Developing digital literacy: trial and error?

A JISC study has found that learners develop a variety of digital literacies often through a social trial-and-error process, without the direct support or advice of their educational institutions.

Ben Showers, JISC programme manager, said, “By understanding and recognising students’ hidden behaviours and motivations, JISC is in a position to help universities and colleges develop better digital services and resources, with the student experience significantly improved.”

To understand learners’ engagement with digital technologies, JISC is now funding the next phase of the project, which uses the concept of visitors and residents to describe their online journey.

The visitor sees the internet as a toolbox that they use for a specific task and then leave the web without leaving a footprint.  The resident partially lives out their life online; they see the web as somewhere they can express themselves.

It’s the next phase in a longitudinal study into US and UK learners at different stages of their education in a partnership between the University of Oxford and OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc., in collaboration with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

The study says that there is now a learning ‘black market’ where learners use non-traditional sources of information online, which may lack academic credibility. While these practices can be effective for their studies, students are often wary of citing such resources.

Gaining an understanding of these emerging practices will help ensure that projects and institutions provide effective advice and guidance in the ongoing development of digital skills.

Showers said, “It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the Visitors and Residents work.  It is not only challenging assumptions about how students use technology, but it is shedding light on those practices, attitudes and techniques students employ online.”

There are more intriguing findings from the study, including that LinkedIn becomes more important to people in the later stages of their education; that there is more skepticism in the US than the UK education system over students’ use of Wikipedia; and that students prefer email over instant messenger and other tools for ‘administrative’ tasks such as contacting a researcher.

“We are very excited to continue this work,” said co-principal investigator Lynn Silipigni Connaway. “We believe our preliminary findings will have a great impact on the development of services and systems for teaching and learning.”

“The project is discovering the extent to which the embedding of the web in both personal and institutional contexts is changing the way we learn, teach and research,” said co-principal investigator David White. “We are delighted to be able to explore this further and to have the opportunity to create resources that can be used to reflect on, and experiment with, new forms of professional practice.”

Find out more about the project

Read the latest report in PDF

Watch a video interview with the two leading project leads David White (University of Oxford) and Lynn Silipigni Connaway (OCLC Research)

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1 Response to Developing digital literacy: trial and error?

  1. The reference to the “learning black market” is very interesting. It echoes the preliminary findings of our fellowship project researching how students in LCF engaged with video resources created for them.
    We carried out focus group surveys with 24 LCF students (Curtain Rd based, D&T courses) . 66% (16 students) had not seen the LCF video resources under the Blackboard Fashion Portal tab but 83% (20 students ) had accessed websites and watched on-line videos broadly related to their subject. … 85% of answers stated “own on-line search” or “friend’s advice” as the way of finding those sites/videos…
    I will be reading the full JISC report to find out more…

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