Ubiquitous computing: does this area shape the digital literacy map?


November morning in London

Increasingly smart objects are present in our public spaces. Digital technologies, whether immediately apparent or ‘hidden’, intervene in our sensory engagement with physical space and the ways in which we make meaning of the world. With this convergence of digital and material, and the expanding relationships/networks formed with humans, is ubiquitous computing something that we should be including within the realm of digital literacy in arts and design education?

On the one hand, students from many subject areas are already exploring physical-digital-human networks as they embed sensors into material objects, write code, and explore future scenarios for the performance of the human body when supplemented by multi-scale digital systems – and much, much more. Hence we are actively addressing the meshing of physical and digital in society. However, in terms of defining digital literacy, digital skills and competencies, how porous are the borders? Is it helpful to include ubiquitous computing and associated territories in the digital literacy map?

Where do we start to look for insights: is it from the broad field of material culture, an investigation of ubicomp through Thing theory and its attendance to the margins of meaning (possibly not as ubiquitous suggests an opposite state), or do we situate our search within an existing applied pedagogic framework?

Today, whilst computing is not yet embedded into all objects and surfaces, the lens of Thing theory may indeed prove useful to deliberate where smart-objects, as a form of ‘special object’, are situated within the interpretive realm of digital literacy; how do we read our digitally penetrated material environment? Will our increasingly complex interwoven human-digital-material systems render us objectified or ‘thingified’? If so, it would seem appropriate to consider ubiquitous computing, and its potential effects on how we experience the world, as something of which we should have a collective understanding/be literate.

csm ubi

Kings Cross, London

Whatever the skills and competencies identified as necessary to be digitally literate within an arts and design environment – and there are sure to be variations depending on subject area and so forth – it’s important to ensure that an expansive and evolving approach is taken.

To help shape our understanding of 21c digital literacy within arts and design higher education, contact Chris Follows – manager of UAL DIAL project.  You can contribute either online or in a group ‘flesh-meet’, and your insights and enthusiasm would be much appreciated.  Chris recently noted that as part of the process the hope is to debate and define UALs institutional understanding of terms associated with ‘Digital literacies’ within all aspects of creative practice; including media literacies, information literacies, digital practice, digital citizenship, online identities, digital/social/cultural competencies etc.

A UAL glossary of terms will be produced – based on an iterative process of practical, subject and interest specific case study evidence.