Digital Divides & Participation Gaps

digital literacies

digital literacies

Wits has made it explicit in its vision 2022 that it would like to known as a “tech savvy” intuition. On our digitally equipped connected campus, academics and students do make regular and expert use of digital technologies to meet their communication, scholarship and teaching needs. Ability of staff to access and use the network satisfactorily is a given. Students skills with finding, evaluating, utilising, creating, manipulating and transforming digital material on the internet, within a virtual learning environment, on software packages, in digital textbooks, working on exercise software, listening to podcasts, participating in simulations or playing learning games etc. is generally assumed or remedied with a brief training session. However, for many students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, such digital fluencies are not automatic. A range of digital divides or ‘inequality of access to the Internet’ have limited these students opportunity to access and use ICTs’.

Within South Africa’s secondary education system, more traditional forms of literacy have been developed and while post matric students should be able to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about the written word as undergraduate students, they have not necessarily been exposed to technology enhanced learning. For Wits “tech savvy vision” to be realised, the institution will have to take specific steps that will actively address the various barriers to access. Van Dijk and Hacker (2003) argue that there are four types of barriers to access:

  • The lack of ‘‘material access’’ means a lack of possession of computers and network connections.
  • The lack of ‘‘mental access’’ refers to a lack of elementary digital experience.
  • The lack of ‘‘skill access’’ is a lack of digital skills.
  • The lack of ‘‘usage access’’ signifies the lack of meaningful usage opportunities.

At present Wits runs specific projects to address material access issues. If Wits is to address the other three digital divides and assist its students to gain digital experience, practice digital skills and learn appropriate and responsible behaviours within a meaningful context, then as an institution, Wits will have to go beyond simply creating conditions for material access and systematically and deliberately prepare students so that they can indeed learn anything, anytime, anywhere.
eLSI (eLearning, Support and Innovation) is well positioned to assist academics and students with the development of such capacity. Although the unit are already involved in computer literacy and life-skills programs, additional resources are required to create a particular project that can meet the identified need for systematic digital literacy development. This digital literacy project will be designed to specifically to address the abovementioned issues and should have the flexibility to meet academic needs and build local capacity; It has three components

  1. Materials development: The development of a toolkit to facilitate digital experience. A series of professional development workshops that would introduce academics to patterns and techniques used to develop necessary skills
  2. Benchmarking: Ongoing progress with developing in class opportunities for student to practice their digital competencies within their specific discipline would be measured against a benchmark
  3. Community of Practice: The creation of a local network of expertise.

Marc Perensky’s mistake was to assume that because students were born within a digital era, that they are necessarily “digital natives”. The ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies is not inherent. To assist various stakeholders achieve digital literacies, it is essential that all members of the Wits community, academics, administration, library and other support services and students are offered opportunities to become sufficiently competent in the set of life skills that are necessary for full participation in our media-saturated, information-rich society.
With the number of students set to rise significantly in the next decade, this need for such digital literacies is magnified, as it will become imperative that Wits is able to adapt their traditional teaching methods and offer a mix of face-to-face and online learning possibilities and students will need to be technologically fluent to master this new mode.


Van Dijk, J., Hacker, K., 2003. The digital divide as a complex, dynamic phenomenon. The Information Society 19 (4), 315–326

Differentiated Tasks

William M. Ferriter’s article is Why Teachers Should Try Twitter is more about differentiated instruction than Twitter. When I read it, I thought – here’s a note to self – time to explore how technology can be leveraged so that  “students of different abilities, interest or learning needs” can use  different learning paths so that they can experience appropriate instruction.”

Typically, in class, we create a single path and teach a specific amount of content to fill up the period of time while walking on that path. Ranking students’ ability to complete the journey is the teachers intention, and in our assessment, we measure how much of the content they have passed through as they walked along the path with us.

Here in Ed Tech, there’s an unlimited about of learning trails available and a wide range of students with different backgrounds, skill sets and abilities. I’d like to see what paths  students take to develop their technology mastery. So, to assist the “newbies” and to challenge the “geeks” in the class, I have created three routes for them to follow.

  • Entry Level (students simply complete the Tasks )
  • Adoption Level (Do the tasks and create a PLN)
  • Innovation Level (Complete the Tasks, create a PLN and represent what you know publicly, online)

Background and experience with ICT will most probably have an impact students ability to complete the tasks that I’ve set.  Students be able to consult the rubric and complete a task at a certain level. In order for this to work, my role (as instructor)  will have to move from simply teaching to content in lectures and workshops to designing learning activities, facilitating and modeling methods to achieve mastery at an optional drop in session.

I’m trying to persuade students to use Twitter to connect with  and mentor other students as they progress from one task to another or shift from one path to another.  They will have to practice their skills and solicit coaching and feedback from their “networked sherpa”. Both instructor and student will be walking into a  “knowledge gap” and jointly taking steps to shift that gap a step closer to mastery. They seem keen and  I think it’s going to be an interesting journey.

Students networking with Students

There’s a range of people in my Ed Tech PGCE class this year. Some are very sussed, and others are finding computers a frightening prospect. This morning a small co-hort of about 10 PGCE students (many of them very new to computers) joined me while I demonstrated copying, cropping and adding effects to their class photographs. I also included a quick tutorial on Twitter and then shut up and left them to work out how they could use Microblogging to connect to other PGCE students. It’s great watching students teach students technology. They do it far better than I could ever hope to. Happy to report that they are excellent peer teachers and all of them “got it”. Conversations between students have started to flow. Hope I don’t sound to patronizing, but well done. Many others have not got this far. If I’ve left anyone of the list, please contact me. Would be great if we could have a network of 80 + PGCE students on Twitter.

QR in class

I’ve usually teach ICT on Networks where the students out number the desktops quite dramatically. Last years class was over 70 students in size, and I had 12 computers to share amongst them.

While some might think that one person one computer is a democratic right, the poor ratio of computers to users does have perks. Students that don’t normally have computer access, learn from each other while sitting next to their peers. Those that are digitally privileged usually duck out and complete their work on a home PC. Their absence is not missed as they dominate the learning, when the laggards really need attention.

This year, I’m going to level the playing field and include a new screen in my class. I’ve read and experimented a bit with the cell phone, and feel that its time to attempt to incorporate Mobile learning in my classes.

All readings will be filed on the Social Bookmarking service Delicious and catalogued with the tag UKZNAV. For those that want to access their readings without a computer, they can also do it via the camera built into their phone. Point the camera to the QR code, and the selected readings should appear.

My second attempt to include mobile in my teaching is to insist that all register on Twitter and then attempt to  incorporate the back channel into the class. Compulsive note writers will have the opportunity to share their secret scribblings using  with one man and his data projector. Again, the user will point their camera to the QR code, and the link to the backchannel should appear.

Stay tuned (or subscribe to the RSS feed)  for feedback

Wordled & taguled my thesis


Wordle of my thesis

I hauled out the old thesis and copied & pasted the text into Wordle. Yishay persuaded me to take it further and submit it to the I wordled my thesis group on Flickr.

The thesis seems more accessible as a tag cloud and, when enlarged, it visually summerises the key words and ideas contained in the document .

Gabriela pointed me towards Tagul when she Twittered about it. Alex, the designer of Tagul has taken the Wordle concept further and created a site that allows you to make clouds that can be “used on blogs, web pages .. as a replacement of ordinary tag clouds”. As oposed to Wordle, where the tag cloud is a single image, each tag in Tagul is linked with an URL and is “clickable”. Take a look and see. Links go to Google, but Tagul allows you to direct them to any URL on the web.

I taguled my thesis

Discover Microblogging (Draft)

Note Draft Microblogging (the act of broadcasting short, real-time messages) allows people to express themselves in new ways. It offers people a new communication channel to broadcast and share updates about what they are reading, thinking, experiencing, watching and doing. Educationalists that choose to incorporate Microblogs into their courses could refocus Microblogging as a peer to peer learning activity and use this tool to
· share information
· build community and foster collaboration and,
· encourage reflection.
This Discover Microblogging fact sheet is intended to introduce the concept of microblogging, the two main platforms (Facebook and Twitter) and “poke” academics, teachers and other professionals into thinking about how they could use a subset of social media to assist post graduate or part time students become co-contributions to their own knowledge instead of passive consumers of information.
Update (3 Nov 2009): Sometimes the Slideshare server takes a while to load
Discover Microblogging (PDF) is also available from this blog.

Update (4 Nov 2009): Created a slideshow to accompany the microblogging document

Your progress and your opinions of my progress

Well done to you all. We are more than half way through the course, and many of you are on track with task submission.

  • 68 students have submitted task 1,
  • 63 have submitted task 2 (still waiting for the outstanding 13 to tell me which group they are in),
  • 65 have submitted task 3,
  • 41 have submitted task 4 and
  • 32 have submitted task 5.

Take a look at my Open Mark book to see your progress

I have also had feedback from 10 students. Take a look at what they think.