At the start of this summer, I gave a keynote at the annual AMICAL Conference titled ‘Critical digital literacies: Developing agency and sustaining hope in troubled times’. Yesterday, AMICAL kindly posted the videos from the conference, so I am sharing links to the keynote and to the conference here. Beyond the keynote itself, the list of references/resources that I shared was widely reshared, and hopefully may be of use to others.
List to references/resources re critical digital literacies
AMICAL is a consortium of 28 international American universities located throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The annual AMICAL Conference focuses on pedagogy, technology and libraries. The focus of this year’s conference was reflecting on the pandemic and looking to (and re-imagining) the future. I was asked by the conference organisers to speak to what is particular about this moment that calls us to further develop critical digital literacies, for ourselves and in partnership with students.
In my keynote, I drew on work by many global scholars, exploring the roots of ‘digital literacies’ as a concept and then outlining two premises: first, that power acts in and through digital technologies and information systems in myriad ways; and second, that digital and social inequality are mutually constitutive, within and beyond higher education. This provides the overall context for focusing on critical approaches to digital literacies specifically, i.e. those that acknowledge and seek to understand how power works within and through technology.
Although impossible to define precisely, critical digital literacies may include developing awareness and understanding about, and abilities to: navigate technical tools and practices; interrogate digital multimedia texts using critical perspectives; design and create critical digital texts; engage with ethics, power structures and inequalities attendant with digital technologies and data; create and continually revise academic, public and online identities; and overall cultivate “agential capacity” (Akwugo & McGregor, 2016).
We cannot talk about digital literacies, of course, without also considering data literacies. The systems we rely on for teaching, learning and scholarship are both digital and datafied. As noted by Stewart & Lyons (2021), “whether educators want to engage with data or not, their work both generates it and guides students into environments that mine it.” Not only must we reckon with the rendering of student and educator activities as behaviours that can be datafied, but we must also reckon with the increasing intensification of data-oriented digital platforms in HE, the normalisation of vendor-university relationships, and the inequalities of power between data owners/companies and those whose data is being collected, analysed and shared.
As Ross, et al (2022) write, in their excellent recent article about educating competent technology users in the age of digitized inequality: “Understanding the power dynamics, inequalities and oppressions at work in and through digital technologies stands as a precondition to educating fully literate, fully competent digital citizens and technology users.”
Power acts in and through digital technologies and information systems in myriad ways. If higher education is to remain true to its commitments to greater equity, a key question is not whether we should include analyses of power and social inequality in digital and data education frameworks, but how best we can facilitate such work, embedded in a context of agentic and equitable dialogue between students, staff, faculty and decision-makers at all levels. Better futures rely on engaging in this hard and hopeful work.
Image source: John Tyson (Unsplash)