Making the translation to open coursework

One of the reasons why I wanted to create a blog was to open my thinking; open my coursework beyond closed learning environments.

Working openly means being public about your process, from start to finish, including all the messy bits in between.

~ Gina Likins

Inspired by November’s DigiWriMo, and the wealth of assignments this semester, I’m planning to revise some of my submitted work: make changes from a formal paper to a web format, add images and other media, and include details to help them stand alone. While it won’t quite be a multimedia story, I’d like to incorporate a few elements to try and move the finished piece in that direction.

One of the great things about classes in grad school is that you can explore many topics, or, if you are narrowing in on a group of topics (say digital literacy, student agency, and open pedagogy) you can use your coursework to build towards your future research agenda.

At this stage I seem to be falling in the latter camp, and have a great professor this term that is helping us make this progression clear. Our first project involved a group-authored paper and presentation. Four of us came together under the broad umbrella of digital literacy in education, and from there brought in our various interests from our K-12 and higher education vantage points. The intent was less about creating a comprehensive literature review, and more about starting to get a sense of what the literature was in our respective areas of interest.

Following is my contribution to our paper, combined with images from the presentation – revised for the web.

What was old is new again: developing undergraduate students’ digital literacies


This brief overview will explore the historical literature of digital literacy in (mostly U.S.) higher education from the 1970s to the present, identify the need for a plurality of digital literacies, and provide two examples of ongoing higher education initiatives which bridge theory to practice.

The field of digital literacy spans numerous decades, and the concept has gone through several evolutions. In the early 1970s, John Debes developed the term visual literacy to refer to a group of vision-competencies that humans develop by simultaneously seeing and integrating other sensory experiences. The meaning making from these experiences enables individuals to manipulate visual actions, symbols, and objects to communicate (Belshaw, 2012). This definition seems similar to traditional literacy, however, what sets it apart is the emphasis on visual elements as a separate literacy.


In direct response to the advent of the personal computer – Apple II in 1977 and the IBM PC in 1981, Andrew Molnar coined the term computer literacy. This model represented a skills-based approach, in that understanding how computer applications worked and why they should be used served as the primary impetus for training and educational activities (Bawden, 2008). The launch of personal computing was also motivated by an awareness that computers and related technologies were beginning to become pervasive and would fundamentally shape the generation that was coming of age during this time.

Widesweeping changes in computing during the early 1990s – with the debut of the web browser – ushered the information literacy model. Academic libraries and governmental agencies were strong champions. Information literacy built on the skills-based computer literacy model, and branched out to include evaluating the source and content of information that was retrieved on the burgeoning information superhighway (Fieldhouse & Nicholas, 2008). The conversation shifted from specific skill sets to personal capabilities and attributes with Paul Gilster’s Digital Literacies text (1997). Gilster was not the first to use the phrase “digital literacy;” however, his definition of digital literacy was unique in that it was not restricted to particular technology or form or information, and he painted broad brushstrokes with his ideas to capture principles, which were intended to outlast specific systems and technologies.

Gilster’s work was used to build the next digital literacy model, entitled New Literacy Studies. This body of work framed literacy as a construct, and shifted the focus from individual minds to social interactions. This model framed digital literacy as an umbrella term and argued that the plurality of literacies is necessary as texts can be read in different ways (Jones & Lea, 2008). The work undertaken by scholars in the New Literacy Studies model laid the groundwork for the growing trend of emphasizing the plurality of digital literacy; recognizing the advantages of understanding digital literacy as digital literacies (Belshaw, 2012).


To illustrate the plurality of literacies construct, two current initiatives in higher education that represent theory to practice will be highlighted. Domain’s of One’s Own started at the University of Mary Washington and provides all members of the university community with personal webspace in order to “explore the creation and development of their digital identities.” Their initiative grew, and inspired other colleges to adopt similar projects. An early adopter was Davidson College, a private liberal arts college. Davidson Domains also granted personal webspace to students and faculty, the impetus behind Davidson Domains is strongly grounded in student agency, and they are starting to explore research around this.


Future plans also include building out a Davidson Domains Learning Community for faculty and staff to co-create meaning with digital tools and applications.


Wrap-up and reflection on converting a paper for a web format: I found that I substantially rewrote most of the text, including insertion of different transitions. Since this was a originally part of a group-authored paper, our conclusion was different that the one I ended up using above.

The transition from APA-style citations to hyperlinks is interesting, and sticks out in my mind for some reason. I’m not sure what significance that might have, but it brings to mind Laura Gogia’s work that she presented at OpenEd15. On the reading list to see how it might help me to make sense of it…


Bawden, D. (2008). Origins and Concepts of Digital Literacy. In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel (Eds.), Digital literacies: Concepts, policies and practices (17-32). Retrieved from

Belshaw, D.A.J. (2012). What is digital literacy? A pragmatic investigation. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Fieldhouse, M. &  Nicholas, D. (2008). Digital literacy as information savvy: The road to information literacy. In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel (Eds.), Digital literacies: Concepts, policies and practices (43-72). Retrieved from

Gilster, P. (1997). Digital literacy. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Jones, S. & Lea, M.R. (2008). Digital literacies in the lives of undergraduate students: Exploring personal and curricular spheres of practice. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 6(3), pp. 207 – 216. Retrieved from

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