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Shock of the Old 2009: Digital Literacy

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Below are sketchy notes from the event. I’d actually recommend not reading them but going instead to


What is digital literacy?

Information literacy – finding, searching, evaluating, using, using ethically (referencing). Mostly dealing with text. What about creating?

Keynote – Lynne O’Brien (Duke University) – Institutionalizing Innovation

iPod Programme (2004 onwards) all incoming students issued with iPods: creative examples and lessons learned.

Academic use layered on devices students have all the time. Belkin contributed new mic adaptors. Most students had laptops (90% now). Gave them out and then asked how students were using them – didn’t know what the impact would be.

Chart with areas of study / number of course sections. Languages > Humanities > Social Sciences > Sciences.

Students found many reasons to produce digital audio.

Evolved Duke Digital Initiative. Easy-to-use technologies into the hands of faculty and students. Themes eg ‘capturing experiences’. Now loaning rather than donating.

Faculty have come to accept that students will record and that this will be useful – eg English not first language, going over complicated ideas, removing anxiety of note-taking leads to better attention. Slowing things down, speeding things up (double speed, audio-skimming).

Faculty content

Vocabulary words (basic, foundational stuff). Multidisc courses e.g. Catastrophes – engineering students listened carefully to sociology lectures and vice versa.

Students producing content.

Video – language students, plays, evening news broadcast. Producing language in realistic settings v. useful. Audio tour of museum. Student producing for real audience are much more thoughtful.


Accessing content

Working with media devices.

New issues

Passive –> active

Will students stop coming to lectures? Well why am I having that kind of class? Class time becomes more about direct interaction with students. Publicising lectures.

Others’ content –> original content

Mash-ups. Copyright issues. Posterity of juvenalia.

Quick and easy <–> high quality

Mp3ater Project

Transitory <–> permanent

What should last for ever?

Challenges for librarians

Wanting to be able to find the relevant parts of audio recordings.

Can we help students identify parts of multimedia content in the same way as we help them find text?

“Can I have an audio recording of somebody brushing their teeth?”

Portable content, away from secure servers. Publishers are worried about theft.

What does it mean for students to learn visually?

Visualisation and dataset manipulation in the NY Times. Visualisation of Twittering during the superbowl.

Learning to read and write visually.

So, institutionalising innovations

Putting technologies into people’s existing workflows. “Here is something that will let you do what you do already”. Lower barrier for experimentation. Campus-wide discussion. Honesty. Collaboration in support organisations. Long view on evaluation after all there is no evaluation of the effectiveness of the blackboard and chalk.

Website – many reports and case-studies.


Time? Lectures (recorded) become shorter – 10-15 minute segments around a given topic. Doctoral candidates and authors are moving into digital media eg datasets submitted along with theses.

Disabilities. Dyslexia, attention disorders – helped by any-time access to lectures. Hearing impairment – requires transcript. Text-to-audio / audio-to-text. Challenges with referring to visual material during audio-only presentation.

Audio has widening participation and socio-economic issues (regional accents). Separation of production quality from content.

Dr Tabetha Newman (BECTA) – Consequences of a digital literacy review. Moving away from terminology.


DigEuLit’s 55 words definition

Components. What proportion is to do with skills; what to do with personality? What can be incorporated into formal education and what cannot be taught?

  • Kg of tools
  • Critical thinking
  • Social awareness – how to collaborate; etiquette; how to represent yourself online

Alan Martin‘s definition.

Issues about pluralising the terms to encompass all skill sets and literacies

How are the theoretical terms being used in practice?

‘Digital literacy’ – Tend to be about info seeking, web searching, active, deliberate activity to solve a task, pulling information in

‘Media literacy’ – TV advertising; consciousness of being manipulated

Impact of ICT over-estimated in schools. Students often disheartened during web searches. Want to know how to research well. ICT-exposure does not mean ICT competence.

We overestimate crit thinking skills and underestimate understanding of use and breadth of digital tools. We educate in settings of high guidance (closed inquiry) or nothing (open inquiry). We are still assessing by asking students to recount knowledge rather than re-contextualising (e.g. create x for use in y setting)

Digital literacy might not increasse attainment, as we currently measure it.

Digital literacy models

  • Process models
  • Framework models – evolution of skills, how much support to give learner and when?
  • Synthesis of both -DL models are only relevant for task-based learning

Anthony McNeill – De-priviledging the digital

What does academic literacy look like in a digital age?

Era is changing rapidly in how we represent things.

What is literacy? Text-making and making sense of texts. Jake Abrahams pen. A social practice embedded in certain contexts. Lankshear. Written word ‘lettered representation’ is less important than it used to be. Academic writing. Lillis’ ‘essayist literacy’ linear, standardly formulated, serious,

Practices – old wine in new bottles. Embraced VLEs but not engaged with the digital. The VLE may be blocking our engagement with the digital – unless experimentation is encouraged, it replicates the analogue? Good thing? Transitional? Or too comfortable? Simulating the classroom or lecture hall?


Florida wikipedia project – ethical obligation to be part of that community of writing.

Uni of Edinburgh programme gallery. Mark Preston’s audio files give him license to talk in a more anecdotal way

Uni of Sheffield case studies of learning and teaching practice.

Slideshare presentation – amcneill/deprivileging-the-digital

Andrew Feenberg ‘The Written World’

Evaluating digital storytelling (Martin Jenkins and Phil Gravestock, Uni of Gloucestershire)

Evaluating the product of the storytelling.

Jason Ohler: developing multiple literacies for students (portfolio of media). We all talk in stories – meaning-making.

Cognitive skills to select, order, structure, form and present – very formative. Appropriate illustrations.

Oldham Football narrative.


  • For creativity
  • Creativity
  • Creatively


How did staff come on board with digital storytelling? They just had to show it – then academics immediately recognised the relevance.

The Oldham bloke communicates a great deal in his tone, pace etc. Transcribe it and you lose that.

Story through portfolio in teacher education.

12:10 Ricardo Kompen, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Palitha Edirisingha and Richard Mobbs, University of Leicester Web 2.0 based PLEs: building order into the chaos of the wilderness.

Russell Francis – ‘digital generation discourse’ – DPhil thesis (2008). Compelling case for looking at learner-developed PLEs, and how to scaffold these.

PLEs as objects / PLEs as concept.

Pelican goals

  • Help students embrace Web2 in formal studies
  • And in lifelong learning
  • Prepare for future employment

4 different bases in the framework

  • wiki-based- Google suite stuff is inherently connected.
  • social-software-based- facebook – first thing students do when they wake up. in the morning – create links out to e.g. Google and Zoho
  • start-page-based
  • browser-based – flock

Pilot study

  • No mention of PLE to students – talked about tools instead – the consumers’ approach to Web 2.0. Elicited needs from students – students presented tools themselves (except Twitter, which the investigator introduced). Used Twitter for class coms more than email or facebook. Actually he says they didn’t know about Flock or Delicious either.
  • Asked students to produce diagrams of their PLEs showing connectivity. One put herself in centre. Another put a start page in the middle. Another put a desktop-type-thing in the middle. Jooce – virtual desktop.
  • G.ho.st was a 5th approach introduced by one student.
  • Unhappy about Facebook being invaded by formal education (but also send their teachers invitations to this and that on Facebook).
  • ePortfolios not mentioned as such, but were recognised in retrospect
  • Personal Entertainment / Socialisation Environment as well as PLE.
  • Evidence of strengthening social interactions.
  • Negative points –  complexity of setting up.


Mobile techs? Apps for iPhones etc. Ricardo suggested split screen with Tweets on one side and presentations on the other.

Josie Fraser – Dgital literacy, the new challenge

How we withstand a nuclear attack. Centralised / decentralised. Main node gets taken out and we decentralised.

Cyberbullying work – against kneejerk reactions to moral panic – looking a e-safety within digital literacy terms.

Pew 2007 online identity – unmanaged.

Acquisti and Gross’s work on Imagined Communities. Members of communities misjudge who is looking / interested in them.

Police Bebo crackdown. 72 vulnerable person reports submitted. Social work and youth work digital outreach.

“Two things wrong with digital literacy. “Digital” and “literacy”. Too drawn into the semantics of a definition.


Are we going to look foolish more often and be less likely to risk-take? Downside of track-and-trace. In terms of asking stupid questions, we need a more sophisticated approach to viewing juvenalia. You may be disadvantaged if you have no online identity.

Right not to participate? Hard to talk about it in terms of rights. There’s a slant to authenticity in social networks, but ways of ring-fencing that.

We can sometimes overestimate digital literacy. Group of nursing students selected nursing because they didn’t have to use much technology, suddenly find technology is upon them.

Miles Metcalfe – Ravensbourne College

Specialist, 1,500 design and communication. Moving to the Millenium Dome. Olympics is about media.

Technology has completely disrupted the creative industries.

User-generated content. Moral panic of midi music – sampling as a form of musical production – bottom up. Similar revolution in visual culture. But old computers, locked down, serving traditional stuff. Eternally entering passwords – admin password.

User-owned tech – want to be connected to wireless network. Implications for the design of educational buildings. Foundational students got a macbook for £35.00. Corollary will be fewer desktop computers – but for now a voluntary scheme. All but 2 students signed up.

Serendipitous commons. Ubiquitous wireless. Flexible learning spaces.

Money on computer barns now subsidises personal techs. Higher-end resources eg high performance processors for rendering graphics.. Software as a service (giving laptops away means escaping the cost of fabulously expensive software licensing. Software loans – hard to negotiates. Open source alternatives.

Network – enterprise uses (payroll, student record systems). And to connect to Facebook (we block their ports – everybody has to have a fair bite of our JANET connection). Ban peer to peer networking.

What is IT for? Coercing – VLE as homepage. Agent of transformation.

Learning 2.0 – digital literacy. Everything’s digital these days. What isn’t? So what does the term mean? Many opportunities are chilled by the IP industry – these are safely ignored by learners and academics, as are new opps for creative expression. In the anticopyright industry – Lessig, Doctorow – talk of remix culture, but few students do this unless prompted. Few people are creating content.

PLEs won’t work unless it’s practised by us. Modelling. RSS and OpenID preserve the VLE panopticon. We are after all selling students assessment. Techs are not communication media – they are not morally neutral. Need to think critically.

Use OpenID rather than locking into institutional systems. DOn’t trust Google and Web2 but manage the risk.

WHat about our staff? A lot of people don’t want to be using new technologies.

Fergal Corscadden – enquiry, interaction and collaboration skills

[contains lots of links to video tools]

Stranmillis is a CETL in Professional Development.

Students didn’t require virtual reality but reality brought to them virtually.

All the tools they used were free – spent money on hardware, notebooks etc. Mobile doesn’t have to involve mobiles, can involve laptops. Favoured Asus.

Dissemination attracted keen staff (how to attract the reluctant staff).

Project 1 – Year 4 BEd Primary Science (Curriculum Studies). Flips teaching light and sound etc. The video had to stand on its own. VideoPaper is a tool which allows you to link parts of a text to (parts of?) a video.

Authentic use of web based tools. It’s important for teachers to be able to communicate with their students digitally.

Diver allows you to snippet vid and discuss bits. This is free. You can FTP your video content to Stanford. Closed consent. See also JISC funded UK alternative Synote.

Computer Modelling Literacy – Ken Kahn and Howard Noble

modelling4all.org – skills in computer modelling and programming

Luehrmann’s 1972 idea of computer literacy is an interesting comparison with today.

Imagination is a kind of simulation of the world. The chimp is planning to throw rocks at visitors – he is running a simulation in his head. “What if” simulations.

‘Behaviour Composer’

Chris Davies – What young people do and what we can do to help

‘The learner and their context’ project to support the Harnessing Tech strategy. Up-to-date view of learners’ experience.

Jenkins report ‘COnfronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st Century’. Ideas about skills eg ‘collective intelligence’ – but there are no analytic categories here.

This presentation is full of quotes from participants.

Panel session

Chris, Miles, Lynne and ?

Where do we go between the social and the educational?

Paradoxical findings about students and technology. The media are new but wat we are doing with the media isn’t. Sometimes you want your tutor around, sometimes you don’t mind, sometimes you do. It’s a problem with the technology – of course Facebook has a commercial logic. Architecture signals the usage of space to us in a very clear way. Perhaps to endure Web2 will have to evolve. Students were happy with their VLE – no conflict perceived.

Screw Blackboard do it in Facebook – but fb is a performance of identity which is incompatible with higher education.

If we’re becoming better at mulitasking and worse at doing one thing well, what is the implication.

Q Software is badly designed – cognitive load.


Written by Mira Vogel

April 6, 2009 at 12:34

Posted in event

Tagged with

Shock of the old 2009 @ Oxford University: Digital Literacy

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Mira and I attended the Oxford University annual Shock of the old event on thursday 2nd April.

This year’s timely theme was “digital literacy”, ill defined concept though it is. It comes in the wake of the Horizon 2009 report, which notes that “[T]here is a growing need for formal instruction in key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy.”

Melissa Highton (Head of Learning Technologies Group, Oxford University) introduced us to the day by reminding us that the most important thing is to define our terms before we can even think to speculate about what the hell we have been doing, we are doing, and/or we should be doing with respect to “digital literacy”. Is digital literacy a subset to information literacy or the other way round? And what implications does either alternative mean for e-Learning practitioners? She suggested that good old “information literacy” was simple to manage and work with, since it was all about the text, which – unless she means it in some sort of Foucauldian/ Derridean sense of everything is text – is of course bollocks. Information is not the same as text and text is not the same as information.

The first keynote was delivered by  Lynne O’Brian, Director of instructional technology at Duke University, introducing the Duke Digital Initiative, which basically consisted of a scheme that handed out ipods with uploaded learning materials to all “freshmen” (shouldn’t that be “freshpersons”), so that they could continue their learning beyond the classroom. One of the outcomes she wanted to share with us was that it’s important to “take the long view on evaluation”, i.e. not to worry too much about measuring educational benefits of new technologies introduced, since nobody ever demands this kind of proof of educational effectiveness from chalkboards. I’ve never been a good social scientist and I find evaluation a drag – but even I know that it’s a necessary practice, so her “advice” sounds like a cop out to me. But it’s possible she simply meant to ward off impatience, not to ward off evaluation.

Dr Tabetha Newman (consultant to BECTA) gave an interesting (i.e. strong on theory) resume of a literature review on digital literacy she recently did for becta, which summarised the difficulty of finding appropriate and agreed upon definitions for our theme du jour (de l’annee), “digital literacy”, especially in contrast with “media literacy”. The review should be available online, but I can’t find it.
Tony McNeill from Kingston University …regaled us with enthusiasm about how students can use the new web 2 technologies to be critical in their thinking. He brought up the idea that educational technology was simply “old wine in new bottles”, for the serious question is surely this: where is the change? Where is the evidence that all these lovely web 2 technologies are making us rethink teaching methods and change them? His slides were quite popular as I found out over a well-deserved coffee. Maybe not the most accessible, but visually exciting.

After coffee, Phil Gravestock and Martin Jenkins from Gloucester, presented on the challenge of “evaluating digital story-telling”, which showcased great student work, but got us no closer to answering – how *do* we evaluate – and assess – student work that is no longer about essays? Of course this isn’t a new question at all. We’ve been assessing art portolios as well as dance, music, theatre performances for, like, forever!

Palitha Edirisingha & Ricardo Torres Kompen, from Leicester University and Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (Spain) respectively, regaled us with ways of overcoming VLE fatigue by using web 2 techs to create PLEs for students. How did they do it? Short answer: Flock. Flock! I need to give Flock another look. They certainly made it sound easy enough to pull together any amount of web two technologies according to student needs and desires, although we need to consider that monitoring and facilitating actual learning in this myriadic approach could be very taxing on the teachers!

Josie Fraser’s presentation was concerned with how society as a whole might meet the challenges that new technologies present. Naturally, twitter, facebook et al do not only bring benefits and advantages but also present possible risks. The point is not to give in to moral kneejerk reactions (ban it all!), but to endow ourselves with the ability to calmly and critically use and enjoy these technologies. The concern is also about how we manage our various online “identities” – a thorny issue. As an example, just search for the term “drunk” on twitter and see how many people quite happily (and possibly quite inebriatedly) tell their lurid stories of drunken woe: not managing to keep the private and the public separate. Digital literacy should be thought of as the skill to work, learn and thrive within highly distributed environments where there is risk, and not avoid these risky environs.
The post-lunch keynote by Miles Metcalfe (Head of IT R&D @ Ravensbourne College) was entertaining and well performed.

During all these presentations I performed an experiment on myself to “see what it would be like to be someone else”, because I suck at doing more than two things at once (to wit: listening, reading slides, thinking about what is being said, taking notes, whispering to colleagues, observing participatnts in front of me web surfing, and balancing laptop on lap: how much do I actually take in?). So I followed and took notes on the conference on twitter, using the hashtag #shock09. It requires quite a bit of concentration but might prove to be an excellent way of keeping track collaboratively – other “twitterers” making meaning for you, summarising what *they* hear in 140 characters, and archiving it for later retrieval (for example to write a blogpost on it). The question of course is if you don’t miss vital parts of the actual conference, since you are in essence “chatting in class”. How do others do it? How can they be so quick? Some of them don’t even touch-type! The point of the experiment was not merely self-serving. If this is what students do, then it isn’t a bad idea to know what it is actually like. I persevered throughout the day and probably missed a lot of the real meat of presentations. Often, it felt like being in school and passing around notes (including the feeling that it was really much more fun than the boring things I *ought* to be listening to. Oops). By the end of the day, I wanted to add “#shock09” to every one of my thoughts. Conclusion: such web 2 immersion can turn you psychotic in a trice.
Fergal Corscadden, of Stranmills University College caused quite a stir when he suggested in his presentation that he hated twitter and thought that the way learning technologies jumped on web 2 technologies to try them out for educational purposes was embarrassing like “your dad dancing at a party”. Although I agree with him in part – we shouldn’t encroach on the fun/ social spaces that students occupy and turn them into learning opportunities – his attitude was highly conservative and closed-minded.

As one twitterer put it: “if you weren’t interested in checking out new tools & practices ypou’d be a pretty rubbish edtech” – and that’ s in less than 140 characters! In the meantime, us twitterers had sent #shock09 into the trending sphere (with comments coming from a bemused rest of the world “wtf is #shock09?”), and soon after I am told that I am top trendsetter… Which only means of course that I twittered way too much and way too fast and tagged it all with shock09. “Top trendsetter” is way too grand a term for that.

There were two more presentations, on modelling by Howard Noble and Ken Kahn (Oxford University Computing Services) and a particularly good final presentation by Chris Davis (Department of Education, University of Oxford) illustrating how students really use new technologies. It was based on actual reserach done with students – asking them how they use these technologies, where and how much and, crucially, how they learnt how to use them. It confirmed as well as confounded expectations and assumptions and Chris Davis concluded that we need to provide appropriate technologies and opportunities for their use, as well as guidance on how to use them, whilst giving enough space for children to learn and experiment on their own. Finally, that we might need to provide some kind of media literacy education in formal education.

For any more information, you can have a look at all the tweets tagged shock09.

Written by Sonja Grussendorf

April 4, 2009 at 11:06