Digital Literacy, Creativity, and Autonomous Learning
Today, most people use technology not only during their formal education, in their professions or jobs but also in pastime activities in which they are motivated to produce a digital artifact (e.g., music, art, movies, apps for mobiles) or to solve problems related to their interests or hobbies. These pastime activities have a very strong creative potential. At the beginning, people usually have an idea or a problem to consider without having any notions about which technology would be needed or even if they are capable of using such technology (see DIY or makerspace initiatives).
People having such problems use technology to find solutions. In such cases, they rarely have any prior specific training and they start learning autonomously in their own time, using their own way and having in mind their own idea of digital artifacts. As a result of their creative approach, they may come up with one or more “original” solutions.
The development of young people’s skills to use digital technology is not only a school issue provided by the curriculum but also mainly derives from their day-to-day experience, interest, and needs outside the school context. Young people tend to learn from one another in their free time how to use technology, share with each other what they have done with technologies, consult each other, and discover how to use technology and for what. Consequently, this entry aims to present growing digital literacy through creativity and autonomous learning.
The DIYLab, being based on do-it-yourself (DIY) philosophy, is an example of an innovative approach to improve digital literacy through creativity and autonomous learning.
There are many definitions of digital literacy. At present, teacher educators and researchers from most of EU countries accept the concept of digital literacy defined by the EC JRC (Vuorikari et al. 2016: 9) and its five competence areas (information and data literacy, communication and collaboration, digital content creation, safety, and problem-solving). Digital literacy is rather a more complex concept. Thus, Eshet-Alkalai’s (2004) conceptual model of digital literacy befits this entry. Eshet-Alkalai (2009: 93) posits that “digital literacy involves more than the mere ability to use software or operate a digital device; it includes a large variety of complex cognitive, motor, sociological, and emotional skills, which users need in order to function effectively in digital environments.”
How can one develop his or her knowledge and skills to use digital technology? For many reasons, formal education is increasingly unable to provide and to offer pupils highly sophisticated and interesting activities with digital technology to contribute to their development of digital literacy. Robinson (2011) suggested that “conventional approaches tend to crush students’ natural inclinations toward creative and divergent thinking.” (Henriksen et al. 2016: 28). The digital literacy of young people is growing more and more out-of-school in specific activities, and this is often due to the immediate sharing of this experience among young people. “Technology changes rapidly, and it is not surprising that its integration into education still finds disappointing levels of penetration and success” (Mishra 2012: 13–14). This is further evidenced by a number of studies among adults finding “that only about 10 per cent of learning represents formal learning in the workplace, compared with 70 per cent self- or on-the-job learning and 20 per cent peer-to-peer learning” (Grant-Clement 2017: 8).
There are many interpretations of creativity. Warner (2000: 11) defines “creativity” as “a human act or process that occurs when the key elements of novelty, appropriateness, and a receptive audience in a given field come together at a given time to solve a given problem.” Creativity involves an original approach to solving a problem combined with invention in finding a solution or producing something new. In the creative process, novelty reflects one’s imagination, experiences, and thinking. The product may be aesthetically beautiful (e.g., artwork, music composition, or architecture construction) or ideationally original (e.g., Maxwell’s equations). Sometimes, to be creative means to do something useful or beautiful in another way than before or than others do. Browning (2008: 213) posits “creativity involves invention, discovery, curiosity, imagination, experimentation and exploration. During the creative digital process there is a transformation from something known to something not previously known.”
Digital technology offers many sophisticated tools to demonstrate and to develop our creativity. “We have seen an incredible flowering of creativity and innovation fuelled by the capabilities of such technologies. From Google to Facebook, from cloud computing to YouTube channels, digitality has altered how we live, work and connect with each other” (Henriksen et al. 2016: 27). Henriksen et al. (2016: 27) proclaim that creativity is “deeply connected to issues of technology integration, so these issues of creativity and technology can be considered in tandem.” Hence, bringing creativity and literacy together can be a powerful tool in teaching and for learning, too. Nevertheless, we, the authors, wonder if technology is making us more creative.
A modern society needs educated and digitally literate people who have a creative approach to work. Unfortunately, in schools, digital literacy development is still focused on user skills. Fortuitously, a key European Commission document has introduced into the concept of digital competency a requirement of creatively using digital technologies as a skill “to use digital tools and technologies to create knowledge and to innovate processes and products” and “to engage individually and collectively in cognitive processing to understand and resolve conceptual problems and problem situations in digital environments” (Vuorikari et al. 2016: 9).
Creativity with digital technology can have a different form. One of them is digital story-telling. “When students are engaged in the process of creating a digital story, they synthesise a variety of literacy skills for the authentic product: researching, writing, organizing, presenting, interviewing, problem-solving, assessing, as well as employing interpersonal and technology skills” (Baggett 2007: 180). Another example how “computing technology can be utilised to enhance our creativity within the learning process” and how digital literacy can be improved through creative projects is described by Smarkusky and Toman (2016: 35–36). They show how students of computer science or engineering “utilize technology as a means to convey their creativity, artistic design, and appreciation of the Arts. Since the creation of digital musical scores, animations and software applications share a similar development process, active-learning exercises using a variety of technologies, provide students with an opportunity to enhance learned concepts in both disciplines,” computer science and the Arts. “While experiencing the project development process, students are learning object-oriented terminology, animation frameworks, computer programming, distributed computing concepts, and principles of music theory” (Smarkusky and Toman 2016: 35). Interesting creative initiatives can also be found on the Scratch website (e.g., in programming a design of clock).
Some authors put digital literacy together with a traditional approach to literacy (as ability to read, write and communicate) only adding that technology has been changed as how to express something in writing, from which resources we can read (locating and consuming digital content), which tools we can use for communication (Spires et al. 2012). Recently, creativity is frequently put together with the ability to create digital content. Byrne et al. (2018) show that a pedagogical model Bridge21 which consists of seven phases (setup, warm up, investigate, planning, create, present, and reflect) can be a promising approach to digital literacy development in everyone’s free time, based on his/her creativity and a strong motivation to do something completely new and interesting. “It incorporates many elements known to be conductive to teamwork; self-directedness, creativity, and positive self-driven experience.” (Byrne et al. 2018: 138).
According to Beckert (2007), the term, “autonomy” is derived from the Greek words, “autos” (self) and “nomos” (rule or manage). “Autonomy in learning” is defined by Benson (2001: 47) as “the capacity to take control of one’s own learning.” Researchers in the field of education use different terms to explain autonomous learning. Some of these can be listed as “self-directed learning” (e.g., Ladell-Thomas 2012; McLoughlin and Lee 2010), “self-guided learning” (e.g., Welsh 2007), “self-taught learning” (e.g., Baker 2016), “self-efficacy in learning” (e.g., Livingstone and Helsper 2010), and “self-initiated learning” (e.g., Tour 2017). In this entry, the term “autonomous learning” is used.
As far as digital literacy is concerned, Ting (2015) posits that digital literacy involves autonomous learning, because autonomy in digital literacy develops when students try to resolve the difficulties they encounter when exploring the web and collecting resources for learning. Especially, online informal learning settings where learning takes places out of school, via social media, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, wiki software, makerspace initiatives, or DIYLab, are the platforms where students are prone to become more autonomous in learning. As argued by Meyers et al. (2013: 356), “informal venues of learning and development are important spaces where digital literacy is both employed and cultivated.” They (2013: 360) also emphasize the importance of learner autonomy in online informal settings since “informal contexts can support youth development of digital literacy by giving them problem-based challenges that support practising the application of ‘habits of mind’ to everyday situations and real-world scenarios.” McLoughlin and Lee (2010) argue how online informal learning environments enables students to direct their own learning since students select tools and collect resources to organize, create, and shape their learning content and tasks to learn more effectively and efficiently. Whereas, Lotherington and Jenson (2011) highlight that, in order to use online informal learning settings, students should be able to exchange, source, and learn from accurate material. Additionally, students should critically engage, analyze, and evaluate materials that they retrieve from the web.
Digital literacy necessitates that the user is able to self-manage his/her learning, to use and work with the technology, to exploit its functions, and to discover further functions and possibilities of technology in order to develop greater digital literacy.
The concept of DIY is not totally new. It can be found when speaking of the development, for example, of amateur radio as a hobby. The DIY movement has developed and spread incrementally into different branches (technical education, art, science, etc.). It has common features: it brings together enthusiastic people (who have the same aim and interest) to solve in a creative way, interesting problems in their field and mutually to share “manuals” on how to proceed or how “you can do it yourself.”
Globally, there is a generation of DIY enthusiasts and supporters who join in various communities or networks. There is nothing that could limit activities of this generation of creative and thoughtful people; if they need to know something to be able to realize their DIY ideas, they learn from one another. DIY-ers very often use digital technology for their creative initiatives. The DIY generation visualizes stories to document the process explaining how problems were solved to be shared as tutorials by others. Freedom to make and to create using digital technology is perceived as freedom of access, in the choice of tools and technology, and a release from reliance on specific software and hardware tools; it is using a variety of resources, making copies and sharing outcomes and methods.
Digital literacy can be improved through DIY activities cross different disciplines (technical education, Art, science, engineering, amateur radio, etc.). It has common features: it brings together enthusiastic people (who have the same aim and interest) to solve interesting problems in a creative way in their field and mutually to share “manuals” on how to proceed or how “you can do it yourself” (Černochová et al. 2018: 377). The idea of DIY can potentially contribute to further mastery in the use of digital technology and consequently improve digital literacy.
According to Kafai and Peppler (2011), it is possible also to incorporate DIY activities into programming, designing models, constructing robots, and creating manuals (tutorials) on how to do or how to learn something (for example, how to count using an abacus). Thus, DIY can potentially contribute to further mastery in the use of digital technology and consequently improve digital literacy.
Six pedagogical principles for a design of DIYLab activities (Černochová et al. 2018)
Feature of DIYlab activity
(1) To support collaborative learning
Members of DIY communities collaborate mutually
(2) To have the characteristics of inquiry-based teaching and learning methods
DIY communities dedicate their time to original problems which have not been solved and which are different to traditional school tasks
(3) To support transdisciplinary knowledge
To enable pupils to bring into school interesting ideas from the extracurricular environment and to create conditions for their exploration. If pupils have an interesting problem to be solved, they do not worry about which school subject it relates to
Sancho-Gil et al. (2015)
(4) To contribute to autonomous/self-regulated learning
Documenting how to proceed for others may be perceived as an author’s self-reflection of his/her learning
Jocson (2012: 300)
DIY communities enjoy finding a solution
Kamenetz et al. (2010: 20)
“Building new tools and paths to help all of us learn”
(5) To contribute to digital literacy improvement
“DIY youth voluntarily spend a lot of time in intense learning, they tackle highly technical practices, including film editing, robotics, and writing novels among a host of other activities across various DIY networks”
Kafai and Peppler (2011)
To develop photo-visual digital thinking skill as a component of digital literacy
Eshet-Alkalai (2009: 3219)
Eshet-Alkalai (2004: 93)
(6) To be connected with the curriculum
An Example How Creativity and Autonomous Learning Can Contribute to Digital Literacy Development
Moore’s five stages of the creative process
Five stages of the creative process
Immersing oneself into their subject and aspirations
Retaining ideas and potentially refining them before expressing them openly or presenting them in some explicit form
Gathering information to produce the intended work
Producing the intended work
Publishing the intended work on the Internet or displaying it somewhere to receive feedback from the others
Inspiration: MajaPaja’s father inspired her to create a sound story using digital technology without any words. She decided to compose the story in her free time as a voluntary initiative. It was for her a challenge to do something which she has never done before.
Scenario for a MajaPaja’s sound story
Scenario – sound story
A boy is sleeping. He is snoring. He is gaping. WC. He is preparing breakfast. He is eating. He is washing in the bathroom. He is putting on his clothes. He runs his computer and he starts to read and answer e-mails. He is chatting with his girlfriend
The boy goes out on the street. The boy starts the car. Driving the car. The boy listens to music in his car. An accident: the car is broken. He is bloody
The boy is calling by mobile. He is bloody. He comes out the car. He is walking. Some sounds in the woods. Sounds of wildlife and birds. A bear. The boy is fleeing. He is losing heart. He is breathing excitedly. A duel with a bear. The boy dies
Phone calls. Call. Cry
Preparation: MajaPaja first generated ideas about her sound story for a scenario (Table 3) and then she started producing her sound story. For her to find sounds, there were two possibilities. The first one was to download the sound recording application to her mobile phone or the second was to browse on the internet to find available sounds. Using a bear voice means that she knew that somewhere on the Internet would be the sound of a bear. From her statement about her choice of using a bear in her sound story shows that MajaPaja appears to be knowledgeable in retrieving audio recordings.
Creation: MajaPaja’s sound story was only based on sounds or sound effects that are typical for a particular event in the story without using any words and any verbal comments. For example, when MajaPaja wanted to portray the presence of a horse, she could use a sound of horse neighing. When she has collected all necessary sounds for her story she edited and completed her story in special software for sound editing.
Reflection: On completion of her sound story, MajaPaja published it on YouTube; not only her sound-story but also another video in which she explains and describes how she did it. She then waits for people comment on what she has done.
To summarize, in the case of MajaPaja, creativity was to compose an original sound story without copying any known stories and findings ways to record sounds where she could not download sound effects from sound effect apps. Concerning autonomous learning, MajaPaja directed her project herself. She decided what story to tell with only using sound effects and she found her resources. She organized and created a sound story herself. This finding has affirmed McLoughlin and Lee’s (2010) argument of how autonomous learners direct their learning in online information settings.
In the future, the formal education seems not be more and more able to provide digital literacy development for people’s whole life. “The knowledge, skills and understanding we learn as children and as young people … at school, during training and at college or university will not last a lifetime” (SEC (2000) 1832, 2000: 7).
Therefore, everybody should care about his/her digital literacy development throughout his/her life because new, more complex and advanced, technology will appear and the former one will disappear and what one learnt about technology before will not be enough for the future. Everybody’s life will depend more and more on a level of his/her digital literacy. “A lack of digital literacy increasingly implicates one’s full potential of being a competent student, an empowered employee or an engaged citizen.” (Meyers et al. 2013: 355) Ability to managed autonomous learning and self-motivation will be “the driving force in lifelong learning, preparing students in schools for years to come. Students should be encouraged to take an active role in the learning process.” (Syslo 2004: 102). Therefore, schools should concentrate on teaching pupils to learn how to learn.
Digital literacy could be developed out of school or in formal education but increasingly thanks to sharing experiences with others (schoolmates, friends, siblings, etc.), in personal (face-to-face) interactions or via an online social platform. For example, YouTube can support such exchange of experiences and contribute to digital literacy development based on autonomous learning, as Tan (2013: 463) showed in her research “how the students interacted with each other in these informal spaces and the role that YouTube video content plays in community formation and supporting informal peer learning.”
Even though people are not advanced in some digital technologies, they should not be afraid of using them. The underlying aspect in their self-confidence to use new digital technologies could be (1) intrinsic motivation and (2) the feeling to produce something useful or interesting and share it with their family or friends or colleagues. For example, adults whose digital literacy skills are critical for being able to fully participate in a society and most of them may not fully engage in digital literacy skills development; nevertheless, some of them start to be motivated to use advanced digital technology when they need to communicate with their children or grandchildren (via e-mail or SKYPE) and to share digital materials (photos, videos, etc.) with their family or friends or to publish on the internet video-recording related to their hobby (mushroom picking, aviation, modelling, knitting, etc.).
An interesting problem or an idea of what to do can significantly contribute to digital literacy development although s/he is not enough digitally literate yet or s/he does not know what software and hardware will need to solve the problem. A strong motivation to solve a problem or idea to create something unusual causes s/he will master very quickly to work with software and solve his/her problem in an original and creative way. S/he learns to install new software applications or hardware and to work with them. In many cases, such problems are multidisciplinary.
Even though, autonomous learning is considered to be learning by yourself, we can see that in many cases, learners receive some facilitation and support from their friends and family, and all these facilitation and support led them to be more autonomous in their learning. The example with MajaPaja’s story demonstrates that autonomy in her learning is not just that she is searching for information from books or online resources but she also seeks advice from other people to expand her knowledge and digital skills.
The perspective of the concept of creativity is not only to create something unique but also to include digital technology to produce something that we have not thought before. It is important to have a good idea and not be afraid to deal with it. And this is what MajaPaja has demonstrated. Autonomous learners in a process of solving problem or creating interesting ideas can improve their digital literacy.
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