Symposium: Supporting Academic Practice in a Digital Age, 17 May 2012

I recently attended this one day symposium at the University of Exeter, hosted by the JISC-funded Exeter CASCADE Project and the University of Exeter Academic Skills team. Over 80 delegates attended from universities mostly in the South and Midlands. A variety of roles were represented, including subject academics, learning developers, educational developers, librarians, educational researchers and ICT tutors. This meant an early recognition that in digital literacies, as in any other area of HE, there’s no chance of applying a one-size-fits-all approach.

Differing needs, applications and anxieties quickly became apparent, as did differing levels of confidence. The ‘desert island’ question at the end of the panel session was especially telling: asked what one piece of technology they would retain on a desert island, one panel member said she’d be glad to be rid of all of it, while another said as long as there was no email, he’d be happy. (I empathised.)

Twitter still seems to be a particular source of anxiety, especially anxieties around boundaries and digital identity. It does seem as if the only effective way to understand Twitter is to use it, and the ‘follow ten people for a couple of weeks’ advice is a good way in. Perhaps some of this anxiety could be overcome with a more structured timetable of tasks – something like the ‘23 Things’ approach?

The event began with two plenary sessions, Dilly Fung (Exeter) on New Academic Literacies, followed by Helen Beetham (Exeter CASCADE) and Martin Oliver (Institute of Education, London) on Students’ Digital Practices: Studying in the Age of Google. I found Helen’s idea of overlapping and interacting digital tribes (e.g. social media users/programmers/email and WPers etc) a much more useful way of thinking than the natives/immigrants or even residents/visitors schema that have been proposed previously.

The panel session that followed these included two very articulate student members. One stated that in her experience most students are more concerned about success in their studies and less about employability. Perhaps some of the current emphasis on the latter risks making a separation between the two in students’ minds?

In the afternoon workshop sessions included hands-on experience of using screencasting to give feedback, using social media for peer-mentored learning, referencing tools, and knowledge production via tweets, blogs and wikis. We will certainly be trialling screencasting for producing resources in Study Advice this year – engaging, easy and effective.

The day gave me plenty to think about (and lots of new Twitter followers…) but perhaps the strongest impression I came away with was that there is much talk about training staff in digital literacies, but little about who takes responsibility for training students – people were quick to say that they didn’t have time/expertise/hardware. But there are plenty of good training resources already out there (see Paul’s elearning resources from Paul Andrews at Newport for an especially useful collection), and a good first step would be to collate and evaluate them, and to produce some examples of how they could be embedded into teaching practice.

For another view of the event, see the CASCADE blog .

About Kim Shahabudin

I'm a member of the university Study Advice team, working directly with students and tutors, and developing self-help resources. I lead in the team on website development and run our official Twitter account. Interested in anything that will help students study more successfully.
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