Alongside our survey of nearly 500 people, we conducted research into digital literacy. This involved interviews with several thought leaders, international presentations, and, of course, reading.
Personally, working on this topic didn’t represent a change of pace or topic. To put my cards on the table, and to get autobiographical, I started working on information literacy in the late 1990s. As a faculty member at Centenary College of Louisiana I won grants from the Associated Colleges of the South for two years to explore, support, and teach information literacy. We (myself, student workers, IT and library colleagues) built online resources, led classes, gave public talks, collected print resources, worked with librarians at other colleges, wrote a campus copyright policy, and more. I was fascinated by the subject intellectually and pedagogically. I dove into the definitional issues, the differences between information literacy and fluency, the questions around copyright, and the many connections to other strands of intellectual history.
During the early 2000s I continued this interest when working at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE). That group supported several information lit projects at member campuses, and I was happy to learn from, and consult with them. NITLE worked with librarians at hundreds of colleges and universities; I connected with many through a shared concern for information literacy. Alas, I also saw how interest in info lit faded over the years, especially among the general academic (non-librarian) population.
At the same time digital literacy grew as a topic. I tracked this through conference presentations, scholarship, and, of course, rising discussion in social media. As one example, I worked on digital storytelling as a writer, teacher, presenter, and consultant; one key benefit of that practice is, I believe, boosting creators’ digital literacy. Creators have to rethink media practices and objects, then synthesize new work. Which brings us up to the present.
We began the NMC report by seeking expert advice. Doing so included interviewing major digital literacy figures. We started off with probably the world’s leading DL thinker, Doug Belshaw (British, not American, for those concerned about that). Doug and I explored a variety of definitions, including his, which can be broken down thusly:
Note the lack of specific technologies named there, and also how wide-ranging are the topics. They include a variety of technical and social skills and domains.
I also interviewed Howard Rheingold, author of Net Smart. Howard comes from a very different background, being a writer, rather than a full-time academic, although he’s taught as Berkeley and Stanford, as well as online. His take on digital literacy reaches from physical health to meditation to technologies to creativity, and is both conceptually advanced and quite practical. We spoke of digital literacy as a bootstrapping area, one anchored on crap detection and critical thinking. Of digital literacies, because there isn’t a single one. What’s especially new is its participatory nature.
The next interviewee was Lisa Hinchliffe, a major librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, past president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, and information literacy guru. We explored intersections between the two literacies, information and digital. Lisa emphasized affective literacy – the desire to learn, intrinsically. She teased out different positions and possibilities along the production-consumption dynamic, including student engagement and the pedagogy of constructivism. Thinking of items we might not want to produce at certain times brought us back to old media literacy.
I agree with her tweet:
While this research was going on, I spoke to two international audiences about digital literacy, one to K-20 educators in Malta, another to teachers and government officials from Nordic countries (Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, etc.). I summarized some of these findings, and also made some arguments, which I’ll get to in subsequent posts. Feedback was fun.
Coming up: a three-fold model, some collaborative recommendations, and digital literacy as insurgency.