As the project comes to an end members of the Delivery Group reflect on our shared journey and what we’ve learnt:
Sarah Field: Digital Literacy: The beginning and the end
Digital literacy is a hot topic in further and higher education with many deliberating on its importance to the professional life of graduating students as well as its impact on academic scholarship. It was with this in my mind that I volunteered to be part of our JISC funded DigitISE project looking at digital literacy and its relationship to employability. That was last summer and now, as the project reaches its end I have, naturally, been reflecting on what we have achieved and how we ought to go forward.
Well we have conducted some really important research with our students through our survey and subsequent focus groups. This allowed us to discover that students rate their digital literacy capabilities highly but that they are not necessarily used for academic and/or professional use. The positive to take from this is that students are generally, well disposed to utilise digital technologies for these spheres but there is a space for us (academics, skills support, library staff, IT trainers) to provide help/support/guidance on honing these skills.
We also realised from our research that how and where we place any support for developing digital literacy crucial. Support we currently provided has often gone unnoticed and underused, whilst practice within the curriculum is varied and dependant on a module leader or department’s approach to using technologies in teaching and learning
Our event, Get the digital edge helped us explore the type of capabilities that might be needed by students and road test them. Feedback on the day illustrated that attendees really valued this type of provision. The discussion panel at the end was a really interesting place to examine what we thought digital literacy means and what attributes a digitally literate graduate should have to compete in the professional environment.
This event had enough success to warrant repeating the sessions next academic year. Albeit with some useful lessons learnt on the organisation and promotion so that it reaches a wider audience at Westminster. However we recognise within our delivery group, that embedding the development of digital literacy within the curriculum is the most appropriate place. Not an uncommon view for us librarians and, I am sure, other skills advisors. Embedding has the following advantages:
• locates skills development within a specific disciplinary context, making it directly relevant.
• elevates the usefulness and importance when delivered by academic and linked to assessment
• eliminates the issue of time and resourcing for support staff to deliver (although they can certainly be involved through guest teaching or an advisory capacity)
• greatly improves opportunity amongst students to develop these skills
But how exactly do we embed digital literacy? It is not necessarily a straightforward exercise. Academics need to identify the appropriate way to incorporate digital literacy into what is often an already crowded curriculum. First of all, they might need to be convinced as to the relevance within their own discipline and may also need to develop their own digital skills before they can use them in their practice.
JISC’s Developing Digital Literacies, thankfully for us, provides many useful examples of what other universities have done before this and we have plundered these resources for relevant and useful ideas in this area. Examples I found particularly relevant to our experience are; the University of Salford combining bottom up and top down approaches to embedding digital literacy with the development of a digital literacy policy from a cross department team whilst using an ‘innovations cell’ of academics who already use digital technologies to share and advice on curricula developments elsewhere in their teaching community. Also is the PriDE project at University of Bath that used “creative think tanks’ within faculty communities to identify disciplinary definitions of digital literacy. This seems to me , great way for academic participation or ‘buy-in’ as well as using their expertise of teaching and learning for disciplinary context.
The DigitISE project brought together a cross-department team in its board and delivery group who have an input into our future digital literacy strategy. Although the project is reaching its conclusion, our research will be feeding into the Learning Futures program and they can continue from our initial findings in their strand on blended learning. It is under this program that two workshops we devised on defining the attributes of a digitally literate graduate, will take place for academics in October.
The project has been a positive and comprehensive beginning to developing and incorporating digital literacy into the portfolio of attributes we can offer our students. Its been a real buzz to share views and ideas with my colleagues on this topic and its both exciting and affirming to the work we have done, to know it is going to be carried forward in future.
Emma Woods: Reflection on Project DigitISE
DigitISE has been an interesting and rewarding project to be involved with and has led to a wide range of opportunities. The members of the delivery group worked well together and I am proud of what we have achieved. Collaborating with colleagues from across the University has led to increased understanding of each other’s work and how we can best support students to improve their digital literacy capabilities.
One of Jisc’s requirements is that findings are shared and this gave me experience in submitting proposals to conferences, which was something I hadn’t done before. I was accepted to three conferences, LILAC (Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference) at the University of Manchester, CLT at Edge Hill University and Creating Knowledge VII at Lund University in Sweden. As a result of presenting at LILAC, I was invited to speak at a southern university libraries event at the University of Winchester. Improving my confidence in presenting at such events, two with Federica Oradini and two by myself, has been a fantastic development opportunity. It has also been very satisfying to see the interest there is in our work externally, particularly in our one day student conference, Get the Digital Edge. With this in mind, Ellie Murphy and I have sent a case study proposal about the day to the User Skills Group of the UCISA – USDG (University and Colleges Information Systems Association – Digital Skills and Development Group). We are also submitting a project report about it to the Journal of Information Literacy.
I am delighted to have been involved in such a collaborative and dynamic project. If you’re offered the chance to get involved with something similar, take it!
Efie Bilissi: An academic’s view
Participating in the delivery group of the DigitISE project was a fulfilling experience. It was a cross disciplinary environment which I found inspiring. One of my interests as an academic is student employability and the skills students need that will support them in their career development. The student survey that was carried out as part of the project gave an insight into how students see themselves in terms of using technology. For example, one of the findings of the survey was that 81.5% of the students who participated in the survey considered themselves digitally literate. The Get the Digital Edge event was held in March 2013 as part of the DigitISE project aimed at showing the students how to hone these skills to improve their employability. I found the presentations and discussions held during the event informative and stimulating. The topics presented included the use of social media for job hunting, the importance of on-line reputation in employability and how to use the internet to find information on employers prior to attending a job interview. I enjoyed participating in the organisation of the event and working with the other members of the delivery group. I was also very pleased to see that there has been a lot of external interest in the event at conferences where the findings of the project were presented. It was a rewarding experience and it gave me the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between digital literacy skills and student employability.
Four weeks on and the Get the Digital Edge day seems remote but it was as exciting day with a genuine buzz around what we were doing. Here’s an overview of the sessions:
Using social media for job search
I attended the talk ‘Using Social Media to Job Hunt’ which was presented by Aimee Bateman. Aimee Bateman, who is founder of Careercake.com and has over ten years’ expertise in employment, talked about personal branding and the use of social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter for job hunting. I have always been interested in this subject and I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend this talk. It was a highly interactive session, with many examples and lots of questions from the attendees. The importance of social media in recruitment was highlighted at the beginning of the talk where we heard about the high percentage of employers who form their decision on recruiting an applicant by searching the applicant’s presence on social media. Aimee talked about the personal brand and personal statement and also on the importance of the avatar, the visual representation in the social media. It was very interesting to see the different media employers use to search for information on an applicant. The talk was focussed mainly on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook where we were given lots of tips on how to develop our online presence with these media. There was lots of interest from the attendees on the subjects discussed and I enjoyed the talk as I learned a lot about the use of social media for improving employability.
Social media and reputation: what you can learn from big companies
Andrew Rigby is a Consultant with The Group ‘Digital Agency of The Year’ are the UK’s leading online corporate communication agency. They design, build, host and manage web sites and reports, but also help companies understand and monitor their online reputation. With huge and increasing numbers of people using online media e.g. Facebook, with more than 200 million active users, to comment on, not just large companies, which is their main concern, but anything and everything including individuals. For students entering the workplace, online reputation can have a huge impact. Andrew provided an entertaining and relevant talk illustrating how large companies have both fallen foul and benefited from online media, emphasising how it has more and more relevance in all aspects of our lives and that it is important not just to connect, but to monitor your reputation and betterunderstand how your social media activity may affect you.
Managing your online identity made attendees think twice about what is publicly available about them. Frances Gow gave some very useful tips on how to check this, for example looking yourself up on people search engines such as peekyou.com and social-searcher.com. What appears when people search your name on Google is also very important to consider, as this is essentially your online CV. The dangers of how much can be revealed about someone who hasn’t managed their online identity correctly were highlighted in a video “I know what you did five minutes ago” by Tom Scott. By the end of the session, one student had already changed his Facebook settings and another was planning on changing her profile picture.
Researching your companies online for your job interview
This session was delivered by two Academic Liaison Librarians for Business, Ellie Murphy and Sara Goddard. The idea behind the session was to show students how to make the most of the resources available to them to get the edge at interview. While students may be used to using these resources for academic work this session aimed to show them how they can be utilised to find potential employers and to do effective research before interview. In the first part of the session Sara showed students how to use FAME to search for potential employers and create a mailing list. Ellie then described how you can prepare for interview using Mintel and Passport to research a company or industry. Sara finished the session by demonstrating Factiva which can be used to keep up to date by reading global newspaper articles.
Ellie Murphy and Sara Goddard
Learning from media change
Here’s what Jim Mclellan had to say about his contribution to the day:
IT training opportunities at the University of Westminster
Kevin Lawley and Jemma Perrin are IT Training Specialists at the University and did a talk regarding the IT training opportunities, which focused on the certification programmes facilitated by the IT Training Team. The Microsoft Office Specialist and Adobe Certified Associate programmes are free of charge for students and alumni of the University. The session was positively received by attendees; with all agreeing that with the continual need for excellent IT skills in the workplace. Making the most of the IT training opportunities provided whilst at University is both beneficial in supporting academic work and important, if not essential to enhance employability.
Recently I attended a talk by Peter Chatterton future -gazing on Higher Education and libraries in 2020. A couple of ideas struck me as particularly relevant now to the DigitISE project.
The first was to focus on capabilities rather than skills. It made me realise that our terminology had slipped backwards; our thinking prior to this project had been about graduate attributes. I suspect that the reason is that the word “skills” has more meaning to us (those engaged in the project), particularly those of us engaged with “information skills”, but as we know from experience and our research it doesn’t necessarily mean much to students. Perhaps we should challenge ourselves and try to define what we mean by skills?
Peter also broadened the depth of what graduate capabilities might include – problem identification rather than just problem solving. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and change – the graduate capability lying in understanding these processes and using them to lead for change. This again had strong resonance, as a constant theme of the digital skills project research and of the DigitISE day has been that students know how to use the tools, they just don’t always understand the context or where the information has come from or goes to – in terms of the digital literacy definition we have been using – the locate, organise understand and evaluate information element.
“Digital literacy is the ability to locate, organise, understand and evaluate information using digital technology. It involves a working knowledge of current high-technology and an understanding of how it can be used. Digitally literate people can communicate and work more effectively, especially with those who possess the same knowledge and skills”.
Peter also talked about the future of learning being the capability to engage with or lead “Communities of practice”, and this is very much what the DigitISE project has been about. Engaging with academics, students, senior managers, learning technologists, careers, librarians, IT trainers, the Student Union and employers.
Until Peter’s talk the discussion has been of “collaboration” and “working collaboratively”. Earlier this year I attended a faculty teaching and learning symposium where a discussion point was “collaboration to improve the student experience” (generated from module feedback). I realised that my understanding of collaboration (more closely aligned to communities of practice) was very different to that of the academics. Academics had immediately thought of collaboration as creating cross-faculty modules. I had thought of collaboration as working together to utilising the skills of the different areas and departments and stakeholders of the University. Perhaps “building communities of practice” is the middle ground where the different professional viewpoints can meet.
This week has seen a lot of project activity for me. Some further analysis of the survey results provided evidence of differences between students in different disciplines, which I am sharing with academic and Corporate Services’ colleagues via an internal press release and a post on the staff intranet as well as targeted emails to key stakeholders. Following support from action learning set colleagues I am also setting up one-to-one meetings with lecturers who have responsibility for employablity and/or skills to brief them on the survey findings and the project in general. I have had one of these meetings so far and it was useful to note how the work of Project DigitISE complements other university activity, a Change Academy proposal, WiRES which is looking at embedding information skills into the curriculum and the university-wide initiative and Learning Futures@Westminster which is considering the future of teaching and learning. The former is lead by Prof. Barbara Allan, Deputy Chair of the DigitISE Project Board and the latter by Prof Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, its Chair, so connections are there at the highest level and I’m hopeful this will contribute to the project’s sustainability.
This week the student intranet also reported the winner of the Amazon vouchers for participation in the survey and highlighted the existence of the work for the first time to the student body in general. Today I have put out word to students about a series of focus groups where we hope to refine our understanding of attitudes to digital literacy skills. The timing is tight as these are scheduled to take place next week, so I have enlisted the support of the Academic Liaison team for tweets and blog posts as well as the Students’ Union for their communication channels, it’s a bit of a gamble and we’ll see if digital communication pays off.
Get the Digital Edge
We have also started work in earnest on the event for students scheduled for March 21st. Entitled “Get the Digital Edge” it will feature a series of workshops and seminars on the topic of digital skills and employment. Members of the Delivery Group are recruiting and liaising with speakers, who are both interanl and external to the university and we are in the throes of finalising the booking system through eventbrite . The communications plan is in action with weekly messages identified to build the interest for the day. In speaking to an academic colleague yesterday, she identified the need to have some kind of “progression” for students who attend the day, a “What next?”, so I will be bringing this to the attention of the Project Board and Delivery Group in due course. The most obvious candidates are the Career Development Centre and the Academic Liaison and IT training team who can use this opportunity to highlight their offer to students although in the longer term the links to the projects mentioned above where digital skills can be embedded is a more appealing and effective outcome.
We are now approximately half way through the life of the project and have reached a milestone recently: the student survey elicited some 400 responses although on analysis we found that some schools were better represented than others. As a result we have extended the life of the questionnaire for those we heard less from and have written to the Deans of these schools to encourage participation.
The key message from the survey results so far is that 85% our student respondents believe themselves to be digitally literate already. This in turn presents us with further questions: are they as digitally literate as they think they are or do we still have work to do? If the latter, how do we persuade our students to engage in digital literacy activities to hone these skills, when they think thay already have them?
The Project Board also agreed to delve a bit deeper into the questionaire findings by hosting some focus groups and shortly before Christmas I spoke to colleagues in the Psychology department about organising these. Time will be tight to recruit students (our job) in time to get results (their job) that can feed into other elements of the work.
In the meantime the Delivery Group is planning the DigitISE Day, where we hope to attract students to a series of workshops linking digital literacy with employability skills. The programme includes the following sessions:
- Facebook and LinkedIn for job seeking
- An employer talks
- Managing your online reputation/e-identity
- Online tools
- Researching companies online
- IT training opportunities
- Panel discussion
although we have yet to set a date for this event, complicated by an early Easter straddled by term time and a lack of consensus from academics we have consulted. The decision needs to be made soon to ensure proper marketing and publicity around the day.
So at this point in the project there are a number of plates spinning: completing the survey and disseminating findings to other colleagues; organising focus groups to delve deeper into some of the themes; planning the marketing and publicity for the DigitISE day and identifying and booking speakers that will draw an audience of undergraduates.
There is widespread agreement across Higher Education that the digital literacy of our students and staff will be critical in a future where technology will pervade the learning and teaching experience. What is less agreed is what we mean precisely about the term digital literacy? Without understanding what it is we want students and staff to be able to do or understand it is difficult to see a clear path to ‘embedding’. Possibly however one currently gains a sense that there is agreement forming that meaningful digital literacy is about being confident to grapple with and work a way through new tools and systems as they continue to emerge at the alarming pace that they do. In addition what is key for education and employment is the capability to grasp how new tools and systems can and are being used within the context of one’s subject area or profession.
In most institutions different subject areas, different departments and very definitely, individual staff, will have their own views about how best to ‘give’ students the skills they need to be successful in their chosen area of study. Many will instinctively react strongly against the notion that some sort of generic digital literacy skills course can suffice for their students. As with many things this is a bit of a non-argument as in reality most people, to succeed, need generics and specifics with most things they need to know about or learn. The premium approach is to provide a generic base upon which subject specialisms can build and on top which individuals can layer their own specific and personal knowledge of what information technology does for them.
The real key to embedding is getting a shared institutional understanding of what everyone can offer in helping to make an individual a capable and continually evolving user of IT. That everyone includes the institution’s ethos, it includes what the institutional staff (including the most senior) say about and do with technology, it is linked tightly to how technology is used to deliver the curriculum and of course it is intimately tied up which each and every student’s experience of IT inside and outside of the university environment.
For the reasons above projects such as the Digital Literacies in Transition project, led by the University of Greenwich, which is seeking to draw together the views of a whole range of stakeholders to get some shared understanding, are critical. The whole idea of thinking of digital literacy as something that must evolve and develop as students transition from one phase of their life cycle to another is one that is much nearer to a meaningful definition of digital literacy than one which leads to a focus on which software or systems they must know and understand.
The transformations project on Digital Literacy at Westminster is a member of the CAMEL group meeting regularly to discuss the Greenwich led project and see how what the CAMEL institutions can learn from each other and in turn feed into the overall aims of the Greenwich project. A key objective that the transformations project shares with the Digital Literacies in Transition project is the development of a shared institutional understanding of digital literacy. This is needed first so that meaningful ‘face-value’ statements and objectives can be made in relevant strategic plans for the future. These must have universal buy-in and be linked to a clear idea of the way in which the curriculum will be delivered and made use of by students. More than statement however, the idea d digital literacy needs to be inherent, and therefore embedded, in all that staff and students do.
There’s an awful lot of stuff out there defining what digital literacy is. It’s going to be an interesting process deciding what elements of our activities as part of the IT Training Team I contribute to the programme with particular regard to employability.
Kim Thomas in The Guardian, Tuesday 10 July 2012 reported on ‘Innovations in ICT teaching: a Guardian roundtable debate’ in which it was suggested by a contributor that Digital literacy ‘covers a spectrum of skills, from the ability to use simple applications at one end to the ability to write computer programs at the other. Other mid-level skills, such as using HTML to create websites, fall in between’.
I wonder where students like, my daughter currently at university, fall in to the computer literacy spectrum.
WhatsApp (app on my mobile to text message for free), conversation as follows;
>Do you know what an absolute cell reference is in Excel?
>Yes all the cells in the column/row added together isn’t it?
>Do you know what html tags are?
>Isn’t that just the link that takes you to the website
>I think you confusing HTML with URL!
>Are you in the Pub!
>Skype you later – bye
OMG my daughter is short of mid-level skills LOL. Is she merely proficient and not literate? A bit harsh making this assumption I suppose, but as she’s currently starting her third year of study on a scholarship at Harvard doing stem cell research so I’m not too worried.
It also illustrates how the primary use for the app i.e. a base level of everyday communication with my daughter using software ‘proficiently’ has been established, but raises questions. Is there potential for it to be developed to a different purpose? Has it possible educational value? Tibor Koltay, Szent István University, in his article: The media and the literacies: media literacy, information literacy, digital literacy illustrates how awareness of digital technologies, is acquiring crucial importance.
Where employability is concerned, and an uncertain future for many students this importance cannot be overstated and for the first time in my experience IT training at a university, the relevance of digital skills to employability is possibly reflected in student numbers wishing to attend IT training. In the past marketing the IT sessions we provided was seen to be a problem. Classes were not filled and this was often thought to be because students were unaware. Drop in offerings were always under populated. Now we are experiencing a new problem, turning people away. It may be that we are now offering accredited training, or it may be that we are offering accredited training for free, or that Microsoft Office Specialist and Adobe Certified Associate qualifications are seen to be relevant and worthwhile. It may be that students paying large fees see the worth of adding value where they can, whatever the reasons it’s a good problem so far.
This blog post details some of the ways I use Twitter and how I think students might use it as an information resource. I have linked back to explanations of the terms used, if you are new to Twitter.
I have tried different web 2.0 tools for work and current awareness but none of them really compare to Twitter in terms of value. Put simply, Twitter has transformed how I get my information about my profession, stay aware of current issues, and get updates from publishers and suppliers. Mailing lists still have their place but Twitter is my go-to information hub now. Three main ways I think you can get the most of Twitter ‘the information tool’ are:
Follow– see what fellow tweeters, people in your industry and other like-minded types are talking about by following them. It’s also a good way to get alerts and updates from companies. Remember this won’t always just be 140 characters about what they people for breakfast but will often contain links back to reports/news articles/opinions/research etc. etc. etc.
Search– you don’t need to find people to follow to see what they are saying, just use Twitter’s search to see what people are saying on particular topics. Tweeters often categorise/tag their tweets with a subject or subjects preceded by a hashtag (e.g. #education #media #marketing); explore these with some simple searches.
Engage- A huge part of Twitter is the ability to network online, to have direct access to key thinkers, to engage with like-minded people, to interact with your community/industry and to tweet your own thoughts and opinions. I must confess that when I use Twitter for work I am probably more guilty of being a lurker than an engager; I prefer to use it passively to find information than asking questions or frequently tweeting myself. However I do follow and am followed by a large number of librarians and I find this a fantastic resource to exploit if I have a quick question or want an opinion from colleagues.
Encouraging students to use Twitter as an information tool
I have had a few conversations with academics from the fashion management courses about Twitter. They increasingly want their students to exploit Twitter as an information source, particularly as there are many influential people from business and fashion management tweeting. Creating a Twitter list of such people for the students to follow is a good start. In fact, they don’t even need to have a Twitter account, or follow those people- all they need to do is click on the list link and before you can say Tweet there is a list of what all those important people are currently tweeting about.
Getting students to search on a topic on Twitter might demonstrate the range of information of available. I have just tried a simple search on #retail. Of course, with any search, there’s a lot of chaff to wade through and teaching students the importance of checking sources for validity and authority remains strong. But, with caveats done and even with just a quick scroll down the list, I find data from the Office of National Statistics Twitter feed on retail sales volumes, a tweet from EIU (the Economist Intelligence Unit) linking to a story about the challenges ahead for retail up to Christmas, and a very mouth-watering link to a report on chocolate markets from KPMG.
Engaging with discussion groups
One opportunity to engage might be to find a particular discussion group in your industry. Discussion groups (or Tweetchats) are virtual groups which meet on Twitter, usually at a set time, to discuss a particular topic. The discussion is grouped under a given name with a hashtag and all tweets in the discussion must include the given #name. For example, in my profession, #uklibchat is a fortnightly discussion group usually held on Tuesdays 6.30-8.30pm GMT. Topics and questions for discussion are proposed by participants beforehand. You can search #uklibchat on Twitter to see recent discussions. Similarly #phdchat is popular amongst researchers with discussions on different themes every Wednesday evening.
If I’ve whetted your appetite for Twitter and you want to find out more you can seek me out on Twitter at @elliemurphylib
Last week I spoke for the first time to Sarah, who is our project’s critical friend. She introduced me to the fact that I will be participating in an action learning set with colleagues from a few other institutions who are also engaged in a JISC Transformations project. I’m looking forward to this as another way of gaining insights, finding some solutions and sharing the pain of inevitable dead ends, frustrations and failures… this begins in a few weeks’ time.
I have an invitation to attend a JISC workshop next week on Enterprise Architecture and yesterday was invited to present our project in brief to the assembled audience. I had never come across EA before and so I watched a short webinar on the topic – it seemed much more technical than I had expected it to be but I’m hoping it will provide a methodology for the change we’d like to see in the project, particularly as there is another project for which I consider this one a feeder.
There are a number of stakeholders in the work and not all of them will view the idea of linking digital literacy skills with employability as a pressing need for the University. Having said that, there are a number of concurrent activities which do all shed light on the various facets of what we are about:
- a newly launched investigation of the future of teaching and learning
- a recently endorsed Web 2.0 policy
- a draft social media policy
- a Change Academy project, WIRES, around undergraduate information and research skills
- a review of the university’s online environment
- the unification of staff and student Google domains to enable better collaboration and sharing
and in the first Project Board meeting at the end of May, our Deputy Vice Chancellor clearly voiced her expectation that this project will produce a draft digital literacy policy to meet the University’s autumn committee cycle, so there’s plenty to be getting on with.
Tomorrow sees the first Project Board, where members of the team will meet up – a modest agenda and some important ground work to be done, agreeing terms of reference, approving the work plan, thinking about dissemination and setting some initial tasks for the Delivery Group. Eager to get started….