Current issues & approaches in developing digital literacy – JISC webinar, 12th Feb 2013

I sat in on a couple of webinars recently as part of the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme. I’m really enjoying webinars – it’s a great way to keep up-to-date and network in your lunch hour! I’ve written blog reports on two webinars, this one and ‘Rising to the Digital Literacy Challenge in FE’, along with a post trying to bring together emerging themes and issues  from both.

The presentation is below and the webinar recording is here.

Sarah Davies & Helen Beetham, JISC

Sarah Davies introduced the session, explaining the JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme which includes 12 digital literacy projects across HE and FE running July 2011-2013.

Helen provided a more in-depth overview of digital literacy and the JISC work so far. She highlighted that it’s now quite normal to talk about Digital Literacy (DL), which for her is a step-change within the JISC. A major challenge is that institutions are constantly adapting to and adopting new technologies, which are not always within their control. Digital literacy is therefore about developing capability, human development and people’s potential with technology.

She reported that the JISC definition has been helpfully broad: ‘The capabilities, aptitudes and attitudes learners need to thrive in a digital economy and society’. Helen pointed out however, that institutions have adopted different definitions that work for them.

Helen revisited the different capabilities identified in earlier work around digital literacy: ICT/computer literacy, information literacy, media literacy, communication & collaboration, digital scholarship and learning skills, with most existing work involving the first two areas.  As with definitions, some institutions are creating their own models that work for their institutions eg Greenwich 5 Resources model which describes ‘Critical Digital Literacy’ as encompassing Decoding, Meaning Making, Using, Analysing and Persona:

Greenwich Five Resources model

Helen highlighted that personal identity is increasingly an issue for students and staff, so DL is not just about acquiring skills, but can affect who you are in the world.

Helen described a pyramid model showing a hierarchy of digital literacy – with functional access at the bottom, through functional skills, situated practices and with attributes and identities at the top. I do find this a useful model to demonstrate that developing digital literacy is about more than just IT skills and that the increasing complexity as you move up the pyramid probably explains why the focus remains on the bottom levels. I will be interested to see how the project address the various levels in the pyramid. (See also Beetham & Sharpe’s more detailed Learning Literacies Development Pyramid [Word doc]).


Helen explained that all the projects started out auditing their institutions looking at infrastructure, strategies, cultures, attitudes, role of professional services, curriculum practices relating to digital literacy (auditing tools available on the JISC Digital Literacy Design Studio  site). A key message was that there was no single solution to addressing digital literacy – a range of approaches appropriate to institutional and individual contexts are more likely to succeed.

Prof Neil Witt, ‘Embedding Digital Literacy’, University of Plymouth

Student Experience Enhancement thru Driving the Plymouth Embedding Of Digital literacies (SEEDPoD) project

Neil described the project in terms of institutional change, affecting infrastructure, support and curriculum design. The starting point was an institutional audit, but achievements have been made by taking advantage of key opportunities:

Opportunity 1: Being able to provide input into the strategy. The university had a digital strategy with four themes with the word ‘digital’ in them, so it was straighforward to demonstrate a staff development need around digital literacy throughout the strategies (Digital People, Digital Teaching & Research, Digital Services, Digital Infrastructure & capability). Heads of School are also now making DL part of departmental strategic plans.

Opportunity 2: Working with HR embedding Digital literacy into the PDR process. The university was moving from an appraisal to a Professional Development Review process, so the project worked with Heads of School and HR to identify digital skills across the board. I look forward to seeing more detail about how exactly digital literacy is addressed in the PDR process.

Opportunity 3: using Restructuring A major restructure allowed digital literacy roles to be embedded – these revised job descriptions and roles will be made available. Neil has Subject Librarians, IT and Learning Technologists working in 3 teams – Digital Skills & Development, Engagement & Support and TEL & Assessment. He reported that librarians were working with new aspects of digital literacy – I’d be interested to hear more about this.

Nadja Guggi, ‘Readiness across the board’, University of Reading

Digitally Ready Project

Nadja’s project has a broad scope, aimed at all staff and students, but with a focus on student employability. Despite the challenges of this, she now appreciates what can come out of approaching an issue from all angles. Nadja described institutional barriers to change at Reading, including no formal strategies, a risk-averse culture, silos with pockets of good practice and various levels of digital literacy. However, some major organisational changes, including a new VC, were taking place so this provided opportunities.

Nadja outlined bottom-up and top-down activities that took place, demonstrating a range of approaches:

Bottom up: Digital community building & upskilling through showcasing digital ‘heroes’, micro funding for mini-projects, social networking on campus (including a blog, newsletter and Yammer) and formal and informal events & training opportunities. Also a strand of research is taking place around the area of student employability, covering student attitudes to and use of technology.

Top down: Senior management engagement has been successful, with the digital literacy steering group being made up of Heads of key professional services. The VC and PVC for Teaching & Learning were involved from the beginning and are now genuine champions for change, which has been instrumental.

As a result of the project activities, there is now a genuine commitment to Digital Literacy in senior management, reflected in such strategies as the TEL Strategy and a Memorandum of Understanding with Futurelearn to provide MOOCs. They also have a body of evidence to inform strategic decisions – it would be useful if this was shared as part of project outputs.

Chris Follows, ‘The DIAL Project’, University of the Arts London

Dial Project – Digital Integration into Arts Learning

The aims of the project are cultural change and improved graduate employability. Their approach involves self-identified communities for improving digital literacies. It soon became apparent that this was actually a programme not a project.

The outputs were found to be difficult to measure, until the realisation that the outputs were actually the networks, alongside more tangible outputs such as resources and handbooks.

An interest group, Understanding DL at UAL explored definitions and competencies. UAL is addressing these needs in their own way and this varies across departments, subject, course, colleges and central services. For example, some departments have digital champions embedded and some don’t. There were project groups to support academic and curriculum integration and this worked well.

Extra funding has been secured to provide sustainability. As part of this longer term approach, the DIAL brand (which is quite strong) will fade away.

Mark Kerrigan, Digital Literacy in Transition, University of Greenwich

Digital Literacy in Transition Project

This project involved staff and students and focussed on graduate attributes in transition – from the move into university and then out of university into employment. Embedding DL into the curriculum and supporting staff in this.

Key issues were how to deliver a large scale institutional change project in such a short time? How could they foster accelerated buy-in? How could currency be ensured? How could sustainability be developed?

A cross university research group worked on the project, using students as change agents. E-magazines were created in faculties with staff and students as ‘e-editors’. Students developed workshops and resources.

Gains from the project activities were that students were recognised as valued contributors of change. Discussions took place that would not have otherwise happened. There was excellent access to the student cohort and was therefore ‘on pulse’. It also provided a new way to meet institutional KPIs – I’d like to hear more about this. There is also a open Ning community called Digital Literacy in Higher Education  run by the project which I’ve joined. It would be great if there was a community for all institutions involved in addressing Digital Literacy issues could exchange ideas and good practice – perhaps this is the place?

Read more about Emerging Themes from JISC Digital Literacy Projects.

This entry was posted in Digital literacy, Information literacy, Reports and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Current issues & approaches in developing digital literacy – JISC webinar, 12th Feb 2013

  1. Pingback: Emerging themes from JISC Digital Literacy Projects |

  2. Pingback: Rising to the digital literacy challenge in FE: JISC webinar, 28th Feb 2013 |

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