Friday, 3 April 2009

Keynote Speaker : Melissa Highton (University of Oxford)

Melissa had the honour of giving the opening keynote of LILAC 2009 and she created a strong foundation for the conference, providing delegates with insights into information literacy, new technologies and the convergence of the two trends.
Melissa began by discussing the term ‘digital literacy.’ She emphasised the lack of definition currently on offer through wikipedia and questioned if you can be information literate without being digitally literate and vice versa.

To me, digital literacy is the term that can be used to describe the new kinds of skills that 21st century learners need to be proficient in order that they can function successfully in the modern world. For example, the ability to share, collaborate and communicate via the internet, either at a desktop or facilitated by mobile technologies; Sharples (2006, p.23) describes this set of skills as “transferable skills that employers prize, such as knowledge-working, media production and collaborative working.” I feel that to be digital literate is to be adept in the practice of web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis, to be able to navigate online information spaces and to have the ability to create content and share it through an appropriate medium. Digitally literate learners are flexible in their approaches to learning and are able to use the tools relevant for the task in hand depending upon time, location and available technologies.

The problem with digital literacy is borne from the fact that it has not yet been explored by Information Professionals, Melissa suggests that this needs to be carried out so that a framework can be constructed and decisions can be made as to whether information literacy and digital literacy are one of the same or whether they need to be approached separately. To do this, Librarians, Information Officers, Subject Support Teams (whatever ‘we’ may be called) need to engage in shaping the debate about emerging technologies and the ICT expectations of new students. We need to be actively involved in answering the question ‘where should digital literacy fit in the curriculum and how can this be achieved?’ The answer to this question is becoming ever more crucial as the convergence of mobile and web 2.0 technologies has created a shift in the ways in which learners can access and share information. As a result of this the established information cycle of production, transmission, storage, retrieval and consumption can now take place in mobile contexts and without a central control element (Traxler, 2008). As Information Professionals however, we still need to maintain that our students can manage their information needs in an academically acceptable manner and that today’s learners can navigate their way through the plethora of access channels accordingly.

Melissa then moved on to discuss the ever topical Marc Prensky (2001a; 2001b) and his work on ‘digital natives’ versus ‘digital immigrants.’ She suggests that the current economic crisis will have an impact on the types of students we will begin to see applying for university places over the coming years. For example, there may be an in-flux of mature students as a direct result of the recession, these will be people that have perhaps lost their jobs and are looking to re-train and gain new skills. Obviously in this instance it throws a ‘spanner in the works’ of Prensky’s debate and the view of the ‘traditional’ undergraduate, 21st century student and directly impacts on the information literacy training we provide within our institutions.

The idea of ‘information abuse’ was also brought to the table and admittedly not something I had particularly thought of previous. Melissa interlinked this to the current banking crisis and the bad decisions made over the last few years; bad use of information has resulted in a global recession. Melissa inferred that banking chiefs (and the like) didn’t understand the predictive models they were using and the information they produced, which led to catastrophic mistakes in the decision making process – is ‘modelling’ literacy yet another string to the information literacy bow? The ability to interpret information well would lie at the heart of the ‘modelling literacy’ notion. The bringing together and comprehension of all these types of literacy’s (information, digital, modelling, ICT etc.) would result in learners leaving university with ‘digital wisdom’ (Prensky, 2009).

‘Open content literacy’ was Melissa’s final point about which she discussed the surrounding issues. Even though the content is available and out there, it is still important for Information Professionals to lead within this field; permissions, attribution, adaptation and the re-use of content needs to be mediated to ensure that learners are managing the information they are using in an suitable manner. A whole host of themes and technologies are drawn into this area, from copyright to categories, platforms (You Tube, iTunes etc.) to tags. This led directly to Melissa’s closing points – the emergence of iTunes U in academic institutions in England.

The University of Oxford have had an iTunes U site since October 2008 and Melissa offered advice and support to any institutions wishing to head down the iTunes road. One of the key points that has stayed with me is Melissa’s idea that Information Professionals still need to be involved in adding metadata to the podcasts produced for housing in your institution’s iTunes U store. Melissa felt that it was important that the academics started off the ‘tagging’ of the podcasts they produced in a web 2.0 context but that the Information Professionals should be on hand to provide the information rich metadata that will ensure students can find relevant podcasts to their subject area in a quick and easy manner.

Melissa invigorated me and prepared me for some of the key themes of LILAC 2009, her keynote speech was clear and coherent and really struck a chord with me and my research.


PRENSKY, M. (2009) H. sapiens digital: from digital immigrants to digital natives to digital wisdom. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 5 (3), February/March 2009 [online]. Available from:

PRENSKY, M. (2001a) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5), pp.1-6

PRENSKY, M. (2001b) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (6), pp.1-6

SHARPLES, M. (2006) How can we address the conflicts between personal informal learning and traditional classroom education. In: SHARPLES, M. (ed.) (2006) Big issues in mobile learning: report of a workshop by the Kaleidoscope Network of Excellence Mobile Learning Initiative, pp.23-25 [online]. Available from:

TRAXLER, J. (2008) Use of mobile technology for mobile learning and mobile libraries in a mobile society. In: NEEDHAM, G and ALLY, M. (ed.) (2008) M-libraries: libraries on the move to provide virtual access, pp.47-55. Facet

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