Planting the seeds of a digital literacy education program


I am currently designing some short library sessions for high school students who will be visiting our campus in 2014.

The sessions are part of a larger university-wide aspirational program for secondary students from low socio-economic areas designed to introduce them to the idea of higher education and encourage them to think about possibilities for their lives.

The main objective of the library sessions is to increase students’ awareness of the library as an important part of university life, and to help them develop some digital literacy skills along the way.

The sessions will be based on gaming principles, with the students organised into teams to complete challenges involving the use of digital technologies to earn points or rewards. Each team will have an ipad mini, and use a range of apps to complete the challenges, which will have them moving around the library, learning about the library as a virtual and physical space, and completing activities which teach them information literacy skills related to searching, evaluating, managing and sharing information.

Because the same students will potentially return each year throughout high school, they can build on the skills learned in previous years. Year 8 /9 students will simply be introduced to the tools and concepts by completing some fun activities. Year 10 students will engage in a scavenger hunt, where they find clues and information to help complete the challenges. Year 11 students will build on the skills developed the previous year with a more difficult set of challenges involving creative output using the tools and concepts underpinned by principles of digital storytelling to convey what they have learned.

Running the game by using a range of apps serves a triple purpose, whereby the apps: firstly, provide information resources; secondly, act as a learning tool through which students learn about the library and effective use of information; and thirdly, teach students how to use digital technologies.

Although I haven’t worked out all the details yet, I have been entertaining some ideas of what the games could involve.

Learning about the library.

Some of the activities could include finding particular spaces or resources within the library such as the AV collection or a friendly library staff member and then taking a photo as evidence. Students could earn bonus points by using photo editing apps to alter the image, such as adding speech bubbles (Bubble), using filters (Instagram) or creating a collage of images (PicCollage). They could be challenged to download an eBook and use an e-Reader app such as FreeBooks. Students could use the library’s mobile app to search for a print book, find the item on the shelf, and then use an augmented reality app (Aurasma) to view a 3-D overlay on an image in the book. They could also be introduced to some of the library’s interesting digital collections, such as graphic novels or comics, images and videos.

Developing digital literacy skills.

There are a lot of great (and free) learning resources and search portals out there to help secondary students retrieve, evaluate, manage and share information they find on the internet. I’d like to use curation tools such as Learnist or Pinterest to collate these resources for students. It would be great not only to cover the usual topics such as how to search effectively, evaluate websites and acknowledge sources correctly, but also to deal with issues such as information overwhelm and ‘mindful infotention’ (Howard Rheingold’s ideas about the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we all need to find our way online today), including issues around sharing information through social media. Apps like Evernote, Feedly and Flipboard might be good in this context. Once students have mastered some skills they can use them to take it a step further, by being creative through digital storytelling – an idea which I love and have written about before. It could involve creating a movie (imovie), a presentation (Prezi), an ebook (Ebook Creator), a comic strip), a lesson (Explain Everything) or a curated board, magazine or social media site (Learnist, Flipboard, Tumblr).

Augmented reality

What is most captivating my imagination at the moment is the idea of using augmented reality as an educational tool for teaching digital literacy. While QR codes are commonly used in these types of programs and are great (for example, I’m totally inspired by the QR based scavenger hunt designed by the awesome Gwyneth Jones, aka The Daring Librarian), augmented reality apps such as Aurasma also hold much potential. With Aurasma, you can overlay an image or video on to a target image, or use one of the provided 3D models provided in the app. If you are willing to get a bit more complicated (which I am very keen to do!) you can create your own 3D overlay. I like the idea of a student pointing the Aurasma app at an image and having a figure or avatar emerge out of the image and speak some pearls of wisdom, a clue or an answer to a question (talking portraits is not something that only happens at Hogwarts!). Even better would be delivering content via a 3D object or animation. This 3D modelling can be done using free software like SketchUp or Blender, and converting to the format required by Aurasma,

There’s so much potential to use augmented reality, as well as other data visualisation technology for teaching digital literacies and other library-related learning. So far I’ve only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg but I’m so excited about where it could all lead!

Potential applications

The activities and challenges the library develops in this program could be adapted and expanded to build a much larger library-based education program that covers a greater range of digital literacy skills. It could be used in a variety of contexts, such as in existing (or yet to be developed) learning or gaming platforms or library orientation activities, as part of the online information literacy learning we provide for undergraduates, postgraduates or academic staff. It is, potentially a multi-level program which is flexible and adaptable according to people’s skill levels, experience, knowledge,and time commitments, and which could be delivered online. I like the idea of designing a mix and match course (inspired by Meredith Farkas’ Library DIY ) which allow people to engage at a level that suits their individual needs, either independently or as part of more formal learning processes.

Now that I have planted the seeds of a few ideas, I need to nurture them to see them grow. I’d like to read more around the subject of digital literacy and the related concept of digital fluency. I’m excited by Barbara Fister’s article, Practising Freedom in the Library, which argues that libraries need to do more than just teach skills and tools to help students understand how information works. I’m inspired by Bethany Nowviskie’s discussion of a new deal for the humanities, where she acknowledges the contribution that library folk and alt-acs can make to the application of digital methods to humanities questions. I’m also keen to think about the relationship between thinking and doing, praxis and ideas, as well as the concept of “presence” in digital based learning. But more on this must wait for another blog post (or two or three).

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