Digital Literacies, schools and the Guardian

This week the Guardian has launched a campaign to promote improved digital literacies (link). This was evidently timed to coincide with Michael Gove’s announcement that the Government are overhauling the provision of ICT teaching in schools.

A number of people have identified a potential issue with some confusion of terminology. The terms ‘computer science’, ‘coding’ and ‘digital literacy’ are tending to be conflated, but they are not the same things (as Josie Fraser points out on her blog).

Coding skills are useful; it would be great to see the majority of people being able to write simple scripts to access and process information from the web, for example. The discipline of being able to analyse a problem, break it down and solve it in bite sized (algorithmic) steps is one which can be used in other areas of life. But coding is certainly not a necessary part of being digitally literate.

The gap between people and machines is being eroded from both sides. Developers worth their salt try to minimise the entry barriers to their software, making systems as ‘user friendly’ as they can. At the same time, people learn how to use systems, develop ways to find the best (for them) techniques to achieve their goals using the software. The main thing which means that the gap may not be seen as narrowing quickly enough is that there are a lot of new systems being developed all the time. And with new systems, new ways of working appear. Some of them suit some people more than others – and whether the systems are adopted or not depends largely on whether the people need/want the functionality, and if they do, whether they afford the learning curve attached.

Unless the level of development declines, it is likely that people will need to continue to gain new competencies, and probably at an increasing rate. It is a moot point as to whether institutions can provide sufficient tailored training opportunities (to achieve X, do Y, style of training). It seems likely that more practically, we should be helping our learners (staff and students in Reading’s case) become confident explorers of the ‘digital space’, able to learn new systems without attending courses (or at least, without having to attend too many). And that, I would say, is education.

It brings me back to the Pirate Model (link) which is about empowering people to learn, and moreover to continuously improve the way they learn. It is applicable beyond the digital literacy agenda, and actually requires a fairly minimal level of education literacy tobe able to start.

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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5 Responses to Digital Literacies, schools and the Guardian

  1. Doug Belshaw says:

    Great post, Pat. Thanks.

    I think the elephants in the room here are the purpose of education and the difference between education and training. When dealing with technology I think that one of the main differences between education and training is, for example, procedural stuff to get stuff done on a new (e.g. Android) device as opposed to the concept of a ‘menu system’ and concepts around network effects.

  2. patparslow says:

    Hi Doug,

    Well those elephants, plus commonality in definitions of education and training. I raised a few eyebrows in a project meeting the other day when I said I didn’t think it was our place to be providing training. When I explained training as being the ‘does X to achieve Y’ type of instruction, as opposed to engendering rich learning and understanding, the dissent evaporated. I don’t see much point in using ‘training’ and ‘educating’ as synonyms!

    For me, education in your example could include the concept of ‘menu system’ (etc) but would also have to include the inquisitive exploration and investigation of the designers’ intent – working out why doing X does Y, and what hints the UI might give, so that you can apply that experience in other situations. Something which lacks, all to frequently, in the ‘training’ approach.

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