Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Digital Literacies for Learning

Pete Cliff reviews a work that challenges traditional notions of literacy and how suggests that new literacies need to be developed to empower both learners and teachers in the digital age.

In the changing, and increasingly digital world, learners and teachers are more and more subject to information overload and the noise this generates. Teachers must cope with larger cohorts and more disparate communities. Increasingly, information communication technologies are being used to address these issues and it becomes clear that new skills are required to operate effectively in the learning environment.

In Digital Literacies for Learning, editors Allan Martin and Dan Madigan set out to show in Part One how emerging (digital) learning environments require learners and teachers to develop new skills. Starting from a generalised definition of 'literacy' Chapter One shows how a number of 'literacies' are required to ensure rich, fulfilling and effective learning in this digital world.

Subsequent chapters in Part One go on to explore the new literacies further, develop arguments that suggest institutions should start investing in developing these literacies and putting them into the context of the changing learning landscape. Interestingly the discussion is balanced between the need to develop hard (computer) skills and soft (communication) skills. For Information Communication Technology to succeed, it seems there is a requirement for learners and teachers to learn how to communicate effectively, without regard for the communication medium. This is refreshing discussion and suggests that this book is not just for the technically minded - it is also a social study and provides ammunition for those trying to develop e-learning skills in institutions.

Just as you are starting to share the enthusiasm for the need for new literacies, starting to enjoy the arguments and realising how they may be used as part of your day-to-day work, the book changes tack, throwing you into Part Two. The second half of the book presents real examples of how new literacies are being developed across the globe, from Antigua to Hong Kong via Milton Keynes. (This alone is enough to make you think about the way the learning environment - and the world - has changed). A complete breakdown of the work's chapters is listed below.

A thread that runs through the latter part of the book is the potential for 'inclusion' brought through the use of information and communication technology in e-learning. Like the World Wide Web, electronic learning environments have the potential to reach geographically diverse participants, building multi-cultural, single interest communities, and taking first class education (and the institutions that created them) not just to the four corners of the globe but to the people just down the road who never dreamt of studying before - supporting and enabling life-long learning.

But, of course, to realise this potential, learners need the skills to exploit the technology, which brings the book full circle, and the reader is reminded of (and may want to explore again) Part One.

As with all 'reader' style books, while the essays included in Digital Literacies for Learning cover broadly the same ground, if you read the book cover to cover, it can feel a little disjointed. For example, you cannot help but notice repetition in some of the chapters of Part One - in the definition of literacy; or discrepancy in these definitions. Reading the book as a coherent whole, this jars. The writing styles vary significantly and some chapters are weaker than others. Sometimes the jumps are refreshing, sometimes they can be disconcerting and I couldn't help thinking that the book would have benefited from an epilogue, pulling things together. That said, the book works without it and the introductory chapters go some way to providing the necessary conceptual glue.

While only briefly mentioning the potentially significant development of what are called Web 2.0 technologies, the book does not feel out of date, which is quite remarkable for a book in this field. I feel this is because the literacies remain more constant than the technologies. I had one minor gripe: the citation style (and this is probably because it is not what I'm used to). While most chapters have comprehensive references and further reading - providing opportunies to explore the subjects in greater depth, or read more on the projects presented, usually through their Web sites - sometimes it is hard to link the reference to the body text of the chapter.

In conclusion, Digital Literacies for Learning challenges the reader to reflect on the way in which the world is changing. Not only is the reader asked to consider that we may well be on the edge of a pedagogical paradigm shift and what that means for the educational institutions we serve, but also how emerging technologies are creating new, geographically disparate, communities, creating challenges for learners and teachers alike. The work shows that this provides incredible opportunities to share knowledge, anecdote and experience, creating a richer learning environment, but only if (and it is a big 'if') learners and teachers are given the skills and incentives to embrace these new learning technologies. To be literate, it seems, requires so much more than it used to.

Appendix A: Chapter Breakdown

Part I: Literacies in the digital age

  1. Literacies for the digital age: preview of Part 1
    Allan Martin
  2. Learners, learning literacy and the pedagogy of e-learning
    Terry Mayes and Chris Fowler
  3. Real learning in the virtual environments
    Johannes Cronjé
  4. Digital fusion: defining the intersection of content and communications
    Paul Gilster
  5. Literacy and the digital knowledge revolution
    Claire Bélisle
  6. Understand e-literacy
    Maryann Kope
  7. Information literacy - an overview
    Ola Pilerot
  8. Contemporary literacy - the three Es
    David F. Warlick
  9. Reconceptualizing media literacy for the digital age
    Renee Hobbs
  10. Literacy, e-literacy and multiliteracies: meeting the challenges of teaching online
    Chris Sutton
  11. Graduate e-literacies and employability
    Denise Haywood, Jeff Haywood and Hamish Macleod

    Part II Enabling and supporting digital literacies

  12. Supporting and enabling digital literacy in a global environment: preview of part 2
    Dan Madigan
  13. A 'dense syphony of the nation': Cymru Ar-Lein and e-citizens and e-communities in Wales
    Stephen Griffiths
  14. The impact of information competencies on socio-economic development in the Southern Hemisphere economies
    Jesús Lau
  15. Supporting students in e-learning
    Martin Jenkins
  16. The information commons: a student-centred environment for IT and information literacy development
    Hester Mountifield
  17. Socio-cultural approaches to literacy and subject knowledge development in learning management systems
    Neil Anderson
  18. Approaches to enabling digital literacy: successes and failures
    Alex Reid
  19. Professional development and graduate students: approaches to technical and information competence
    Catherine Cardwell
  20. Windward in an asynchronous world: the Antiguan intiative, unanticipated pleasure of the distance learning revolution
    Cornel J. Reinhart
  21. A tale of two courses
    Gill Needham and David Murphy

Author Details

Peter Cliff
Research Officer / Software Developer (e-learning)
UKOLN / University of Bath

Email: p.d.cliff@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/

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