What is meant by digital literacy?
The European Commission uses the following definition ‘the confident and critical use of ICT for work, leisure, learning and communication’ European Commission report DigEuLit 2006.
Digital literacy is not an absolute but exists in context. Also, it is not static: as new technologies develop, there will be new ways of using that technology and the digital literacy required for effective use of the technology in a particular context may change. This is where Glister’s (1997) view is important – digital literacy is ‘ …about mastering ideas, not keystrokes’. However, it may be sometimes best to start with mastering keystrokes before moving to the bigger picture.
The use of collaborative online tools within a business and community engagement context will involve people in many different roles bringing a variety of experience and hence training needs. If using a tool or interface type that users are familiar with (albeit a different context) then this will ease this training requirement. For refresher training and for new people joining, it is useful to have online training material available in form of screencasts. If utilising synchronous meeting facilities, then the archived sessions are useful as training material and can prepare people as to what they can expect in a session.
A staged approach to implementation, with much emphasis on support and training in the early stages, can help participants gain confidence. This also gives them the opportunity to give feedback so that adjustments can be made prior to the main collaboration activities.
Internal staff training
Most of the trial projects found internal staff training to be a key priority and the University of Leeds found screencasts to be very useful. Be aware that although staff and partners may be skilled in using certain aspects of social media, they may lack broader digital literacy skills. They not be aware of this gap (you don’t know what you don’t know!) or not be willing to be honest.
Making training materials available for everyone to use when they want to use can help overcome this problem before it becomes an issue within the collaboration activities.
Another lesson we have learned is that although students engaged in the open ICT tools project had relatively good expertise in using web 2.0 technologies, project findings suggest students lack broader digital literacy skills, particularly the organisation of information and files.
This affects collaboration between distributed project team members, potentially limiting students’ learning opportunities. Whilst web 2.0 technologies provide exciting new learning opportunities, particularly the production of learner-authored content, there have been challenges for students in learning how to use these technologies to share and structure the content successfully.
This view is supported by a report in October 2010 to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) from the National Union of Students (NUS) student perspectives on technology – demand, perceptions and training needs.
There was a common request for more skills training, particularly around how to effectively research and reference reliable online resources. Students seem concerned about a perceived lack of formal research skills instruction, which maybe suggests broader concerns with education and accountability beyond the ICT sphere.
Training in specific programs is also commonly desired; however, primarily the skills required are not technological, but academic
Student perspectives on technology - demand, perceptions and training needs report
Although interestingly in the same report 88.6% of respondents said that they were effective online researchers.
Training your partners
Some of the students involved in the Northumbria University trial project said that some initial training in Plone may have been useful but they didn’t require any WordPress training. However, other students felt that it wasn’t training in the tool per se but in the processes that they needed.
The University of the Arts found that its community of photojournalists did not require significant training:
Participants appreciated the ease of access, flexibility, comfort and time-saving of being to log in from home or wherever they happened to be, and that Wimba is simple to access and login from anywhere
University of the Arts
Some users don’t initially see the relevance of training:
Users invited to take part in the study were offered free training on the product in order to be comfortable using it before any meeting takes place. A couple of users volunteered for this and were taken through the application in a separate meeting
University of Huddersfield - This is a situation where screencasts and archived sessions can prove to be most useful
New College Swindon reported that their partners greatly appreciated the training provided.
Sometimes the collaborative sessions themselves can be used as training sessions – encouraging people to think about how they could use collaborative online tools in different ways to improve the way they work and interact with colleagues. This is especially true when using tools that have previously been used in a different context, for example learning and teaching.
What may be straightforward for a technical person may be a major problem for users and this can equally apply to system changes. Knowledge House held regular meetings with system champions who had training in the new system and were able to offer feedback. They also ensured that those who were responsible for the system updates (technical staff) did not write the user manuals!
Gently does it
A staged approach can help in getting people on-board and give them confidence in using the tools especially in situations where some of the team have never used such tools before:
Although some of the project team were fairly confident with using different technologies, others had never used Moodle or online conferencing.
Birmingham Metropolitan College
Consider who leads the training; a technical person who has excellent knowledge of the tool may not be the most appropriate! A Birmingham Metropolitan College partner said:
I found the elluminate session hard going mainly due to the intermittent reception that I had. Also, I was a bit put off by the constant stream of instructions to do tasks and the lack of learning on one task before running on to the next. It got a bit much and I tuned out I’m afraid. In reality I expected the pace to be a little slower and the tasks/information flow to be more meaningful. Sorry to be negative – I think it will be a good tool in the end!
Birmingham Metropolitan College