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4.2.2 Research Briefing on Digital Literacy in Schools

4.2.2 Research BriefingThis Research Briefing was produced as part of a HEFCE-funded project Leading Transformational Change to explore ways to strengthen collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University to support the business strengths and aspirations of the Sheffield region. As part of the project, the Schools of Education at both Universities collaborated on a range of activities to support educational development in the City region. This included developing research briefs, which aim to provide a summary of key research on a range of educational topics – the Research Briefing can be downloaded here

In this review we provide an overview of digital literacy in schools. This begins with an overview of research and related issues in the school sector. This is followed by a discussion of the implications for policy and practice. Digital technology is now well-embedded in contemporary social life and is increasingly being used in schools to support learning particularly through the use of computers, interactive white boards and mobile technologies.

Futurelab defines digital literacy as:

Knowing how technology and media affect the ways in which we go about finding things out, communicating with one another, and gaining knowledge and understanding. And it also means understanding how technologies and media can shape and influence the ways in which school subjects can be taught and learnt. (Williamson and Hague 2009: 5)

Teachers are routinely expected to combine the development of students’ subject knowledge with the ability to use technology safely and effectively (Hague and Williamson 2009). The UK is relatively well provided for in terms of computers per pupil and access to other digital media. However teachers’ use of digital technology is inconsistent and many continue to focus on the passive delivery of information with PowerPoint or interactive whiteboards (Selwyn 2011). However research into new Web 2.0 technologies shows innovative use which contributes to digital literacy such as creative writing in online synchronous communication (Merchant 2005), collaborative wikis (Carrington 2009) and podcasting (Lee, McLoughlin et al. 2008).

4.2.2 Digital NativesDigital Natives?  Digital literacy can play an important part in learning for all children – all of whom were born after the advent of widespread access to digital technology. Much has been written about this generation; they have been variously labelled as ‘digital natives’ and ‘millennials’ and claims have been made as to their digital technology skills that are supposed to far surpass those of their  parents and teachers – the so-called ‘digital immigrants’ (Hague and Payton 2010).
Evidence collected by researchers does not support these claims. Suggestions that the younger generation are more visually literate than their elders have been refuted (Brumberger 2011) and young people’s engagements with digital technologies are sometimes ‘varied and often unspectacular’ (Selwyn 2009). Age is an important consideration when researching children’s experiences: the social, cultural and cognitive backgrounds of a seven year old are very different to those of a fifteen year old (Selwyn 2009). Research by the British Library of students  on entry to university suggests that the academic searching skills of young people has been over estimated (Rowlands, Nicholas et al. 2008). Nevertheless, there is evidence that many young children acquire a range of skills, knowledge and understanding through their engagement in digital technologies outside of school and that this occurs from a young age (Marsh et al., 2005). See also: 2.5.3 Digital Natives

4.2.2 Research Briefing on... Tags COMMENTS (public) ANNOTATIONS (private) What can teachers do to approach digital literacy issues in schools?

Research shows varying degrees of experience and competence with digital technology amongst children; however, the positive role that teachers can play is clear. International research indicates that educational experiences may be more important than the availability of technological tools in the home (Yan and Ranieri 2010) in predicting high levels of digital competence. Mills (2010) describes the necessity for teachers to provide expert guidance in supporting the development of digital literacy. She proposes a scaffolding model where teachers structure students’ experiences to enable them to eventually work independently.

Strategies for Engaging Children with Digital Literacy

  • Creating educational applications for tools children are already familiar with - for example, class projects using mobile technology such as iPods and mobile phones.
  • Enabling children to engage with a broader audience - blogs are an ideal way of encouraging literacy and enable children to share their work and invite responses.
  • Facilitating links with local organisations – for example creating QR codes to contribute to a local museum.
  • Encouraging children to create digital artefacts – rather than being passive consumers of educational broadcasting, allowing children to make their own films using simple hardware and software.
  • Integrate digital literacy into children’s research skills – using social-bookmarking sites (such as Diigo) for children to form groups and add their own bookmarks and evaluate those of others on a particular research topic.

The widespread use of digital technology amongst children of all ages does not mean they have digital skills appropriate for school use. Teachers have a pivotal role to play in incorporating digital literacy in their work which enables children to access the curriculum through digital tools and develop a critical appreciation of the digital world. What can teachers do... Tags COMMENTS (public) ANNOTATIONS (private) Implications for Policy and Practice

  • Teachers should recognise that children come to school with a variety of experiences and competences with digital technology. It should not be assumed they automatically have acquired particular skills outside the school setting.
  • Children should be encouraged and supported in the development of digital literacy practices that are safe, ethical and advantageous.
  • Schools should have a clear and comprehensive policy on the use of social media and portable devices. Currently there is a great divide between those schools that encourage this media and those than ban it.
  • Children’s progress in digital literacy should be monitored and assessed to ensure individual progress.
  • Schools should integrate Open Educational Resources into the curriculum to encourage openness and to educate children in an awareness of copyright and sharing resources online
  • Digital tools should also be integrated into opportunities for teachers’ professional development. Implications for... Tags COMMENTS (public) ANNOTATIONS (private) References / Links to Further Information

Brumberger, E. (2011). “Visual Literacy and the Digital Native: An Examination of the Millennial Learner.” Journal of Visual Literacy 30(1): 19-46.

Carrington, V. (2009). From Wikipedia to the humble classroom Wiki: why we should pay attention to Wikis. Digital Literacies: Social Learning and Classroom Practices. V. Carrington and M. Robinson. London, Sage: 65-80.

Hague, C. and S. Payton (2010). Digital literacy across the Curriculum. Slough, Futurelab.

Hague, C. and B. Williamson (2009). Digital participation, digital literacy, and school subjects: A review of the policies, literature and evidence, Futurelab.

Lee, M., C. McLoughlin, et al. (2008). “Talk the talk: Learner-generated podcasts as catalysts for knowledge creation.” British Journal of Educational Technology 39(3): 501-521.

Marsh, J., Brooks, G., Hughes, J., Ritchie, L., & Roberts, S. (2005). Digital beginnings: Young children’s use of popular culture, media and new technologies. Sheffield, U.K.: University of Sheffield. Retrieved from http://www.digitalbeginings.shef.ac.uk/

Merchant, G. (2005). “Digikids: cool dudes and the new writing.” E-Learning 2(1): 50-60.

Mills, K. (2010). “Shrek meets Vygotsky.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 54(1): 35-45.

Rowlands, I., D. Nicholas, et al. (2008). “The Google generation: the information behaviour of the researcher of the future.” Aslib ….

Selwyn, N. (2009). “The digital native – myth and reality.” Aslib Proceedings 61(4).

Selwyn, N. (2011). Schools and schooling in the digital age : a critical analysis. London, Routledge.

Williamson, B. and C. Hague (2009). “Digital participation, digital literacy, and school subjects: A review of the policies, literature and evidence.” Futurelab(92a254a6-fd08-c7cb-2322-7ca80a834090).

Yan, L. and M. Ranieri (2010). “Are ‘digital natives’ really digitally competent?-A study on Chinese teenagers.” British Journal of Educational Technology 41(6): 1029-1042 References / Links to... Tags COMMENTS (public) ANNOTATIONS (private)