Goodfellow R and Lea M (eds) (2013) Literacy in the Digital University: Critical perspectives on learning, scholarship and technology, London: Routledge

213 pages

ISBN:  978 0 415 53797 1

Many universities have, as an aspiration, that students leave as graduates, and that the graduates are digitally literate.  This edited book contains thirteen chapters, all of which cover that theme.  There is though a critical thread that runs throughout.  Providing in-house learning platforms, and requiring students to work with these are seen to be very constraining.  The concept of digital literacy has moved on, and many of the writers suggest that students are able, or have the potential to develop their own virtual learning spaces, blending social and learning spaces.  By this, they mean that students can and will access knowledge and content from many sources and through a range of media, but will also communicate and negotiate with others, both within and beyond their institution, to co-construct meaning.  As a consequence the role of the tutor is changing fast.  In line with new and emerging perspectives on learners and tutors, the language of learning, and consequently the protocols are also changing.

The critique is that Universities appear to be striving to retain and reinforce traditional academic protocols and behaviours which are out of date, and which may not serve students well when they leave and enter new professions.  Examples are provided to show how commercial organisations, for example, are in fact leading the field.  Customers design products and in many ways shape the services they are offered.  Universities, it seems do the opposite.

The approach offered by the chapters is not one of presenting a treatise at all.  Each chapter is well researched, and contains theoretical discussions on how to research, learn and understand.  Alongside the emerging perceptions of what digital literacy actually means are presentations of what it should not be.  It should not be a set of instructions on how to use platforms recommended by the university.  What should drive digital literacy, it is argued, is learning – and then how students can design their own ways of organising learning, co-constructing meaning, and developing communities of learning and of practice.  The thorny issues of ethics and learning to validate information found on the web by individuals are addressed.  However, following the argument that knowledge is socially constructed there are proposals for new ways of assuring reliability and validity in the learning process.  To develop new and relevant protocols is a component part of digital literacy.

Because the book is edited, and because the writers clearly share a view on what digital literacy is and is not, there is quite a lot of repetition throughout the book.  This actually serves to reinforce understanding rather than frustrate the reader.  I certainly began to question whether cultural (certainly in an organisational sense) change was keeping pace with technological change, or fighting a rear-guard action.  As is so often the case, answers are not provided, but a close reading of the text spawns more questions.  How organisations respond to the current and future challenges is relevant to us all.  Also pertinent is the corollary that academics need to adapt behaviours and protocols to accommodate the needs and wants of learners, but also of future employers.  Most students lose access to the learning platforms upon which they have relied once they leave a University.  There is clearly a set of issues related to the CPD needs of University staff.

I found the comparisons between using Blackboard Learning and entering Disneyworld particularly interesting as an analogy.  Paying to enter prevents engagement with those who do not pay.  Only doing what is provided for you is enjoyable, but it does not exactly enable creativity and innovation. Digital literacy emerged for me as an ability to explore and invent free of institutional constraints.  I certainly recommend this text for those wishing to identify questions about the use of technology to enhance learning in a way that is keeping up to date with outside developments.

Professor Kit Field

University of Wolverhampton