Digital Literacies

Getting Started…

This is one of a series of guides collating evidence and learning from the 23 projects within the JISC Building Capacity programme (2010/11). Each is focused on a common institutional strategic aim, describing how projects built their capacity to meet that aim and how what worked in their context, could work in yours. The guides are written to be “just enough to get started” rather than all-encompassing.

This guide addresses one aspect of the broad area of digital literacy. Plymouth University developed a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) action plan as part of the University’s Teaching and Learning Strategy to address the requirements of the University’s strategies and priorities whilst maximising the effectiveness of institutional investment into TEL and exploiting the outputs and outcomes from externally funded projects. One of the major outcomes of this was to assist the University in creating digitally literate students and staff.

Definitions of digital literacy are contested; a single accepted and objective definition doesn’t exist. However, both the European Union and the JISC-funded LLiDA project define digital literacy in as neutral a way as possible, stating that “digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society”.

Further detail, discussion and grounding can be found in the excellent briefing paper written to accompany the JISC funding call 4/11 for projects to develop digital literacies in a strategic manner in UK FE and HE institutions.

What are the takeaway ideas you could use in your context?

One of the key elements of the University of Plymouth’s Building Capacity project was learning from the JISC funded Learning Literacies for a Digital Age (LLiDA) project, a research study which aimed to find out what literacies learners require and what UK HE and FE institutions were doing to support them.

The key idea was to audit the digital literacy provision within the institution. The information gained from the audit was used to generate recommendations for development in digital literacy linked to the University’s strategic aims.

What benefits can be gained by using these ideas?

The key question is how you can enable the capacity to foster digital literacy. Some of the drivers for developing digital literacies institutionally may be:

  • Developing new ways of teaching/learning especially blended or online
  • Supporting part-time, work-based and remote students (e.g. studying on placement)
  • Supporting learners’ professional development and capturing the CPD market
  • Developing online materials and support processes for staff and/or students
  • Supporting new partnerships within and beyond the institution
  • Widening participation
  • Developing independent learners, improving employability
  • Enhancing the learning experience/meeting learners’ expectations thereby improving student retention

For the University of Plymouth, the following were the key outcomes of the Building Capacity project, and in particular the Digital Literacy strand:

  • By using high profile areas linked to strategic projects, such as the LLiDA institutional audit tool, the adoption of artefacts was highly visible within the institution, which aided take up;
  • Consideration of digital literacy has been embedded in future strategy for the University;
  • DVC buy-in to the strategic importance of Digital Literacy, leading to support for a successful institution-wide bid for further development funding in this area;
  • Plymouth also developed collaborative partnerships with four other HEIs which will be strategically important in a number of areas.

Finally, being enabled to recognise the skills already held by staff and students, evaluating their value and planning to use them more effectively should impact positively on the institution in the long term.

How can you implement the ideas to realise the benefits?

The LLiDA  project conducted a comprehensive review of competing frameworks for describing literacies of the digital age, and created a ‘framework of frameworks‘, developed to model literacies and competencies with potential to be developed as a tool for institutions to model their own practice.

The LLiDA institutional audit tool, complete with guidelines for use, provides an excellent tool for institutions to assess their own provision wrt digital literacy audit, as successfully used by the Plymouth Building Capacity project.

Developing an institutional definition of Digital Literacy, and what it means for your staff and students, is an important step in developing adequate and appropriate support.

Further information

A new JISC programme of work – Developing Digital Literacies – is currently running (2011-13). Twelve funded projects are exploring how best to realise this responsibility institution-wide. You can read the blogs for these projects and follow a synthesis of the outcomes, outputs and resources as they emerge from the Developing Digital Literacies home page on the JISC Design Studio toolkit. This includes a page that lists Digital Literacy support materials from JISC.