologies, networks and skills be balanced against individuals’ diverse learning pathways and personal preferences?
- citizenship: how students are prepared for a digital society – issues of participation, social justice, personal safety, ethical behaviours, managing identity and reputation – are important as well as how they are prepared for the digital economy
- the role of postgraduate study: does the growth and diversity of the PG market entail a rethinking of the purposes of an undergraduate degree?
- responsiveness: how well and quickly provision can respond to changes in the needs of the digital economy and society
- accreditation: what forms of recording and recognition of achievement are relevant in a digital economy and society?
Again, curriculum teams and professional bodies need to consider what literacies and competences graduates will need, bearing in mind that they are likely to have several careers and that none may be in the field they have studied. They also need to consider what values, identities and attributes uniquely qualify graduates in their field, against a backdrop of change (technologies, learners, markets etc). These need to be reflected in the learning tasks, teaching approaches and assessment regimes of the curriculum, while continuing to be supported by specialist staff e.g. careers, and by cross-cutting processes such as portfolio building and PDP.
7. Summary: Institutional provision should encompass:
- a generic entitlement to access and skills, articulated in terms of ICT support, information literacy, learning opportunities and study skills
- recognition of, and support where appropriate for, for learners’ use of personal technologies and social networks to support their studies
- clarity about what it means to know, to apply knowledge, to be critical and creative, in different subjects and disciplines, including the impact of digital technologies
- review, feedback and recognition (e.g. assessment) of learners’ practices as they develop
- whole-institution, cross-context support for portfolio building so individual learners can integrate these elements – access and skills, subject-specific understanding, and personal practice/know-how – through reflection and planning
Integration cannot be done on behalf of learners, but learners’ capacity to integrate their knowledge and skills, to become more confident and self-directed actors in their learning, can be supported:
- Learners can be supported directly through practices of reflection, planning, authentic tasks, a focus on making meaning in specific contexts, and emphasis on their self-efficacy
- Academic staff can rethink the role of the digital across their scholarly and professional practice, and rethink their teaching in light of this
- Staff in departments and services can work as ambassadors and arbitrageurs across organisational boundaries
- Institutions can develop more integrated policies and strategies for learning in a digital age
- Education as a field of study and practice can embrace its own interdisciplinarity and draw on the strengths of related professional and scholarly fields e.g. librarianship, e-learning, learning development, social theory, adult learning, studies of technology and innovation. Digital literacies need to be set against a range of theoretical backgrounds, including learning theory.
Recommendations to the JISC
- Future investigations in this area should focus on institutional and whole-curriculum approaches to embedding digital literacies, and identifying success factors for learners
- Work with HEA Subject Centres to articulate the meaning of digital literacies in different subject areas and to identify ‘deeply’ embedded exemplars to add to the existing database. Support subject communities to adapt curriculum frameworks and embed new practices around digital literacy, in light of increasing multidisciplinarity and the changing technological and student landscape.
- Build partnerships and channels of communication with staff involved in learning/learner development, who are often at the forefront of the clash in digital knowledge practices, and with whom JISC has little history of engagement
- Build partnerships and channels of communication with careers staff, engaging them with projects across the curriculum (e.g. around e-portfolios, learner records, employer engagement and lifelong learning), as well as CV building and job-seeking.
- Evaluate outputs of lifelong learning projects for evidence of what literacies are of long-term value to learners and other stakeholders
- Work with SCONUL to redevelop/broaden their 7 pillars and ensure JISC community is aware of them and actively embedding and adapting them to institutional need
- Further develop the materials currently available through the LliDA wiki, particularly:
- The framework of frameworks as a tool for modelling institutional policy, and/or as an infokit
- The audit tools and guidance as a resource for institutions, with evidence of their effectiveness as a change process
- Further analysis of rich data from both audit and exemplars of practice
- discussion around the conclusions and recommendations
- Consider funding pilot projects focusing on:
- Feedback on assignments as a means of giving personalised guidance and direction learners to personalised support materials
- Integrating e-portfolio, CV-building, learner records, advice and guidance, around issues of employability or graduate skills
- How learning pathways e.g. as expressed in e-portfolios or learner records, can intersect with curriculum processes in ways that make the curriculum more sensitive to individual requirements
- Use of competence-tagging (tagging of learning outcomes AND learner pathways in relation to target competences) for joining up provision across departments and services
- Communication and media literacies , either treated as an extension of information literacies or as critical skills in their own right
- Skills required by learners to integrate real and virtual spaces in their understanding of their subject]
- Embedding digital literacies in non-prof/vocational subjects, and/or investigating how literacies are already being deeply/tacitly embedded in these subjects
- Projects working on boundaries of institutional and personal technologies and how learners negotiate those to create their own learning contexts