I’ve recently been involved in some interesting conversations about digital literacies and how people go about acquiring them. All these have one key element in common, which I will draw out at the end of the post.
I was chatting with some students who were saying they were surprised that so many of their peers seem to struggle with institutional systems. Specifically, they were surprised that their fellow students have trouble with our timetabling system and our VLE. Now, I can’t say I share their surprise – I know I struggle with these systems, and I generally think I am fairly digitally literate – but I do understand their reasoning. They were pointing out that although it can be annoying when a site it slow, or perhaps has key navigational elements presented in less-than-easy-to-see ways (pale grey on white…!), or goes wrong and is unavailable, they see these as learning opportunities. OK, these are students doing technical courses, and part of the learning they take from their interactions with these systems is ‘how not to develop software’, but they have a point – even awkward, cumbersome systems can make us pause to reflect. And if a system goes down when we are trying to use it to submit work at the last minute, part of our reflection should be along the lines of “Don’t trust the tech to be working at the last minute, when it is almost guaranteed to be under the greatest load”. And that, actually, is a Digital Literacy.
Another conversation was with some of our marvellous admin staff, who were saying that they learn from each other. If they identify something they don’t know how to do, or notice a colleague doing something and know a better way, they ask, share and communicate. When they get the time (a rare occurrence, given the work load we put them under), they even explore new ways of using the technology. I can’t put in to words the level of respect I have for them because of this can-do, explorative, collaborative attitude. That is Digital Literacy.
Another thing I have heard this week, and this is close to my heart because I have seen it happen in other organisations, is that there is a perceived move towards being more ‘business like’ and a growing trepidation about admitting you don’t know something because it may jeopardise your promotion/grades/job/future. One person even commented on the perception that the increasing number of suits being seen around campus makes them wary of asking questions.
The thing the conversations have in common is that the digitally literate people are prepared to ask those questions. They know that they can’t know everything, and that a key skill is knowing who, where, and how to ask. Sometimes that is done face to face, and sometimes it is done using technology. Interestingly, though, most people are identifying the gaps between their existing knowledge and what they might need themselves. That relies on a level of knowledge about future, or even current, needs which we may not always have – being able to ask questions helps us identify better ways of doing things, ways of improving our Digital Literacies. Let’s make sure everyone feels at liberty to ask those questions, and let’s try to capture the questions and answers in a way that others can re-use.