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Thinking about digital literacy

In this video Nick Patterson talks with digital literacy expert, Jo Coldwell-Neilson about ways of approaching digital literacy in the workplace.
NICK PATTERSON: OK. Welcome everyone. Today we’re going to be lucky enough to have Associate Professor Jo Coldwell-Nielsen with us today to share expert insights into digital literacy. All right. Jo, so how would you describe digital literacy, and maybe has it changed from maybe five years ago? Or was it not even defined back then?
JO COLDWELL-NEILSON: Digital literacy has been around since– or the notion of digital literacy– since 1997. So to me digital literacy has changed as the technology has changed. And I have a very generic sort of definition that I like to use for digital literacy, which I hope will have some longevity. So for me, digital literacy is the ability to identify and use technology competently, creatively, and critically to effectively meet the demands and challenges of living, learning, and working in a digital society. What is the importance of digital literacy? Just look around you. Look at the technologies that you’ve got available to you. Can you make it work effectively for you?
Or is it actually intruding on your life, and getting in the way, and hindering you? So digital literacy is really important. But I think the main thing to get hold of here– the main concept– is that digital literacy is not the same for everybody. So it’s on an as-needs basis. The technology is not going to go away. And we certainly are seeing more and more technology of one sort or another being used, particularly in the workplace. So it’s going to be very important that users are confident about using technology. Now I should qualify that a little bit. I’m not expecting everybody to know everything about every technology. That would be just plain ridiculous.
But it is about building up the confidence to be able to approach new technologies, and look at that new technology– whether it be a piece of hardware, or a new application that you have to use to achieve something. You can look at it and say, mm, that looks like something I’ve used before. It should work in the same way. I feel confident about going in and having a go. So I think digital literacy is really about having confidence around using the technologies to make it work for you.
NICK PATTERSON: Yeah. I think everyone’s probably been in a situation where, either at home, or even in the workplace, where there’s a new tool or technology brought in– ah, great. We’ve got another one to figure out how to use, and what’s the benefit of this going to be? And usually the first instinct is, I don’t want to use it. I’m just going to going to stick with what I’ve got. But there’s probably a lot of benefit in being able to use those digital literacy skills to be able to pick up a new tool and learn it quickly, and then realise the benefit from that, because usually technology is evolving for a reason.
JO COLDWELL-NEILSON: Yes, definitely. I must say that in my experience technology developments are not always for the better.
JO COLDWELL-NEILSON: But digital literacy is about being able to recognise when it is and when it isn’t.
NICK PATTERSON: How do we determine if we are digitally literate or not? Is there any way to tell? I’m assuming there’s different levels to it.
JO COLDWELL-NEILSON: Absolutely. I was been thinking about this question, and I haven’t come up with a really good answer. But I think I’ll give you a little bit of a scenario. So, OK, Nick, you are in a digital environment. And you are very familiar with cybersecurity, and using technologies in those contexts. And then somebody comes along and says to you, OK, Nick, we’re going to throw out all of this technology. It’s out of date. Here’s the new set. What would your reaction be?
NICK PATTERSON: For me it will probably be, OK, give it all to me, and I’ll jump in, play around with it, and see what I can figure out.
JO COLDWELL-NEILSON: OK. Excellent. Thank you. Digital literacy is about attitude. If you are confident, you have some background in using technologies– you don’t have to have a lot– but you are confident about what you can do, and you can see where you can transfer that to different situations, then you’re digitally literate. And if you’re prepared to have a go, and learn, and you know where to look to find out new stuff. So, for example, you know how to search Google to find the answers that you want. And I think you’ll recognise that different browsers have different strengths.
And that you need to recognise quality information, and that you need to be aware of your own privacy and security, and those sort of things. Then you can start saying, I’m digitally literate.
NICK PATTERSON: So for any of the people listening now who are kind of career professionals, and they may be sitting there in their workplaces, given them some new technology or tools to kind of use. And they’re maybe thinking, OK, this is going to be a challenge. I’ve never kind of jumped into anything this complex before. How can they can build their digital literacy skills to kind of get up to the next level to say, hey, I’m going to know how to drive this new tool or technology or software or whatever it is? What advice would you give them to kind of boost their skills up?
JO COLDWELL-NEILSON: My favourite way of dealing with that is to ask questions. When you’re faced with something new, if you have a certain level of confidence that you can give it a go, then give it a go. Simply by opening a new application, and just having a search around the menus to see what sort of functionality it is, you’re not going to break it.
And certainly it’s actually pretty hard to break systems most of the time. Technology does have its challenges. But it’s also very rewarding when you can see that this is something that could be useful in my life. It could make the way that I work more effective. It will help me with my time management. It will allow me to communicate with people in much more effective ways, and so on and so forth. So it’s being able to look at the technology and see what it’s offering, and being able to recognise when that’s going to be useful for you.
NICK PATTERSON: All right. Thanks very much for giving your insights into those. I think it’s a very interesting discussion. I hope the students find interesting key factors from all that information to kind of know the future path where they’re going to take to boost their skills in this area, and knowing what it actually is is a good start. So that’s it for today. And I hope you enjoy the rest of the course.
The concept of digital literacy is still in its infancy, and continues to evolve with technology. In this step, Nick Patterson talks with digital literacy expert, Associate Professor Jo Coldwell-Neilson about the developing field.
Before we start exploring the skills associated with digital literacy, it’s important to consider what digital literacy means in your workplace.
There are a broad range of approaches and frameworks we can use to think about digital literacy. Let’s look at two approaches to kick-start your thinking.

Digital literacy development

Researchers Helen Beetham and Rhona J Sharpe describe digital literacy as a process of development.
Put simply, the process begins with our awareness and access to digital tools, which progresses to the ability to use these tools. We develop these skills so we can put them into action, and eventually form our own digital practice and identity.
graphicSelect the image to open an accessible PDF version.
Based on: Sharpe, R., Beetham, H., & de, FS., 2010, Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age: How Learners Are Shaping Their Own Experiences, Routledge, London. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [20 August 2018]. Image: Getty

Digital literacy as a journey

All Aboard is a collaborative project between four Irish higher education institutions, which takes a different approach to digital literacy. Rather than looking at a process, All Aboard focuses on confidence levels across different competencies of digital literacy.
All Aboard groups the core competencies of digital literacy into six broad domains. They show how these competencies relate to each other by representing them as stations on a metro map.
These domains are:
  • Tools and technologies (eg devices and hardware, organisation tools and databases)
  • Find and use (eg search, critical evaluation and copyright)
  • Communicate and collaborate (eg messaging, video conferencing and data sharing)
  • Create and innovate (eg graphic design, web content and coding)
  • Identity and wellbeing (eg online identity, data protection and security)
  • Teach and learn (eg learning tools, research and e-portfolios)
By understanding your confidence levels across these domains, it is easier to identify which of your skills require improvement.

Your task

Listen to Nick and Jo’s discussion about digital literacy. What is your key takeaway from their conversation?
Next, visit All Aboard and take their quiz to chart your digital confidence profile, and find out what knowledge or skills you may need to improve.
Reflect on your digital literacy in terms of the two frameworks introduced in this step.
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