If you were offered a ‘workbook’ for what you are trying to do with your students, what would you want to be in it ? Not that I have been offered any such thing, but I answered a question by Doug Belshaw about a workbook of digital literacies and as I tried to work out what the difference is between digital literacy, information literacy and academic literacy I came to the conclusion that I had the question the wrong way round. I should start from what is involved in being Delta literate.
The more academic
- Use resources you are given to work out what you need to know.
All Modules need the teachers to be self reliant, to see that the course won’t be delivered in memorisable chunks, but will vary for different people – they already know different things so what any individual teacher should focus on is personal and it isn’t in tidy packages or in one book (or even a couple of books). Delta always did require this, but face to face delivery of the course made things feel more linear. The fact that we can now present a great range of things that might be useful in a variety of formats from the start while having a time dependent path through those elements for those who start Modules with cohorts (the option is always there on One and Three to do it independently if you wish) occasionally overwhelms individuals. But the need to set your own pace, choose your own study hours work out how long something might take you to do and plan accordingly has always been part of courses. Are requests for ever more specific structure and instructions born of the increasing demands on everyones time, of a lack of academic literacy in this aspect or are they a reflection of that same digital perspective that means that because we can keep adding to online courses (materials, activities, techniques, options) in a way that past face to face courses that had no online support precluded, that we should also keep trying to address the myriad of preferences our teachers have ?
- Access the information you need to know.
Academic literacy has it that they know how to access books, journals and other sources and having accessed are able to work out which are appropriate or credible. When I was at university there was a reading list (usually) and a library. That made it straightforward. You read what you could find in the library that was on the list – there was not usually a whole lot more to choose from. On Delta there are reading lists and if someone is embedded in a British Council or a university with a good ELT library collection, they can probably access much of what is on them, but that describes the minority of people doing courses with us. More are dependent on the extent to which they can afford to buy books online, subscription to journals and access to the net (and even that latter can be problematic for some teachers). So then it becomes what you can access (how good are your online search skills – is that digital ? or academic ? I think more the former). If you can access unlimited amounts of things on the net, but many of them weren’t on the original reading list, what becomes important is how credible something is. Evaluating what you have got feels like an equal mix of digital and academic literacies. Knowing that someone is a ‘name’ in a field or is more of a generalist might be helped by whether other works were on the list, but is the kind of knowledge acquired over time. But it is the nature of the blended or entirely online courses we run (and our belief that it is important to cater to those teaching in contexts where they don’t always have ease of access to resources) that make assessing credibility in a sea of search returns much more of a key factor than it used to be – does that mean it is a literacy that is digital ? or just an extension of an academic literacy into another environment ?
- Using what you have got
Citing appropriately and avoiding plagiarism are part of academic literacies and while assignments are still required in text format seem not to have a specifically digital element, though the fact that some now take notes by copy pasting chunks from a screen leaves them with a harder job when it comes to extrapolating ideas and being sure of what they said themselves. That might be balanced though by tools that can be used to gather and organise information with relative ease. The fact that a teacher could do all their work in pen and ink and just type it up into Word at the end, where ever they might be doing that, further underlines this element as being at the academic end of the spectrum.
The more digital
- Accessing the course
I have teachers who are able to do very specific things online but who have not tried or had the opportunity to exploit an online environment for learning in the role of student until they start a course with us. It has been a few years since I had the problem of someone not having a mail account, but I learnt never to rule the possibility out and when it comes to things like enrolling yourself on the Moodle, checking your spam box for first time notifications, using or not using capitals, numbers other symbols or whatever features it is the site wants in its current iteration for a password, downloading and saving documents and a host of other things that have become second nature to many, I have found they are never second nature to everyone and a video or series of visuals can save a lot of back and forth in mails. A lot of this could be classified as navigation or web mechanics (on the Mozilla chart of digital literacies).
- Exploiting the course
In all Modules there are elements that are a result of the online nature of the course (particularly forums and access to tutors) that people can use but don’t always. In Module One some of the exam preparation activities are set up as group projects (though they can all also be done individually). The more accustomed to working in an online environment someone is the more they can focus on the things the course content requires of them (realising that replying to a forum post that has come into your mail may only send a personal answer back to the original poster, knowing how to use reply all to talk easily to your group). A lot of this seems to sit under community participation. Some of it could transfer across from skills learnt in other social media, but how far those skills are honed varies and which elements of them should be transferred ? The TALL blog people pointed out that individual platforms have individual literacies, so that won’t necessarily help.
Was this not always true of a course ? That there was course content and negotiating the course itself (unless counting a Teach Yourself book as a course, in which case there would be littel other negotiation to be done). Some would get on with all or dominate discussions or not ask for help even though it was needed through a reluctance to speak up (or because they had not yet realised they needed it). Is this qualitatively different in a virtual environment ? Do those with social skills that ease their way through life in the real world not apply them to the tools they find on a virtual course ? And would those who struggle to cope with the structure on line have been as lost on the pre Modular, pre online, pre internet versions of the course ?
Is it easier to be lost in an online environment than a physical one ? Either could be more or less carefully ‘tracked’ by the person running the course and to some extent which resources are accessed (though not read, let alone understood, only accessed) can be more easily seen. I know if someone has clicked on a page in a way that I would be unlikely to know if they had stood in front of a notice board. In either case though I am more concerned about how they interact with or use or follow through on what they have read. In a digital environment I can collect more tasks to offer them that would help them to do that, but in neither the real nor the virtual world can I make the learning happen.
I suspect it is not a workbook of digital literacies I want (and I came in here to clarify a list of what those would be and have not even started that), but a workbook of instant reminders and time management systems that would tip teachers who don’t already have it, into a pattern of independent curiosity.