Digital literacy – essential or desirable?

There’s no question that adult educators need basic literacy and little doubt that information literacy – knowing how to research, find, assess, use and manage information – is a fundamental aspect of teaching and learning.

What about digital literacy? There are various aspects, sliding and evolving scales of digital literacy, so what is a reasonable minimum expectation for proficiency in 2013?

Should adult educators be expected to communicate by email and social media and research via the internet? Should we know how to find, evaluate and create information using digital technology and to use digital applications to enrich our teaching and professional development? In other words, what is essential and what is desirable?

A Twitter discussion last night using the hashtag #ukfechat has prompted this blog. The timing coincides with the forthcoming launch of a new WEA Tutor Portal for us to share and update key course administration tasks and information electronically.

During the Twitter discussion, Sarah Simons commented, “Think there’s group of people pretending digital age isn’t happening & other group perhaps overplaying essentiality?”

diglit mrs ss

We can all probably identify someone at each end of this spectrum, with most people being somewhere between the extremes, but we’re also aware of the increasing pace of public services becoming digital by default. People who are unable to use email and the internet are at risk of being excluded from activities and services. Carol Azumah Dennis’s tweet reinforced this.

Diglit dbd1

Many adult educators are creative and proficient users of technology but others might benefit from support in developing their skills, not just for their work but for life in general. Could Bob Harrison’s suggestion of digitally literate students acting as technology mentors for their tutors be worth exploring further?

ukfechat dbd2

It’s a model that chimes with the WEA’s approach to relationships between tutors and students and with our Digital Activists’ Inclusion Network (DAIN) in the East Midlands.

Thanks to Sarah Simons for facilitating the Twitter chat and sparking a productive exchange.

What do you think?

(Twitter users can follow last night’s conversations using the hashtag #ukfechat)

Digital inclusion, volunteering and cost-effective technology

Our WEA colleagues Steve Stocks and Andria Birch (@infostocksy and @andiabirch) were tweeting yesterday from an event that celebrated “Innovation, Transnationality and Mainstreaming” projects that had been supported by the European Social Fund. Steve was showcasing how people who have been involved in a Digital Activists’ Inclusion Network (DAIN) project are using Raspberry Pi technology for cost-effective digital inclusion.

DAIN is an exciting volunteer project working across the East Midlands. The project has promoted digital inclusion by encouraging people to use technology with the help of volunteers (Digital Activists). DAIN won a NIACE Adult Learners’ Week Award in 2012 and used the associated funding to develop online learning materials for more digital activists to use. They also used the prize money to pay for Raspberry Pi computers for 12 DAIN students who enrolled and completed 9 hours of course content to support their further Pi learning.

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into a TV and a keyboard. People can use it for many of the things that a desktop PC does, such as spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video and is used in education to encourage computer programming.

Andria Birch spreading the word about DAIN

Andria Birch spreading the word about DAIN

Andria , the DAIN project manager, paid tribute to Steve for, “applying huge IT experience and giving back to the local community through DAIN volunteering.” Steve has gone on to become a WEA tutor and started teaching a Raspberry Pi course which started in Nottingham this month. The course had its own twitter hashtag. Other Digital activists have also progressed into more formal teaching, including several who have gone on to work for the WEA.

Steve Stocks with Mike Attwell (WEA Director for East & West Midlands)

Steve Stocks with Mike Attwell (WEA Director for East & West Midlands)

The first phase of ESF funding is now finished but it’s clear that the work has only just begun. Digital activists in Northamptonshire and Chesterfield have set up new WEA groups for student and volunteers. Nottingham Digital Activists are developing 3 new organisations to support digital inclusion and colleagues are now working on a 5-year digital inclusion strategy and aiming to expand the work and aims of DAIN across the WEA so that more people can cross the digital divide together.

The DAIN project’s web archive is at: