Durbbu 2016 – Digital literacy and social networks

Thoughts on Eric Stoller’s keynote from #durbbu 2016, considering the place for digital literacy and localisation of global expertise via online social networks.

Digital literacy, to me, is the fluency of an individual to adapt to new forms of computer-based technologies, treating technology as an embedded part of daily life, but also to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of its use. Whilst these descriptors can be easily applied to learning technologies too, to conflate digital literacy skills with those of technology-enhanced learning misses the significance of context and purpose. You can be the most digitally literate person, but still not understand whether the use of an online tool or online space is appropriate for learning.

The digital literacy efforts must be thought in the round, considering the needs for both students and academic staff. Both parties can and should learn from each other, yet there always exist constraints over prioritisation of time to learn new tools and the blurring of personal and professional spaces. The argument of social/work spaces colliding is not new. Johnson (2011; see slide linked below) discussed how introducing ‘social’ posts within an professional Twitter profile added credibility to an academic’s online presence, an honesty if you will. There’s always a balance to find (see Slide 7 of a previous paper of mine on Facebook for teaching), and being digitally literate helps in achieving that.

Aside from these concerns, Stoller identified there are substantial advantages to including social media within learning contexts (links to relevant Tweets):

One concept that I found particularly interesting, suggested by Stoller, was the effect of local context. In his example, Stoller talks of the different meanings of the word ‘revision’ depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on. I think it’s worth considering then the significance of local context to the use of online social networks, whilst the power of these spaces is in connecting people across distances, usage often begins with local connections first. YikYak is the epitome of local social network, showing only posts made within your immediate geographic area and the buzz within the Yik Yak community comes from the shared understanding of local idioms. Whilst on global social networks our initial networking is with local connections, to get value we must connect more widely. Not just to absorb expertise, but to challenge, to see others’ perspectives, to re-interpret meaning, to form our own understanding. Are not these the goals of higher education?

In a way, we must look beyond the marketing opportunities and employability agenda often associated with the use of social networks and digital literacy more generally, to think instead of the affordances of such spaces for learning and being human.


Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2016

Keynote: Why Educators Can’t Live Without Social Media – Eric Stoller (Educational Consultant) – @EricStoller

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