Talking the Digital Habitat into Being

This seminar, the first in the Learning@Lunch series, is given by Andrew Whitworth, Director or Teaching and Learning Strategy, Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester.

In the higher education sector, information and digital literacy are often taught in ways that do not necessarily help students bridge the gap between their studies and the kinds of information and technology practices that are relevant in workplaces and public life. There, learning is more informal, more collaborative than individual, and is supported by a complex environment that potentially encompasses a wide range of technological solutions to learning. Wenger, White and Smith call this the “digital habitat”. The interactions that shape the habitat are ephemeral and often momentary, thus can be hard to see – both by researchers, and academic support services – yet may carry great significance when it comes to configuring technologies-in-use.

This seminar discusses a research project which was able to capture these interactions within an online discussion environment in which students were asked to collaborate on a design task. The generated data provide a rich picture of how these student groups collectively “talked the digital habitat into being”; how a series of informal, but collectively validated judgments were constantly generated by the discussion and how these judgments shaped the technologies and informational resources each group drew on to fulfil its task. The data reveal the very fine detail of how students select information technologies and resources as relevant and reject others, often regardless of institutional guidance on these matters. Thus, the project sheds light on how HE institutions can enfold information and digital literacy into their teaching in a much broader sense than is usually considered.