This Research Briefing was produced as part of a HEFCE-funded project Leading Transformational Change to explore ways to strengthen collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University to support the business strengths and aspirations of the Sheffield region. As part of the project, the Schools of Education at both Universities collaborated on a range of activities to support educational development in the City region. This included developing research briefs, which aim to provide a summary of key research on a range of educational topics – the Research Briefing can be downloaded here.
In this review we provide an overview of digital literacy in schools. This begins with an overview of research and related issues in the school sector. This is followed by a discussion of the implications for policy and practice. Digital technology is now well-embedded in contemporary social life and is increasingly being used in schools to support learning particularly through the use of computers, interactive white boards and mobile technologies.
Futurelab defines digital literacy as:
Knowing how technology and media affect the ways in which we go about finding things out, communicating with one another, and gaining knowledge and understanding. And it also means understanding how technologies and media can shape and influence the ways in which school subjects can be taught and learnt. (Williamson and Hague 2009: 5)
Teachers are routinely expected to combine the development of students’ subject knowledge with the ability to use technology safely and effectively (Hague and Williamson 2009). The UK is relatively well provided for in terms of computers per pupil and access to other digital media. However teachers’ use of digital technology is inconsistent and many continue to focus on the passive delivery of information with PowerPoint or interactive whiteboards (Selwyn 2011). However research into new Web 2.0 technologies shows innovative use which contributes to digital literacy such as creative writing in online synchronous communication (Merchant 2005), collaborative wikis (Carrington 2009) and podcasting (Lee, McLoughlin et al. 2008).
Digital Natives? Digital literacy can play an important part in learning for all children – all of whom were born after the advent of widespread access to digital technology. Much has been written about this generation; they have been variously labelled as ‘digital natives’ and ‘millennials’ and claims have been made as to their digital technology skills that are supposed to far surpass those of their parents and teachers – the so-called ‘digital immigrants’ (Hague and Payton 2010).
Evidence collected by researchers does not support these claims. Suggestions that the younger generation are more visually literate than their elders have been refuted (Brumberger 2011) and young people’s engagements with digital technologies are sometimes ‘varied and often unspectacular’ (Selwyn 2009). Age is an important consideration when researching children’s experiences: the social, cultural and cognitive backgrounds of a seven year old are very different to those of a fifteen year old (Selwyn 2009). Research by the British Library of students on entry to university suggests that the academic searching skills of young people has been over estimated (Rowlands, Nicholas et al. 2008). Nevertheless, there is evidence that many young children acquire a range of skills, knowledge and understanding through their engagement in digital technologies outside of school and that this occurs from a young age (Marsh et al., 2005). See also: 2.5.3 Digital Natives