There are so many aspects to digital literacies it’s no wonder that it’s plural!  The well known Jisc infographic, ‘seven elements of digital literacies’ captures a lot, except perhaps, that these literacies need to be taught.

The myth of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants has been well and truly busted by David White with his theory of digital residents and visitors. This should give hope to those of us who remember a time before mobile phones, affordable Internet and all the tools, Apps and gadgets that go with it.

In my PBL group, for this topic we also discussed Doug Belshaw and his work on digital badges. These can be used to certify particular skills. Sometimes one teacher might design their own digital badges and in discussion with the class, decide what they should be awarded for. They could be used for anything, but could be particularly useful to give credit for soft skills, like communication, teamwork and yes, even digital literacies! Certain digital badges are recognised by professional bodies and at EU level, there is now talk of how they may assist refugees prove the skillsets that they have.

So digital literacies are important and are likely to become even more so in the years ahead.


What stood out for me in all of this is PURPOSE. It is too easy to assume that everyone of a certain age is fluent in digital skills. Assumptions can be dangerous at the best of times. In the classroom, assuming prior knowledge or expertise, simply based on the student’s age or attachment to a smart phone does a disservice to everyone and misses the opportunity for discussion, collaboration and teachable moments.

Gathering evidence rather than making broad assumptions is not new to me. I started out as a language teacher, where one of the biggest assumptions we were taught to avoid, is the assumption that the ability to speak your native language means you understand a wide range of grammatical concepts and will automatically apply them to any new language you learn. Often, teachers may need to begin by teaching the grammar of the native language, before moving on to the new language, in order to ensure that every student has a shared understanding of key concepts. Maybe teaching digital literacies isn’t that different…

Just because someone is on Facebook or Twitter, it does not necessarily mean that they know how to use them for an educational purpose. It is unfair of us as teachers to assume students know what to do, without first teaching them, giving guidance or discussing expectations, prior knowledge and available support.

Discussion – let’s find out what devices our students and teachers have and what they currently use them for. In an online classroom, it’s also good to check what Internet access is like for students. (Kay O made a similar point in relation to the flipped classroom during the ONL 161, OER webinar). There may not be a signal at home or in rural areas. Outside of work or university hours, students may be reliant on Internet cafés.

Collaboration – let’s learn from each other about useful Apps, good resources and how to Tweet, Blog, create a Facebook group, or a Google Hangout, or whatever.

Teachable moments – then let’s teach each other, or learn by doing, how we might use a particular digital option for our specific educational purpose.

If someone in the class has experience, ask them to lead and if no-one is too sure, see how willing some or all of the class are to try out something new and evaluate it, to see if it might work for them for a specific purpose.

In my PBL group, we talked a lot about a teacher’s responsibility to learn about a new digital tool before using it in class. This includes how to use it and how to troubleshoot when technical hiccups occur. Many teachers will be in the happy position of having a pedagogy or tech support team to call on, and I’m all in favour of knowing as much as you can about what you are introducing and why. Sometimes, though, trying something new can evolve out of a conversation with the class and it can be nice to try out a new tool or strategy in an exploratory way, between teacher and students. The success of this can depend on how well teacher and students each other and how open they are to genuinely collaborating and learning with and from each other, but collaboration is a topic for another blog.


Purpose and Blogging.

Blogging can be a very central aspect of digital literacies, as it can be a way to connect with others, thereby building a network while you build your profile.

I must admit that blogging for an academic purpose was a fairly new concept for me. Until now, I’ve only ever heard of food bloggers, stay-at-home mum bloggers, or perhaps the odd travel writer whose blog made them famous and quite wealthy. To me, blogging seemed to be in some way connected with ‘celebrity’ status or advertising.

I have encountered a postgrad course where, fairly regularly, students had to blog the answers to a question. The blogs just seemed to sit in a vacuum and no-one seemed to know what to do with them. Students were asked to blog because that was an option on the institution’s VLE. In other words, the blogs had no purpose. Needless to say, neither students nor teachers embraced the concept. Blogging was a chore and an isolating one at that, rather than an opportunity to reach out and connect with like-minded or not so like-minded classmates.

So, it has been eye opening to see blogs used as part of the certification criteria on my ONL course. I’m probably most confused about the purpose my blogs should have. Should they be reflective, where I think about what I have learned, relate it to prior knowledge or experience and think about how I might put some of the new learning into practice?

Or should they be used to add to the discussion? Should I build on the main points of the lesson and go off and find new references that may be of interest to the class? Perhaps the best I can do is decide on a purpose for each blog and see it through.


Interestingly, we had a chat about this in my PBL group where some people who are used to academic writing find blogging a challenge as they try to make it less academic in tone, whereas others find the challenge is to add references and make their blog more academic. Either way, my PBL friends encouraged me to take the plunge and write something. They tell me it’s worth it, especially when people comment, so please do.



Digital Literacies