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How can I ensure my students and staff are digitally literate?

Jisc Inform answers your questions on how to ensure you meet the expectations of your students and staff by embedding digital literacy into the curriculum.
What do you mean by ‘digital literacy’?

By digital literacy we mean the ability to live, learn and work effectively in a digital society. Being digitally literate implies different capabilities at different stages of education and even in different subject areas and professions. In higher education (HE) we generally mean the capacity to use digital tools for research, communicating ideas, critical thinking and developing and showcasing graduate level attributes. In further education (FE) we are thinking about higher level vocational and professional skills.

At Jisc we’re working with colleges and universities to embed digital capabilities into their core activities of research, learning and teaching.

Why is digital literacy important?

As 90% of new jobs require a high level of digital skills, improving students' digital literacy is an essential component of developing employable graduates. There is also a recognised role for further and higher education in developing a digitally literate workforce.

Within colleges and universities, staff need digital expertise to flourish in an environment where research, teaching, administration and academic practices are increasingly mediated by digital technologies.

Universities and colleges are being challenged to meet student expectations for digital provision as although students are adept at using the web and other digital services for social and personal purposes, they may lack the capacity to evaluate academic content.

What are the benefits to employers?

Employers stress that being digitally literate is a prerequisite for most graduate roles. Rather than a checklist of applications, they want graduates with a wide repertoire of digital experience and the confidence and flexibility to adopt new systems as they emerge. Communicating effectively via digital media and critically judging the validity and reliability of online sources are also workplace essentials.

Courses that embed digital practices, as well as subject specific use of technology, give students the skills and confidence they need to succeed not only in their learning but also in the workplace.

What are the digital literacy issues for students?

With so many digital methods and tools available to learners, a Jisc study found that many develop their digital learning practices through a trial-and-error process, without the direct support or advice of their institutions.

Students report feeling less digitally competent in their learning lives than they do in their personal lives. They are unsure how to legitimately use their digital expertise in academic contexts, and they depend on the guidance of staff to develop advanced practices and academic judgement of digital media. Digital capability touches on so many aspects of the learning experience, from use of the library to study skills, and from accessibility to information and communications technology training, that students can be confused about where to turn for help.

Understanding how generic and discipline-specific digital practices develop is helping institutions provide effective, joined-up support to students across their learning experience. Sharing best practice in digital teaching and scholarship is also ensuring that programmes of study offer students the best chance of building their digital know-how in contexts that are meaningful to them.


What can we do to help staff and students?

Jisc is working with researchers, lecturers, professional staff and students to develop tools and resources for use across HE and FE. Links are to emerging resources from the Jisc Developing Digital Literacies programme (see below).


Carry out an organisational audit – this will help you identify current good practice and highlight areas for future development. The audit process brings together all those involved around a shared agenda for enhancement.


Embed digital capability into the curriculum – Case studies, curriculum development tools, and subject-specific resources highlight the range of ways digital capability is being embedded into programmes of study.


Help learners develop – Diagnostic tools, skills modules, generic guidance and student learning journeys can be embedded into student support in your college or university, or repurposed to suit your needs.


Raise the awareness of senior managers – Based on research into learners' experiences and expectations of digital technologies, Jisc has developed a 4 page guide for institutional managers, designed to enhance leadership of digital issues and make digital capability a strategic concern.


Find out more – Listen to the latest Jisc On Air radio shows. Episode 6 focuses on how universities and colleges are helping staff to improve their digital literacy. Episode 7 looks at equipping students with the digital literacies needed for work.


What’s the future for digital literacy?

The Jisc Developing Digital Literacies Programme, which completes in July 2013, is funding twelve projects in UK colleges and universities and collaborating with ten sector bodies and professional associations to address digital literacies as a strategic concern.

A number of themes are emerging from these projects which are being investigated and developed to help improve digital literacy for the future. These include digital literacies for employability, digital literacies in the curriculum, students as digital pioneers, and building digitally literate institutions.


More info…

Read these blog posts on to find out how digital literacy and mobile learning is working for colleges:

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

How e-portfolios helped us to improve our college’s digital literacy.

Is embedding digital literacy in your curriculum working for you?




You might like…

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Developing students’ digital literacy to give them the best chance of success.


Measure the impact of your digital resources to save costs.



Your thoughts…

What are your thoughts on the topics covered by this article, we’d love to know…


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