Digital literacy and in turn digital capability is something that I care a great deal about.
Part of my working life involves supporting and exploring the development of digital capabilities. The work that Helen Beetham, Sarah Knight and many others at Jisc have done around developing definitions that have evolved into a digital capabilities framework is an essential part of my “digital toolkit.” I’m always on the look out for other resources that I can add to said toolkit.
Earlier this week I spotted via twitter that the NMC had produced a Strategic Brief on Digital Literacy . Full of expectations my heart sank when I read this:
“Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief was commissioned by Adobe Systems to explore an increasingly pressing challenge for United States higher education institutions: advancing digital literacy among students and faculty. Unfortunately, lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs. . . . Adobe’s support of this publication is significant as their technologies are increasingly being adopted by colleges and universities to foster greater digital literacy, particularly the Adobe Creative Cloud and the design, production, and storytelling apps it encompasses.” (my emphasis)
So before I even read the report my guard was up that there would be a bias towards Adobe products. I should state I don’t have anything against Adobe per se. I use, and at times encourage others to use Adobe products, and not just for reading PDFs.
I’m was intrigued as to how the report would address the “lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy”. Feeling confident in those nice people at NMC I was sure that some reference would be made to the great work going on here in the UK around digital literacy. After quick skim of the document I couldn’t see anything – however this exchange on twitter did indicate that the Jisc work was indeed included.
@sheilmcn Jisc is definitely featured in the report! Just not the infographic.
— New Media Consortium (@NMCorg) October 27, 2016
On closer inspection, I still can’t find it – there is a link to some work at Leeds Beckett which refers to Helen Beetham’s early digital literacy model, but I can’t find anything else.
There are differences to between the US and UK Higher Education sector/market (I have to add that every time I write market in relation to education a little piece of my soul dies). I think the difference of intent between a virtual learning environment and a learning management system is significant. It frames how we describe our interactions particularly in formal learning. Learning environments are not just digital, they are physical and personal too. We are all our own learning environments. I am noticing that more people here in the UK are talking about the LMS. Is this a sign of technological imperialism or global homogenisation? Probably a bit of both. The north American narrative voice is loud and has lots of dollars behind it. Again as I was reading this report he old adage of America sneezing and the rest of the world catching cold did spring to mind.
As well our differences there are similarities and digital literacy is one. I was disappointed that the report made no mention of the work that Jisc has been supporting in the UK for a number of years now around supporting understanding of digital capabilities, the student experience and leadership. No mention of their definition of digital literacy, no mention of their framework. That’s not to say the references that are made aren’t valid, I just find it odd that it’s not there. Particularly if “a lack of agreement on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs”. In terms of building a community of practice, again something that the report recommends, we have done this in the UK.
So whilst the overall conclusions and recommendations are actually pretty sensible. The undertone of “smart “ collaborations, technology companies leading the way, buying a suite of “creative” products to allow students to be “makers” troubles me greatly. Buying into a system doesn’t automagically make you, or a University digitally literate or creative. It’s knowing when and how to use/buy/move on that does. Whilst the Adobe creative suite of products is undoubtedly powerful, it also creates another set of dependencies for organisations and individuals. “Smart collaborations” between education and technology companies really need to figure out what the potential implications of those dependencies are.
Digital literacy is one of our greatest weapons against the monsters of technology. We can let them dismantle it and sell it back to us.