Interesting conversations

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.

About patparslow

I am a researcher in the School of Systems Engineering, working in the fields of social media, digital identity and learning. I have previously worked in IT training/education, land survey, civil engineering, IT support, and as a software engineer.
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7 Responses to Interesting conversations

  1. Doug Belshaw says:

    I agree, Pat. There’s a lightness and agility that marks a ‘digitally literate’ individual that allows them to traverse technologies and networks. 🙂

  2. Are the most digitally literate also the most conventionally literate? Literacy is conventionally developed by study and asking questions and the same seems to be true for digital literacy.

    • patparslow says:

      I think they are both founded in the same attitudes and outlooks, and almost certainly tend to be linked for that reason, but I would say I have certainly known some digitally literate people who might struggle to qualify as literate in conventional terms e.g. having atrocious spelling, grammar, and sometimes even comprehension, but still somehow able to take part in a discussion online and produce something meaningful as a result. At least, I think that qualifies as digitally literate (at least to some degree).

      So, broadly yes, but with some exceptions?

  3. Nikki says:

    I started writing a comment, but then I got so worked up I ended up making my own blog post haha you can see it on the ExeterCascadeBlog.

  4. SEO in Kent says:

    Interesting post Pat. I think there’s certainly is a fine line to be struck between reaping the benefits of digital innovation with and gradual introduction of these technologies ( e.g. training in a collaborative, impartial atmosphere).

    Digital literacy seems to be increasingly important to potential employers, but as you say, there are a lot of digitally literate individuals with poor grammar and spelling – myself included.

  5. Gareth Bull says:

    I also agree Pat. I know I’m a bit late reading this – but I still believe this 100% applies.
    Keep up the good work Pat.

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