Putting the model to work with staff

In this post Dr Liz Bennett, University Teaching Fellow in the School of Education and Professional Development at the University of Huddersfield discusses academic staff digital literacies.

I applied the hierarchical model devised by Rhona Sharpe and Helen Beetham (2010) to model students’ digital literacies to examine it in the context of academic staff’s use of digital tools.  I was drawn to the model both for its simplicity and pictorial form but most particularly because it distinguished skills from the things that we do with technology (practices). I found it appealing because of this focus on application of skills to their context and because the hierarchical arrangement between the levels provided opportunity to look at how we develop in relation to digital practices.

My research was a small scale study of academics and how they make use of web 2.0 tools in their teaching practices.  I carried out in depth interviews with 16 academics then analysed my data using the Sharpe and Beetham (2010) model. At the time I was carrying out my analysis there weren’t many other models for digital literacies available, subsequently I’ve explored Belshaw’s (2011) 8C’s model which appears to be useful in the context of analysing the content of the curriculum:

  1. Cultural
  2. Cognitive
  3. Constructive
  4. Communicative
  5. Confident
  6. Creative
  7. Critical
  8. Civic

More recently Hall, Atkins and Fraser (2014) have proposed a four stage model for teacher development with digital literacies (Entry, Core, Developer and Pioneer) which has some potential.

When I applied Sharpe and Beetham’s model to my study I found that it broadly fitted academic staff well.  At the top level the most frequent users of new technologies were

  • Confident in their use;
  • Prepared to take risks in adoption of technology;
  • Willing to explore use;
  • Convinced by its potential to enhance and perhaps transform learning (see Figure 1).


Sharpe and Beetham's model with descriptors for academic staff characteristics

Figure 1 The Digital Practitioner Framework, DPF, (after Sharpe and Beetham 2010)

There were, however, a couple of points of departure from their student focussed model. Firstly for academic staff their identity as confident digital practitioners was not the driver for adopting new tools in their teaching practices.  Instead they were driven by wanting to serve a pedagogical goal. They used technology in service of this goal and did not necessarily always identify with the characteristics at the top of the pyramid, as the ‘digital practictitioner’. The second point of departure was that for lecturers acquiring skills was not in itself of any interest; instead they focussed on what they could do with the tools to change their teaching and learning practices. So the skills level was the one that provided lecturers with the least motivation for changing practices.

I have written up my findings in a paper published in Research in Learning Technology (Bennett, 2014a) and have other papers about the findings of my doctoral thesis published (Bennett, 2014b)



Belshaw, D. (2011). What is Digital Literacy? A pragmatic investigation (Doctorate in Education), University of Durham, Durham.

Bennett, L. (2014a). Learning from the early adopters: developing the digital practitioner. Research in Learning Technology, 22(0). doi: 10.3402/rlt.v22.21453

Bennett, L. (2014b). Putting in more: emotional work in adopting online tools in teaching and learning practices. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-12. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2014.934343

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(0). doi: 10.3402/rlt.v22.21440

Sharpe, R., & Beetham, H. (2010). Understanding students’ uses of technology for learning: towards creative appropriation. In R. Sharpe, H. Beetham & S. de Freitas (Eds.), Rethinking learning for the digital age: how learners shape their experiences (pp. 85 – 99). London and New York: Routledge Falmer.

Posted in Developing the framework

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