Creative Communities: expanding conceptions of digital literacy

blog materialsThere is no collective understanding of what is meant by digital literacy within Art and Design Higher Education. Yes, we use the term, it is part of the educational lexicon, simultaneously it can be a funding theme, a staff development activity, and a catch-all for safe, acceptable and discerning practices online. With the term ‘digital literacy’ so pervasive and already embedded in multiple ways across many educational institutions, one could understandably question whether it is it important to have a common conception of what digital literacy means within an individual art and design institution?

My answer is unequivocally ‘yes’. Staff and students need to have a collective understanding of how to frame digital literacy, as that conception informs:

  1. Development of institutional vision and strategies
  2. Development of operational frameworks, investment decisions, staff development priorities, and so forth
  3. Development of sets of pedagogies and curricular advancement.

What we need is ongoing collective staff and student engagement to explore what digital literacy means in the art and design setting. No longer should deep exploration of the relationship between learning, teaching, research and digital technology be mainly a singular pursuit taking place in often unconnected spaces, instead we need to encourage and enable vibrant community investigation. For, at the moment we have any number of conceptual spaces occupied, some which place digital technologies as an ‘add on’ and technical know-how as the achievement of digital literacy, whilst others have a far more expansive view that includes aesthetic considerations and critical awareness. Often these conceptual spaces collide without anyone actually realising, and instead of producing those vital moments of clarity and opportunity, instead, confusion pervades.

Students with various technologies present, 2014

Students with various technologies present, 2014

Maybe the first thing we need to do is address the complex and conflicting assumptions and certainties that are at-play within our educational institutions regarding student competence and confidence with technology. The terms ‘Born Digital, Digital Native, Gen Y, Net Gen’ suggest, and are bound up with, framing this generation as being technically competent and critically engaged users of digital technology. This has been, and remains, a falsehood. Yet, whilst the framing is largely discredited in educational literature, this precept still has currency in society and importantly for our own endeavours, within many art and design institutions. Paradoxically, and equally wrong and unhelpful, academic staff are sometimes positioned as being in some way technically deficient – being unwilling or unable to adopt digital technologies as part of their professional life (here I point you to the Elearning at the University of the Arts London Report published this year, and cited below). Whilst these problematic generatlisations about an institution’s digital culture are informing and thus influencing decision-making, how can the awesome decisions we need, and deserve, be made?

Yes, I’ve got phobes on the staff. I sometimes feel there are more phobes than non-phobes.  [PD301]


The staff are all digital immigrants and there’s a huge divide…  [PD203]


You’ve got the resistors and the resistors will go back to more traditional methods because they feel scared, and they need a certain authority for something they feel confident in.  [PD403]


At the Designs on eLearning 2014 conference in Texas I spoke about the need to expand our collective conceptions of digital literacy. This article starts to ‘lay out my stall’ before I publish future posts that will share some of my research findings. At the same conference, LCF’s Darren Gray and I led a workshop that shared some of the key themes from the Elearning at UAL report – aspects of this session will also be reported in future articles on the Digital Present blog.

Finally, how do we spell e-Learning?


Elearning at UAL Report