Assignment 2: Design Based Research Proposal

Context and Problem

Effective utilisation of networked learning practices and tools for teaching and professional learning depends on academics in universities adopting a lifelong learning approach to digital literacies development, as they do for their discipline areas.

There is widespread agreement that digital literacies and their development are an important part of 21st century education for students and academics (Carrington & Robinson, 2009; Gillen & Barton, 2010; Goodfellow, 2011; Gourlay, Hamilton, & Lea, 2014; Janssen et al., 2013; Krumsvik, 2006; Lea, 2013; Littlejohn, Beetham, & McGill, 2012; Payton, 2012; Ryberg & Georgsen, 2010; Weller, 2011).

According to Carrington and Robinson (2009):

“In an era where these skills and texts are increasingly linked to employment, political access and the capacity to engage meaningfully in civic life, a literacy education that incorporates digital literacies is essential”.

Kerin (2009) argues that provision of opportunities for developing digital technology skills is as important as developing “critical, inclusive educators”.

According to a number of authors, the role of that academics are required to fulfill in this environment is described using phrases such as “expert learner”, “tech steward” or “guidance to learn” (Beetham & Sharpe, 2007; Carrington & Robinson, 2009; Carroll, 2000). Others make the case that educators need to “learn how to learn” in order to effectively teach their students (Krumsvik, 2006). Implicit in all of these descriptions is an assumption or requirement that academics are committed to developing and maintaining their digital literacies.

Within this context, academic staff must want to engage with professional development and be receptive to the opportunities and possibilities the digital, networked world presents. The literature in this area acknowledges a reluctance by a significant number of academics to engage with the fast paced change in the digital 21st century world and identifies a variety of barriers. (Gillen & Barton, 2010; Hall, Atkins, & Fraser, 2014; Hinrichsen & Coombs, 2014; Janssen et al., 2013; Ryberg & Georgsen, 2010).

McIntyre summarises some of these barriers very well from the perspective of the digital literacy divide:

“However, as discussed above, the reasons for this digital literacy divide emerging amongst academics in recent years are many and complex: the fast rate of technological change; the inability for large institutions to respond quickly enough in adapting their organisational infrastructures; the failure to properly acknowledge the importance of technological entanglement in core business practice; technology led online initiatives that fail to enable a meaningful translation of existing individual knowledge and teaching practices; lack of support for academics in the development of online learning initiatives; and the lack of recognition of the work required by academics to develop the digital literacies and online teaching competencies. It follows therefore, that some form of professional development is an important element in helping to restore balance in the relationship between technology and education.” (McIntyre, 2014)

Although there are no simple answers to these barriers, NGL offers the possibility of circumventing or overcoming some of these barriers. One way to achieve this is to guide, facilitate and encourage participation in online communities of practice (OCoPs) (Harasim, 2012). According to Harasim:

“OCoPs will grow and improve to become a major force in Knowledge-Age education….Peer interaction and engagement with experts, scholars and scientists in related fields open unprecedented opportunities for educators to learn, to progress and improve, through participation in the relevant knowledge communities” (Harasim, 2012)

Provision of professional development opportunities via networked learning would allow academics to dip in and out as they could afford to and as they needed to. This might render NGL more appealing than other types of professional learning – just in time, as required and most importantly independent of the institution and institutional constraints. Harasim’s views are supported by McIntyre (2014):

“Breaking away from established institutional infrastructures in order to seek support from a variety of other sources, has the potential to creative (sic) a state of disruptive innovation in educational practice” (McIntyre, 2014, p95)

Literature Review

The digital world is having a transformative impact on society and is apparent in core university business and learning (Jones & Bennett, 2014; Littlejohn et al., 2012; Payton, 2012). According to Payton (2012) , “…the worlds of work, citizenship, culture and learning are increasingly digital”. Within this broader context, there is much discussion and debate in the literature regarding digital literacies.

Payton (2012) identifies a number of drivers that are influencing the focus on digital literacies:

  1. “Meeting the needs and expectations of students
  2. Responding to an increasingly digital world
  3. The need to build organisational capacity
  4. Policy concerns
  5. Meeting the demands of employers
  6. Global and sector market forces
  7. Changing academic practices”

The research acknowledges the difficulty of developing an approach to digital literacies development that balances the competing needs of incorporating contextual considerations, avoiding functional, overly prescriptive approaches whilst providing educators the opportunity to utilise the approach in practice (Gillen & Barton, 2010; Hinrichsen & Coombs, 2014; Janssen et al., 2013; Ryberg & Georgsen, 2010). According to Hall, Atkins and Fraser (2014), educators will continue to feel ill-prepared until there is consensus between institutions and educators around what digital literacy means.

Lea (2013), amongst others, argues for the importance of considering context by highlighting the need to understand the disciplinary and scholarly practices of academics in a digital world (Gillen & Barton, 2010; Payton, 2012). Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2012) note in their literature review that digital literacies are widely understood and acknowledged as “situated knowledge practices” .  Gillen and Barton (2010) make the point that, almost always, digital literacies are concerned with improving disciplinary critical thinking . The importance of context is confirmed by Hinrichsen and Coombs (2014) who note acceptance in the literature “…that there is iteration and interaction between culture and technology…” . Lea (2013), amongst others, argues for the importance of considering context by highlighting the need to understand the disciplinary and scholarly practices of academics in a digital world (Gillen & Barton, 2010; Payton, 2012).

This overview of approaches to digital literacies demonstrates the complexity and the competing considerations involved and highlights the need for a holistic, inclusive and balanced approach. It supports the argument made here that an effective approach to digital literacies development requires:

  • A reconciliation of institutional and educator positions
  • Avoidance of purely functional definitons or frameworks that are technology focussed
  • Incorporation of contextual considerations such as discpline, scholarly or academic practice, and the sociocultural or social
  • Emphasis of personal, professional and disciplinary development

According to Littlejohn et al. (2012), digital literacies are required for “…lifelong learning when valued knowledge is predominantly communicated in digital forms”.   A common problem posed when considering the digital world is that it is impossible to keep up with all technological change or advancement (Sharpe, Beetham, De Freitas, & Conole, 2010).  Burnett (2009) highlights the importance of acknowledging, addressing and critically reflecting on the “values, attitudes and assumptions” relating to personal digital practice or the dominant discourses within learning environments that teachers find themselves working in . Similarly, Janssen et al. (2013) identify attitudes as an important consideration that should be included when defining digital literacies . Weller (2011) makes the case for digital scholarship and the availability of opportunities for “exploration and professional reinvention” in a digital world that perhaps implicitly acknowledges lifelong learning and encourages the development of digital literacies.

Hall et al. (2014) argue that if educators are not equipped to teach digital literacies this has implications for pedagogy. A number of authors refer to the role that educators are required to fulfill in this environment using a variety of names but essentially all are describing an “expert learner” that guides or stewards students (Beetham & Sharpe, 2007; Carrington & Robinson, 2009; Carroll, 2000). According to Krumsvik (2006) educators need to “learn how to learn” in order to effectively teach their students . Another role for educators is identified as assessing the significance and suitability of technologies for learning (Krumsvik, 2006; Weller, 2011).There is also evidence that academics are crucial in the development of student digital literacies. (Margaryan & Littlejohn, 2011 as cited in Krumsvik, 2006; Littlejohn et al., 2012; Payton, 2012; Weller, 2011). Finally a quote from Beetham and Oliver (2010):

“In a digital age, learners need to practice and experiment with different ways of enacting their identities, and adopt subject positions through different technologies and media. These opportunities can only be supported by academic staff who are themselves engaged in digital practices and questioning their own relationships with knowledge”.

Implicit in all of this is that effective utilisation or implementation of networked and global learning requires an educator with well developed and maintained digital literacies. Furthermore, in a learning and teaching environment where the availability of technologies is dynamic and ever-evolving, where change is inevitable and fast paced, effective development of the digital literacies of academics may be facilitated by harnessing the affordances of networked and global learning in the form of online communities of practice (OCoPs) (Harasim, 2012; McIntyre, 2014)

Research Questions

Can networked and global learning be utilised as a means to:

  • Develop the digital literacies of academics in a university environment
  • Embed networked and global learning practices and principles into learning activities for students and act as a way of introducing academics to NGL principles and practices
  • Enable academics to overcome barriers and allow effective engagement with the networked and global world in a way that facilitates lifelong learning in digital 21st century learning environments.

Intervention and principles

In this Design Based Research proposal, the focus will be to explore the effectiveness of utilising networked learning for digital literacies development in academics in a university setting. The approach will be twofold:

  • Embedding networked learning practices and tools into the advice and recommendations provided to academics as part of my role as a learning designer. This would take the form of introducing them to the possibilities of networked learning as part of their teaching and encouraging them to utilise networked learning for enhancing student learning outcomes.
  • Encouraging academic staff to participate in online communities of practice that encourage digital literacies development and reflection and sharing via networked learning tools and environments. The OCoPs in question could be institutional, cross-institutional, or interdisciplinary.  I see facilitation of connections and collaboration amongst academic staff as fundamental to my role. This facilitation also includes encouraging academic staff to acknowledge their own practice as worthy of sharing with others.

The ultimate aim of these interventions would be to evaluate their effectiveness in improving the digital literacies of academics over time. Harasim’s OCoP Framework for Analysis (Harasim, 2012)would be used to evaluate the effectiveness of this intervention and would consider the following broad indicators and detailed criteria within:

  • “Contextual indicators (quantitative data)
  • Social and Intellectual Indicators (qualitative data) e.g. user engagement and satisfaction
  • Procedural indicators (qualitative data) e.g. expectations, procedural and policy infrastructure
  • Technological Indicators e.g. usability, support, quality of system features” (Harasim, 2012)


Beetham, H., & Oliver, M. (2010). The changing practices of knowledge and learning. In R. Sharpe, H. Beetham & S. De Freitas (Eds.), Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age: How learners are shaping their own experiences. Abingdon, England: Routledge.

Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2007). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing for 21st century learning. Abingdon, England: Routledge.

Burnett, C. (2009). Personal digital literacies versus classroom literacies: Investigating pre-service teachers’ digital lives in and beyond the classroom. In V. Carrington & M. Robinson (Eds.), Digital literacies: Social learning and classroom practices (pp. 115-145). London: Sage.

Carrington, V., & Robinson, M. (2009). Digital literacies: Social learning and classroom practices. London: Sage.

Carroll, T. G. (2000). If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 1(1). Retrieved from

Gillen, J., & Barton, D. (2010). Digital literacies. A Research Briefing by the Technology Enhanced Learning phase of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. Retrieved from

Goodfellow, R. (2011). Literacy, literacies and the digital in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1), 131-144.

Gourlay, L., Hamilton, M., & Lea, M. R. (2014). Textual practices in the new media digital landscape: messing with digital literacies. Research in Learning Technology, 21. Retrieved from

Hall, R., Atkins, L., & Fraser, J. (2014). Defining a self-evaluation digital literacy framework for secondary educators: the DigiLit Leicester project. Research in Learning Technology, 22. Retrieved from

Harasim, L. M. (2012). Learning theory and online technologies. New York: Routledge.

Hinrichsen, J., & Coombs, A. (2014). The five resources of critical digital literacy: a framework for curriculum integration. Research in Learning Technology, 21. Retrieved from

Janssen, J., Stoyanov, S., Ferrari, A., Punie, Y., Pannekeet, K., & Sloep, P. (2013). Experts’ views on digital competence: Commonalities and differences. Computers & education, 68, 473-481.

Jones, A., & Bennett, R. (2014). Dissolving the online-offline divide: Re-conceptualising space in higher education course design. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 30-31 January 2014., Perth.

Kerin, R. (2009). Digital portraits: teacher education and multiliteracies pedagogy. In V. Carrington & M. Robinson (Eds.), Digital literacies: Social learning and classroom practices (pp. 131). London: Sage.

Krumsvik, R. (2006). The digital challenges of school and teacher education in Norway: Some urgent questions and the search for answers. Education and Information Technologies, 11(3-4), 239-256.

Lea, M. R. (2013). Reclaiming literacies: competing textual practices in a digital higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(1), 106-118.

Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H., & McGill, L. (2012). Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of Computer assisted learning, 28(6), 547-556.

McIntyre, S. (2014). Reducing the digital literacy divide through disruptive innovation. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1.

Payton, S. (2012). Developing Digital Literacies. Retrieved from

Ryberg, T., & Georgsen, M. (2010). Enabling Digital Literacy: Development of Meso-Level Pedagogical Approaches. Digital kompetanse-Nordic journal of digital literacy, 5(2), 88-100.

Sharpe, R., Beetham, H., De Freitas, S., & Conole, G. (2010). An introduction to rethinking learning for a digital age. In R. Sharpe, H. Beetham & S. De Freitas (Eds.), Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age: How learners are shaping their own experiences. Abingdon, England: Routledge.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming academic practice   doi:


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