Given the broad sweep of definitions of digital literacy it is quite clear that frameworks for exploring and describing digital literacy need to go beyond simply identifying the skills that relate to specific technologies. JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) have addressed this challenge by developing a framework that looks at the ‘anatomy’ of digital literacy from two different but related perspectives. The first is as a frame for access, skills and practices. This includes the functional access to networks, devices, services, software and content that individuals require to exercise and develop digital literacy. The second element of this anatomy describes the contexts for these practices and these include the workplace, learning environments, the personal/social context and community. Key to this second frame is the concept of identity and its manifestation in social networks, lifestyles, learning and work communities (JISC, 2010). Conceptualising digital literacies in terms of practices and contexts is an important contribution, but one that may be more challenging to operationalise in educational contexts.
The Futurelab report ‘Digital Literacy across the Curriculum’ (2010:19) is aimed at practitioners and school leaders in the compulsory sector (primary and secondary schools). In this report eight components and dimensions of digital literacy are identified. These are:
- Critical thinking and evaluation
- Cultural and social understanding
- The ability to find and select information
- Effective communication
- Functional skills
This acknowledges how work in the school sector has drawn on theory and development work in literacy, media, popular culture and information studies, and helps in mapping digital practices on to specific areas of the school curriculum. (See Chapter 3). At school level, large scale curriculum reform adds to the complexity of implementing digital literacy practices. In the UK context, a succession of changes in programmes of study for literacy, English and media, and ICT have led to some confusion over where such work should be located, or whether it should be seen as a cross-curricular challenge. For example, during the lifetime of the project there was a change in the emphasis given to digital literacy in the context of the ICT curriculum. The government in response to criticisms levelled at ICT teaching for the lack of attention given to computer science and programming skills, ‘disapplied’ the current ICT curriculum, whilst provision was reviewed.
Within Higher Education (HE), government reforms have led to major changes in the way that higher education in England is funded and an increased emphasis on a more customer-led service for students with increasing demands to offer digital solution to education and training. The development of the curriculum and pedagogy in HE is influenced to some extent by this, and JISC, in collaboration with the HEA, is responsible for providing leadership in the use of ICT in higher education. In this context digital literacy is seen as a responsibility of the whole of education and wider society as a means to economic success and social inclusion (JISC 2011). This is associated with conceptions of digital citizenship (see 2.6.5 Digital Citizenship) in which being digitally literate requires users to have the skills to use information and communication technologies and their applications to create information. It defines Information Literacy as a mean to ‘empower people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals’. The combination of technical skills and literacy skills, as in the ability to navigate cyberspace and to interpret what is found, is seen as critical. This was later expanded to include media and information literacy as empowering citizens to understand the functions of media and other information providers, and to make informed decisions as users and producers of information and media content (UNESCO, 2008).
The intersection of these orientations to digital literacy across phases of education is seen as problematic by this resource. The increasing emphasis on capability with technology, as illustrated in the move towards Computer Science in the English National Curriculum, contrasts with approaches, favoured in the DeFT project, around spheres of meaning (Lea, 2009). The former has the potential to reinforce a technicist conception of the curriculum and to provoke a clash of expectations for learners moving from primary to secondary education, and those who go on to higher education.