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.

What’s at the top of the pyramid?

I’ve been troubled for while about what’s at the top of the pyramid model. I explore this in a forthcoming book chapter:

Sharpe, R. (forthcoming 2014) What does it take to learn in next generation learning spaces? In Fraser, K. (ed) The future of teaching and learning in technology enabled, collaborative spaces, Emerald.

This chapter is driven by the  question ‘What can learner experience research tell us about the attributes of successful online learners?’. It reports on a literature review which I hope will inform models of digital literacy – many of which are already showing signs of moving beyond specification of skills and competencies. The review draws on qualitative research arising from the field of learners’ experiences of e-learning. Although learner experience research has exposed and given a platform for authentic learners’ voices, it has been criticised for relying on small-scale research, and it has been a challenge to integrate the results from many studies in ways which produce meaningful advice for practitioners. The chapter demonstrates a way of reviewing and compiling current research using a qualitative meta-analysis.

Six attributes are identified and explored:

  • engaged
  • connected
  • confident
  • adaptable
  • intentional
  • self-aware.

Although some of these attributes are applicable to all learning contexts, the attributes of being connected, confident, adaptable and intentional seem to be particularly important in learning in next generation learning spaces. The challenge is to design learning activities which encourage and reward the development of these attributes.

The hope is that this chapter provokes debate on what it now means to be a successful learner in today’s technology rich world.

Literacy as a socially and culturally situated practice

Session for Changing the Learning Landscape event, 29 May 2013


Critical digital literacy model

It’s been great to watch this model of digital literacy emerge from Greenwich University.


It’s now called ‘5 Resources of Critical Digital Literacy’ and there is lots of information about it at  https://sites.google.com/site/dlframework/home

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Developing Digital Literacies ALT Webinar

The recording and slides from today’s ALT Webinar with Helen Beetham are now available at:


Helen presented this version of the model and talked about digital identity has turned out to be a good hook for engaging colleagues in conversations about digital literacy.


There are aspects of the model that seem uncontroversial: that functional access is an entitlement, and that situated practices need to built upon existing skills. However, ideas about what goes onto the top of the pyramid continue to evolve.  Helen asked ‘does your institution make any statements about how students will develop their digital identity? I’d be interested to know.

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Open University Digital and Information Literacy Framework

The Open University’s Digital and Information Framework has many of the same features as the developmental model, moving through stages from access, practices to identity. See http://www.open.ac.uk/libraryservices/subsites/dilframework/

Practices are foregrounded and divided into 4 levels mapped to undergraduate and masters levels.


SCONUL updates 7 pillars through digital literacy lens

The Society of College, National and University Libraries ‘seven pillars of information literacy’ has been updated including through a digital literacy lens.

Extending the model for service development at University of Cardiff

The JISC funded Digidol model at the University of Cardiff have extended the framework to add a first level of awareness. See http://digidol.cardiff.ac.uk



Analysing academics’ adoption of learning technologies

The framework has been used to analyse academics’ adoption of learning technologies inLiz Bennett’s EdD ‘Learning from the early adopters’. This uses the model as a construct to analyse interview data.


Bennett, L (2012) ‘Learning from the Early Adopters: the digital practtitioner framework.’. In: ALT-C 2012 A confrontation with reality, 11-13 September 2012, Manchester, UK

Bennett, E (2012) Learning from the early adopters: Web 2.0 tools, pedagogic practices and the development of the digital practitioner Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Evaluating student experiences in workplace contexts at University of Reading

The framework has been used to evaluate students’ digital experiences in workplace contexts as part of the JISC funded Digitally Ready project at University of Reading