creativity, digital artefacts, digital literacy, online content creation, social digital literacy, storytelling

Learners creating digital artefacts

Guest post by Dr Mark Childs

students' work

The project Geoff Walton and I wrote about for Digital Literacy Unpacked was the AMORES project, headed by CARNet in Croatia, and funded by the Comenius programme: The aim of the project was “Discovering a love for literature through digital collaboration and creativity” a phrase that took us a long time to develop, but time well-spent as this focused our attention on the key goals of the project – yes we were hoping to promote digital literacy and reading, but the over-arching aim was generating a love for literature. The means by which we were hoping to do this is by creating learning activities in which schoolchildren in five different European countries (Denmark, Croatia, Poland, Sweden and the UK) create digital artefacts, mainly videos, and share these with each other.

The project started with a look at the work that had been done in this area – a key one for us was the Sheherazade project – and we also tried to identify where some of the problematic areas in what we were trying to achieve might lie. The full report can be read from here (you’ll need to register first, though).

Although we found lots of examples of students creating artefacts and placing them online, we found very few of them actually co-creating content online. People tend to upload stuff, and go as far as liking or commenting on it, but the incidences of actually sharing and mixing artefacts in an educational context are rare. It’s another part of the myth of the digital native. There’s some interesting studies (Scardamalia, 2004 and Colasante, 2010) using annotation tools to generate “artefact-centred” discussions, but these don’t happen in mainstream education at all. Although we found some great papers on the role of creating artefacts in education (video is very popular). Furthermore, when we looked at the experience of the schools involved, they’ve all got experience of creating videos in the classrooms, but none had really used social media in their education. Indeed, one or two were very reticent about the whole idea, I think a reaction to how it’s been demonised by the educational establishment in their countries.

This meant that in identifying which areas of the project were at risk, this one stood out – not only is there not a background of online content creation, and the social learning that can triggered by content creation, in the literature as a whole, using social media to support learning is not something the schools really do.

We designed the implementation part of the project (the part around teachers trying out the techniques with the students) around three phases, to try and mitigate this risk; rather than trying everything at once, we would build up in stages. The first phase was with the schools creating content in the classroom, with support by the teacher. This content was mainly video and comic strips, although we also introduced the idea of Top Trumps style card games which they designed themselves. This phase was far more successful than we’d hoped. For the younger students, the increase in digital literacy skills, learning how to use the software and being confident with its use, increased substantially. For the older students, there was not so much difference as they had already learnt how to use most of the software for the tasks. The students engaged more reflectively with the texts; creating the artefacts required them to think about the texts more, because they had to re-present them to an audience. Also, creating videos (and comics, but videos particularly) takes time, which meant a longer time focusing on the one text, but without the students becoming bored, as they had something creative to do. This longer time on the texts meant that they could go into more depth. What was unexpected was the growth of many students in the self-efficacy, confidence, affective domain. For many students, this was an opportunity to shine in ways that previous more academically-orientated work had not permitted them to. Being able to create, to show their language skills (including their English as a foreign language skills) or a previously developed skill in video made a huge difference to their experience as learners. Above all though, nearly everyone reported that these sessions were more fun; not only more enjoyable, but creating better relationships between students and teachers because everyone wanted to be there, doing the activities. This phase has just been published in the British Journal of Educational Technology (Walton, Childs and Jugo, 2019).

The second phase was getting the students to communicate the stories they were studying to another school. We wanted the students to also be storytellers as learning is always more effective when it’s reflected upon. We’ve all seen this (you might know it, but do you know that you know it?) Reflection is also an opportunity for students to learn metacognitive skills (how do you learn what you need to learn). For these reasons scaffolding the creation of artefacts and the social aspects of creation into an experiential learning cycle provides a chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. That would be a given in a set of learning activities. However, reading through the Sheherazade report I came across Dahlsveen’s model of storytelling. I can’t reproduce it here (no rights to it), but you can check it out in the original report. It shows the stages that a story goes through from shared creation, to performance, to reaction to revision. This is (according to Dahlsveen and I’d have to agree from my own experience) what makes storytelling such an engaging and motivating experience. What struck me is if you take her model and bring it round into a cycle, it looks like Kolb’s learning cycle (Kolb, 1984) which is itself based on Lewin’s idea of an engineering feedback loop. Here’s a picture of Lewin’s experiential learning cycle and Dahlsveen’s storytelling model as a cycle:

storytelling cycle
Experiential learning cycle and storytelling cycle

So the idea was we could scaffold the students’ experience of storytelling so that it could become an experiential learning experience at the same time as being a motivating, engaging and most importantly fun experience for the children. This would also introduce the techniques of videconferencing. Encouraging this to take place within the project as a whole was taking time to get off the ground, so in one of our face-to-face project meetings, we had the idea to identify one-to-one partnerships between the schools, with a specific goal to share stories where they are similar. This worked much better, although there was some trial and error with setting up effective videoconferences between classes. This could have been circumvented if the practitioners had taken direction from the TEL designers in the project, but in my experience as a TEL designer, this rarely happens. Once the students got over their initial shyness (a learning point for the project: if you are collaborating between schools, make sure that the groups of students are very similar in ages, a two-year age gap can seem enormously intimidating to an 11- or 13-year old).

The third phase was to encourage students to use our social media platform (we used Edmodo) to co-create content; the idea being that students from school A could upload materials for comment on and re-use by School B, and between them they could create shared content. However, the use of the platform was far more limited than we expected, and although eventually some schools began commenting extensively on other students’ work from the same school, the cross-over between schools was limited, and the co-creation non-existent. Although this exactly conformed to others’ experiences, we were still frustrated that none of the procedures we’d put in place to improve matters had worked. The first of these was a training course for the teachers, run by the TEL specialists, during the summer before the implementation phase of the project began. The mistake of the TEL specialists in designing the course was to simply present and discuss the techniques for collaborating online; far more effective would have been to model these activities, so that teachers could see for themselves how these could work. The second procedure was to hold meetings with parents to talk through the project, and what the goals were, and what safeguards there were for interacting online. For many schools this worked, but for one school the policies at the school prevented students from interacting in a social media platform. We should have made it clear earlier on what the expectations were, and why it was important that the project tasks were adhered to. The third error was in underestimating the time taken for students to familiarise themselves with the environment. “Familiarise” not in terms of understanding how it worked, but in feeling comfortable with being present with students from other schools, and sharing and communicating with them. Although students are used to social media platforms, they tend to socialise in those environments with people they already know; befriending new people whom they only know through the platform is not so common, and needs supporting. We also underestimated the reticence to expose their skills in written English to others.

Overall then, the project was a two-thirds success in promoting the learning we wanted. Students learnt far more about the books they were studying, and about themselves, than we anticipated. The younger ones also developed their digital literacy. Their connection with students in other countries was also effective; they shared their experiences of their literature, and their lives, with others across Europe. The co-creation and developing cross-over artefacts did not happen; we had students in Denmark creating superhero Top Trumps and students in the UK creating Greek gods Top Trumps and I was really looking forward to one playing against the other. I would say from the point of view of learning how to implement this international working it was fully successful; we understand the barriers to learning for students, teachers and learning designers far better, and also the ways in which creating artefacts can benefit the practice of all.


Colasante, M. (2010) “Future-focused learning via online anchored discussion, connecting learners with digital artefacts, other learners, and teachers”, Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010, 211 – 221

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Scardamalia, M. (2004). CSILE/Knowledge Forum®. In Education and technology: An encyclopedia (183-192)

Sheherezade Consortium (2011) Sheherazade, 1001 stories for adult learning Theoretical background for methodology: summary,

Walton, G., Childs, M., and Jugo, G. (2019) The creation of digital artefacts as a mechanism to engage students in studying literature. British Journal of Educational Technology. 50 (3). pp 1060 – 1086.

critical digital literacy, critical thinking, digital literacy, information literacy, terminology

The continuing trouble with terminology…

Guest post by Dr Jane Secker

Jane at the JCS conference

I wrote two chapters in Katharine and Jo’s fabulous book, but it’s the one on terminology that I have kept returning to recently. This chapter started life as a paper I delivered as part of a symposium in December 2015 at the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) conference. In fact both Katharine and I were part of this symposium and one of the themes of SRHE conference that year was digital literacy. We were invited by Liz Bennett from University of Hull where I delivered a short paper examining different perspectives on digital literacy. In my paper I focused on how the term digital literacy overlapped with information literacy, which was a field in which librarians had been working for over 40 years.

A few weeks ago I attended the first JCS Online conference, entitled ‘From Digital Literacy to Independent Learning’. JCS Online licence digital resources for the school sector (such as JSTOR and the Gale Cengage newspaper collections). I was honoured to be the opening keynote and started my talk focusing on terminology. I wanted to explain how in my mind information and digital literacy were the same thing. I ended my keynote with a digital literacy challenge to win a copy of Digital Literacy Unpacked, which was awarded to the person who tweeted a selfie at me, with the best statement about why digital and information literacies matter. Well done to Wellington Library for quick thinking and a great quote!

Information and digital literacies matter because we need all people of all ages to be able to critically evaluate the vast quantities of information they encounter.

However, what surprised me was how so few of the delegates, who were largely school librarians, had been to a conference where these issues were discussed in detail. Come to LILAC I urged them, this is what we talk about here all the time! As Chair of the CILIP Information Literacy Group I was surprised that more of them were not members. I’ve been wondering for a while if it might be the terminology that had put them off? The idea that simply switching from talking about information to digital literacy might lead people to engage with an event was fascinating – what is it about the word digital that draws people in? In fact at JCS we spent a lot of time talking about how to foster independent learning skills and critical thinking and far less time talking about technology. But again I reflected on terminology. And I know even within higher education we often operate in silos. As I said in my keynote, collaboration is an easy word to say, but it’s really hard to make it happen and I know since moving into educational development, there are still many misunderstandings in my new profession about what they think librarians or learning technologists might do. Perhaps digital literacy does act as a bridge though, because it’s a new term, not clearly owned by one group?

I find myself using a Venn diagram of overlapping literacies that I created in 2011 increasingly frequently and starting talks with the phrase ‘I call this information literacy but you might call it something else’ and then explaining what it is. But increasingly I feel that I have spent too long arguing over terminology, when it’s the substance of what we are talking about that really matters. However as a former librarian (does one ever recover?) I know terminology matters a huge amount! If we call it information literacy and someone else thinks this is media literacy or digital capabilities it makes doing a comprehensive literature search really difficult. And it can mean that your research goes unnoticed if someone doesn’t know the terms that you use. I have been suspecting for a long time this is what is happening to all the work that librarians do in this arena.

I’ve talked myself around in circles over terminology over the years, alternating between not worrying about what we call it and incessantly worrying that calling it information literacy hasn’t helped us get out of the library bubble. In the era of misinformation and fake news we have to ensure that these abilities are at the heart of our education system, because while I know not one thing can save us, technology alone certainly will not! I gave the delegates at JCS a reading list, which includes two books I’ve read this year that I’d recommend to anyone – Safiya Nobel’s Algorithms of Oppression and Jamie Bartlett’s The People vs Tech. Both books highlighted why we need everyone to be taught how to think critically, to know how to assess and evaluate all forms of information they come into contact with. To understand ethical issues of how to use and attribute information appropriately. Everyone attending JCS Online was in no doubt of the need for these abilities to be embedded across our education system but (again as I said in my keynote) there is going to be one simple solution. It’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of negotiation and a lot of grappling with terminology to make this happen. Perhaps what some are calling ‘critical digital literacy’ might unite and save us? Who knows, but let’s not allow terminology to be another barrier towards working collaboratively to ensure we are developing learners with all the critical abilities they are going to need to thrive in the future.

copyright, Creative Commons, creativity, digital literacy, licensing, Uncategorized

Copyright and Digital Literacy: Rules, Risk and Creativity

Guest blog post by Chris Morrison 

When Katharine and Jo first asked me to write a chapter on copyright and its relationship with digital literacy for their book I was somewhat frantic and not sure I would be able to do it. This was largely because I was in the middle of doing a postgraduate diploma in copyright law at King’s College London whilst also keeping up with demands of the day job at the University of Kent. In addition to this I was also tearing around the country with Jane Secker spreading the word about copyright literacy and playing our copyright games with anyone who was interested.

But thanks to Katharine and Jo’s understanding on deadlines I did manage to find time to get my chapter written. I came up with the idea for the structure whilst Jane and I were on the train across to LILAC 2017 in Swansea and I literally wrote it down on a napkin. I’ve always thought that whole napkin/back of fag packet thing was a bit of a cliché, but it was helpful to get things written down visually without getting distracted by digital devices. Here’s what I came up with…

Digital literacy on a napkin

Here’s what I was getting at:

  1. “They infringe” Copyright provides exclusive rights to authors and producers for copying and communicating their works and the law includes penalties for those who use content without authorisation. However, digital technology makes it incredibly easy to infringe copyright. My sense was that when considering copyright many people are likely to be infringing unwittingly, and may believe that ‘fair use’ (more of which later) is a ‘get out of jail free card’.
  2. “Stop them” I think the natural tendency for those who are responsible for copyright in education, once they are aware of the potential consequences of using copyright material, is to try and shut down “non-compliant” activity that might trespass on those rights. But this can be problematic.
  3. “CC” A lot of people are aware that Creative Commons licences provide considerable freedoms for those wanting to build upon the works of others and share their own creativity. This for me was the beginning of the journey back in the direction where we started: somewhere not fundamentally about fear or prohibition. I believe Creative Commons licences are excellent and I’m a big fan of the way they’ve made sharing of copyright material simpler and more user friendly. However, I wanted to communicate the limitations of using only Creative Commons licensed material. Despite there being over a billion CC-licensed works, the complete range of artistic, cultural and scientific material which people might have a legitimate interest in using is many times greater than that. This was where I wanted to talk about the importance of copyright exceptions.
  4. “& Exceptions” (not sure why I wrote “2” next to this on the napkin). Exceptions are the defences you can rely on when you use other people’s copyright works without permission for societally beneficial purposes. Although they require a bit of understanding about how they work (e.g. in the UK we have ‘fair dealing’, not ‘fair use’ which operates in subtly different ways), they are a fundamentally important aspect of learning, teaching and creating new knowledge.
  5. “Citation and attribution” The end of the journey was to return to the beginning by way of stressing the importance of attribution and citation. Whilst this isn’t another ‘get out of jail free card’ it is almost always necessary to comply with the terms of a licence or to take advantage of a fair dealing (or fair use) defence. It seemed to me that in the end there is not necessarily a huge gap between what you may lawfully and ethically do with copyright material, and what many people believe they should be able to do. But to get there requires some understanding of the territory.

When I pitched this idea to Katharine at the LILAC conference dinner I think she looked a bit unsure at my slightly crazed rantings and the waving of the napkin [see footnote]. I think she might have said something along the lines of “and aren’t you going to mention your and Jane’s copyright games?”, to which I answered something along the lines of “yes, of course I was going to do that all along” even though for some reason I’d totally forgotten about them.

Anyway, you can now read the chapter available via Kent Academic Repository here as well as on the site. It includes all of the above as well as being Creative Commons licensed (CC-BY-NC). I’m very proud of the way it’s turned out, as well as the fact that it’s in such an excellent book with contributions from lots of very clever and talented people. I’d like to thank Jo and Katharine as well as Damian Mitchell from Facet for putting up with my forensic analysis of the contributors’ publishing agreement, and for selecting my chapter to be the one available on open access. And I’d also like to thank Jane for her help in getting it from napkin to final manuscript.

For those who would like to explore these issues in more detail, the call for contributions to Icepops 2019 has just been launched.

[editor note: I was struggling to hear about the enthusiastic hubbub of the festivities, and happy to hear any plan however crazed!]

creativity, critical thinking, digital literacy, fake news, social digital literacy, terminology, Uncategorized

Digital literacy unpacked launch event

On 8th November we were delighted to welcome some of our lovely authors to the Open University Library to celebrate the publication of Digital literacy unpacked.

Following lunch and cake, we were treated to a series of talks from five contributors to the book – Jane Secker, Clare Killen, Josie Fraser, Caroline Tagg and Geoff Walton – covering terminology, coaching, critical digital literacy, and creative use of digital practices in schools. It provided the ideal inspiration for the finale to the day, led by Mark Childs – a splendidly creative depiction of the student digital literacy journey, using lego, plasticine or drawing.

Some highlights from the day are featured here. Presentations will be shared via this blog as soon as we can make them available.

Meanwhile, here are two videos that give a flavour of some of the topics under discussion:

Facebook, filter bubbles and fake news (Caroline Tagg and Philip Seargeant)

Mio my son (created by Danish schoolchildren and shared by Geoff Walton and Mark Childs) – the inspiration for our own versions of the student digital literacy journey.

A future post by Mark Childs will expand on some of the learning from the AMORES project. This found that school pupils’ motivation to engage with literature increased when they retold the story to an audience of their peers using e-artefacts.

critical thinking, digital literacy, fake news, social digital literacy

Fake news and the need for ‘social’ digital literacy

Over the next few weeks we will be featuring posts from some of the contributors to Digital Literacy Unpacked. The first article is by Philip Seargeant and Caroline Tagg.

The phrase ‘fake news’ has been popularised in recent years as a result of changes in the political landscape, both in the UK and the USA. Lecturer in English Language and Applied Linguistics, Caroline Tagg, and Senior Lecturer in English Language and Applied Linguistics, Philip Seargeant, reflect on the conclusions of the recently published interim report on ‘fake news’ by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, and the UK government’s response.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared on the OU News website on 1 August 2018

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

On Tuesday 23rd October 2018, the UK government issued its response to the interim report on fake news, published by the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee. Much of the Committee’s report’s focused on the reform and regulation of electoral practices in the era of social media. However, as language and education specialists, we were pleased that it also recognised the need for ‘a unified approach to digital literacy’, including changes to the school curriculum and a public information campaign. The government’s subsequent response, while skirting many of the recommendations, did highlight its own commitment to ‘ensure that all citizens – not just those in full or part-time education – have the digital literacy skills needed to spot dangers’. In this article we reflect on the findings – and limitations – of this aspect of the committee’s interim report, focusing specifically on the role that higher education institutions can play in tackling the phenomenon.

Exploitation of personal data for the purposes of propaganda

 The DCMS’s enquiry was set up in January 2017 to look at ways of combatting the ‘widespread dissemination … and acceptance as fact of stories of uncertain provenance or accuracy’. As the enquiry developed, a particular concern for the committee became the way that data is used and shared, and its exploitation for purposes of propaganda. For this reason, much of the report focuses on the influence of technology – and the companies and organisations which work with this.

In an interview we conducted with the select committee’s chair, Damian Collins, he pointed to areas where he felt government was able to act to combat the current situation. These include transparency around online information, data protection laws to ‘check that [companies are] holding data in a way that complies with the law’, and ensuring that social media companies have a legal ‘responsibility to curate that space in a responsible manner’. These issues are now explicitly laid out in the report, with most recommendations involving changes to electoral law and regulation of social media companies.

Why do we share fake news?

But technology is only one part of the equation. It is also important to understand why people share false stories, and the effect this type of misinformation actually has on people’s actions. After all, the spread of misinformation online is related to how people use sites like Facebook – and this is shaped by the fact that Facebook is, first and foremost, a social space.

The report recognises this, citing the evidence we gave to the Committee in January that ‘to many people Facebook was not seen as a news media site, but a “place where they carry out quite complex maintenance and management of their social relationships”’. As our research shows, when people post to Facebook they potentially address a range of different social ties, from close family members to colleagues and acquaintances. It can be a tricky process to manage these various relationships all at the same time while not offending or upsetting anyone. Because of this, what someone shares or likes is often determined as much by the ties they have with their network as by a strict evaluation of its credibility.

Digital literacy – the fourth pillar of education

For this reason, as we argued in our own evidence to the committee, any solution to the problem needs to include educational measures alongside technological ones. In line with this, the report rightly recommends that digital literacy become ‘the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, writing and maths’ in the school curriculum and that this requires co-ordinated action between the Departments of DCMS and Education, funded in part by an educational levy on social media platforms.

The vital role of Higher Education in providing digital literacy skills

This is all very welcome. One limitation, however, is that the measures focus too narrowly on data management and technology’s role in the spread of information. Our research suggests that, along with the current recommendations, education should also include what we call social digital literacies. Alongside traditional digital literacies skills, we need to provide greater critical awareness among the general public of how our social interactions and relationships play an important part in influencing our decisions regarding what to share or like – and how this in turn can contribute to the circulation and visibility of news in the online environment.

A second limitation of the report is that the educational measures it sets out fail, as yet, to envisage a role for higher education in equipping people with the digital literacy skills necessary for tackling fake news. This can hopefully be reconsidered, not least because, given their out-reach programmes and use of online resources, higher education institutions like the Open University are very well-placed to reach the government’s key target of equipping all citizens with the necessary skills, not just those within the education system. Furthermore, not only do UK universities have a great deal of experience in teaching digital literacy skills, but one key area taught in higher education is precisely that set of critical reading and thinking skills that social media users require if they are to learn how to evaluate online news and identify false information, and to appreciate how these might be shaped by their social concerns. For the recommended ‘unified public awareness initiative’ to be successful, it needs to include this critical element which will enable people to adapt their skills both to changes in technology and to developments in the on-going attempts made to mislead them.