Social or Professional?

Attending the Developing Digital Literacies programme start-up meeting was an excellent way to get an overview of the projects within the strand. Each project had 2 minutes to describe their approach and planned activities. (The 2 minutes were strictly managed by Marianne Sheppard’s lightly avant-garde use of a ‘barking dog’ alarm.)

All of the projects had also created posters which lined the room with varying levels of text, graphics and diagrams. Reading the posters and discussing them with project team members I was struck again how broad the notion of digital literacy was. On closer inspection I discovered that it was possible to identify a key phrase on each poster which was indicative of that particular project’s underlying approach to developing digital literacies. These phrases made visible two standpoints:

1. Digital literacy as professional practice
Key skills or approaches which can be closely mapped to professional goals or standards. There is a sense here that digital literacies will be defined in terms of ‘competencies’ and that they should sit in a larger professional framework or tool-kit.

2. Digital literacy as a social practice
The notion that digital literacy is closely tied to identity and that there is not a hard line between the professional and the personal. The approach here is usually more individualistic and based on ideas around becoming a legitimate participant in experiential spaces.

Generally I would expect the professional practice approach to be ‘top-down’ while the social practice route is likely to facilitate or make visible ‘bottom-up’ activity. I’m not certain that this will be the case though as the link between these underlying approaches and actual project activities is likely to vary significantly.

I have captured the key phrases from the posters and mapped them on a continuum spanning from the professional to the social.

Professional Practice

“Developing professionalism in the digital environment”

“…professionalise the digital literacy of teaching administrators”

“…develop a range of short qualifications for both lecturers and students in digital literacy…”

“…a set of core graduate attributes, including Digital and Information Literacy”

“For work and employability. For learning. For the future.”

“…involving students as ‘change agents’ in design and delivery of the curriculum”

“Students as ePioneers”

“Personal Actualisation and Development through Digital Literacies in Education”

“Digital literacies as social practice”

Social Practice

This is of course a crude mapping and I’d be interested to hear from projects if they feel they have been positioned incorrectly or if the phrase I have chosen is not a fair representation.

Digital Literacies spectrum

My own ‘Visitors and Residents’ project which aims to support a number of JISC activities is developing an mapping tool which contains an vertical axis with the terms ‘Personal’ and ‘Institutional’ on it. For early stage students the distinction between the personal and the institutional is marked but as they progress through their educational career we envisage this compartmentalisation blurring.

It is certainly not the case that digital literacies as a social practice or as a professional practice can be mapped directly to the personal and the institutional but there may be connections. For example:

  • Would a member of staff who clearly demarcates the personal and the professional be comfortable with developing literacies as a social practice or are they more likely to think in terms of more ‘instrumental’ skills?
  • Would an individual who, to use my terminology, is highly Resident on the web in their personal life be comfortable with using that mode of engagement with fellow staff or students?

The web gives us the technical capability to collapse geography and to blur traditional role boundaries but the extent to which this is actually taking place culturally is difficult to quantify.

Whatever you views on the questions above it’s important to recognise that staff and students are already employing many successful digital literacies. We need to understand what these are and in what context they are being used if we are going to ‘develop’ them or if we want to embed new modes of engagement. The digital literacies we consider to be crucial must be positioned relative to user owned literacies that have already ‘disappeared into use’.

6 thoughts on “Social or Professional?

  1. Doug Belshaw

    Great stuff, Dave, and thanks for the contribution. I particularly like the continuum you made out of the projects’ posters!

    Regarding your question about a member of staff who clearly demarcates the personal and professional, this certainly got me thinking. Whilst I’m sure it’s entirely possible to run separate Twitter accounts, Facebook identities and even blogs on a professional and personal basis, surely at some point these identities overlap?

    The example I always think of from my own life which is the closest I have to separate identities is my PS3 ‘gamer’ profile. I keep this completely distinct from my work and other personal profiles and, in fact, rarely mention it. But then I’m a lousy (probably very ‘Visitor’) gamer… 😉

  2. Lawrie

    This is a great start, I wonder though do we need phrases like digital environment? You also suggest “Key skills or approaches which can be closely mapped to professional goals or standards”. I wonder if you have attempted a mapping across HE for example mapping “digital literacy” against Vitae’s RDF or the UKPSF?

  3. David White

    @doug I think many people have a Personal-Resident approach and an Institutional-Visitor approach. In this case there aren’t two Facebook or Twitter profiles to manage.

    I agree that it is tricky maintaining parallel Residency though. In fact it’s increasingly difficult with the level of convergence the cloud is bringing. Am I being professionally efficient but personally lazy by only having one Google account for every aspect of my life?

    @Lawrie I might be fruitful to review those frameworks and identify what elements we consider to be digital literacies? – it not all new after all.

    @Anne Would you say that you have a vocation rather than that you ‘do’ a job? – The challenge here is that a ‘top-down’ institutional approach might frame social practice as a competency and try to train people in it… For me social practice has to be learnt through experience.

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