Digital Skills For A Digital Age

I’m doing a presentation (along with my colleagues Charlie Davies and Debbie Longbridge) at the University of Derby’s annual learning and teaching conference speaking on this topic. Talking about Digital Skills and the Digital Age are two pretty jargony terms if you don’t spend the time to look at them properly so here is my attempt to do just that.

Digital Age

 

Seeming how my first degree was in History I like to take a historical approach to defining concepts. For me the Digital Age can be understood by two events in the C20th.

 

Firstly the work done at Bletchley Park during World War Two. What occurred at Bletchley Park was a massive effort to break the Nazi’s battlefield communications and so gain vital insight into the enemies movements. To aid this two machines were built at Bletchley Park called “Bombe” and then “Colossus” which were used to process the massive number of combinations of code in the German Enigmas into manageable portions that could then be broken by hand. The Colossus machine designed by Tommy Flowers was the world’s first semi-programmable computer. It allowed people to process information in a manner not known before. This was a massive breakthrough in processing information which I would see as the start of the DIgital Age.

 

Secondly fast-forward to 1989 and the CERN research facility in Switzerland. CERN brought academics from around the world together to its facilities. Tim Burners-Lee and Robert Caillui’s initial idea for the World WIde Web came out of the desire to unite researchers at CERN all using different systems and having documentations in different forms so they could actually share and access each other’s research. The idea of the Web was to make everyone’s information available to everyone else without needing to use the same type of computer system (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESjXnN1H4W8 3:39 – 6:02). This second breakthrough was in accessing information.

 

But linked to how people were able start accessing information from what was started at CERN was the ability to connect with people. Sooner or later if I start posting information on the Web or read other people’s info will come the move to accessing people. Especially once the pages that are built on the web are not just screen’s of information but also allow me to leave comments and include my own take on what is there. You connect to the people behind the information.

For me this is the three main things that happened in the digital age, power to process information, ability to access information and opportunity to access people, you could look at it as creating, collecting and connecting.

 

Digital Skills

 

If the digital world is one where we can create, collect and connect in ways we couldn’t do before then what skills do we need for this age? You get various accounts of what digital skills are I like the three attributes that come out of these three changes mainly for simplicity’s sake. Let me expand on what these skills are briefly

 

  1. Creating: This is using a computer to make something. From doing calculations, making documents, editing videos to building website or programing games this covers anything that involves making something with a computer.

  2. Collecting: This is to do with accessing content using the internet. Including reading news, downloading programs, watching films online or using social media.

  3. Connecting: This has to do with any practice that moves beyond handling information to connecting with the person behind the information. So examples might include using Skype or email, maintaining personal relationships with social media, building new relationships with social media, finding info out on potential employees through Google, internet dating or e-marketing and selling goods to people online.

 

I feel for each of these concepts there are positive and negative aspects for how you can use them. Understanding what the benefit is of the skills and what the dangers are in developing them helps frame and approach to these skills.

 

Positive

Negative

Creating

  • Create consistent quality more easily.

  • More processing power.

  • Create things you couldn’t do before

  • Over-reliance, losing other skills (mental arithmetic, spelling etc.)

Collecting

  • Gain access to greater range of information.

  • Easier to store and access research.

  • Better choice of how you can learn.

  • Assessing quality of information.

  • Becoming overwhelmed with massiveness of information.

  • Internet info often aimed at easy consumption not detailed analysis.

Connecting

  • Greater access to experts and people outside your social area.

  • No need for real-time contact to have relationship.

  • Protecting and managing your identity.

  • Not replacing or negating personal/ real-world relationships.

Skills are abilities used in a context towards a purpose. HE creates a wide variety of contexts and purposes. Where I want to throw the discussion open to others is to ask what of these opportunities and dangers strikes with their context? Issues will be different for tutors helping international students transition to life in the UK to learning support mentors supporting PhD students complete their work to careers advisers helping students transition to the workforce. My hope though is defining these terms and looking at their potential benefit begins to bring this discussion alive.

Would love to hear thoughts and feedback.

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