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

Digital literacy unpacked is out!

We’re very pleased to announce that the book is now out, and available through a number of retailers, which you can find by doing a quick Google of the title. Full details of Digital literacy unpacked are on the Facet Publishing website.

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I was talking to a close family member and they – reasonably enough – asked ‘so, what is digital literacy’? It seems a good starting point for our first blog post, because it’s a question with no straightforward answer. In many ways, it’s why we wanted to put the book together. If you were to count up the person hours spent attempting to come up with a definition, it would probably run into several years.

Trying to answer this question has also been the impetus for the creation of numerous frameworks over the last few years, including the Open University’s Digital and information literacy framework. More recently, Jisc has developed its Digital capabilities framework, with a whole range of supporting resources to promote the development of digital capabilities (or fluency, or confidence, or literacy) for staff and students. Clare Killen’s chapter on ‘Collaboration and coaching’ provides an overview of some of the frameworks and approaches that exist. Josie Fraser’s case study of ‘DigiLit Leicester’ is an example of using a framework in practice, as well as of promoting the creation and sharing of open resources.

Language is important to get a shared understanding, and this is addressed in the book by several contributors through discussion of terminology and definitions. Gilster (1997, cited in Jane Secker’s chapter on ‘The trouble with terminology’, 2018) saw digital literacy as ‘literacy in the digital age’. It includes skills, but goes beyond these to encompass context-specific practices, attitudes and behaviours. At the heart of digital literacy is the ability to think critically about information, interactions and tools in a digital environment. This has clear synergies with the updated CILIP definition of information literacy:

Information literacy
is the ability to think
critically and make
balanced judgements
about any information
we find and use.

(Information Literacy Group, CILIP, 2018)

Given that so much information is accessed online, it’s clear that digital literacy and information literacy go hand-in-hand. A number of our contributors – including Philip Sergeant and Caroline Tagg (Critical digital literacy education in the fake news era) – allude to this aspect of digital literacy with particular reference to social media. It is highlighted by Bonnie Cheuk in her chapter on ‘Transforming the workplace’, though as she points out, different words may be used to describe information literacy in a workplace setting.

In terms of educators’ practices, digital literacy puts learner needs at the centre, focusing on the process of learning as much as on the output. This aligns with the approach to learning design adopted by many educational institutions, including the Open University. Developing the digital confidence of educators opens up opportunities for more creative teaching and learning. This is articulated in chapters by Chrissi Nerantzi and Norman Jackson (#CreativeHE) and Liz Bennett and Sue Folley (D4 curriculum design workshops). These playful, immersive and creative learning experiences are also discussed in chapters on children’s learning, by Geoff Walton et al. (Digital literacy in UK and European schools) and Dean Groom and Judy O’Connell (Digital games).

Librarians and other professional staff have a key role in curating the digital tools and resources that exist, and supporting educators and students to use them (Joe Nicholls, ‘Unpacking digital literacy’). In fact, as Charlie Inskip points out in ‘Developing library staff digital literacies’, librarians should be centre stage when it comes to promoting the digital capabilities of their stakeholders. Students themselves are essential partners in the process of identifying and developing digital capabilities and one approach to this is set out in Jane Secker’s chapter on ‘Students in the SADL’.

Another important dimension of teaching and learning in a digital world is copyright, which  – as Chris Morrison in his chapter on ‘Copyright and digital literacy’ points out – is about much more than just compliance. Copyright literacy enables creativity and sharing, whilst protecting the rights of creators.

Finally, we should not forget those who are excluded from participation in a digital society, and Adam Micklethwaite makes the case powerfully in his chapter ‘Onwards!’ for a systematic approach to helping everyone to develop digital confidence and digital skills.

The term ‘digital literacy’ is a kind of shorthand which takes in all the many aspects of engaging in a capable, critical and discerning manner with technology and online spaces. We are proud to share the exciting work of our expert contributors, and over the coming weeks you will be hearing their voices on this blog.