June 2014 Site of the Month


Being Digital: Skills for Life Online


Authors: Katharine Reedy- Digital and Information Literacy Specialist and Jo Parker- Library Services Manager (Digital & Information Literacy)

Institution: The Open University, United Kingdom

Interviewees: Katharine Reedy and Jo Parker

Interviewer: Jodie Borgerding

Tutorial Description (provided by authors):

“Being Digital” is a collection of 40 freely-available, bite-size interactive activities on finding, using and creating information online. The aim is to help students become confident and critical users of digital tools and resources for study, work and everyday life. Activities cover topics such as digital identity, communicating and networking, trust online, evaluating and using online tools, searching effectively and referencing your sources. All activities take 10 minutes or less to complete, and can be done on a mobile device or desktop PC.

Q: What led you to develop this resource?

A: “Being Digital” originated with a tutorial created in 2001 called Safari. A few years ago, we recognized that we needed to update Safari and focus on a broader digital literacy strategy. “Being Digital” launched September 2012 after 18 months in development, which included negotiating with OU stakeholders, organizing the design, writing the content, and creating the website.


Q: Who is the intended audience?

A: Our intended audience is people who are fairly new to digital technology. We are aiming at students in basic level courses and those who have not studied in a long time. Even though “Being Digital” is an introduction to digital life, it has been used by PhD students who are wanting to learn something new or refresh their skills.


Q: Tell us about the process you used to establish learning objectives for “Being Digital.”

A: The learning objectives were developed at the same time as the OU Digital and Information Literacy Framework (http://www.open.ac.uk/libraryservices/subsites/dilframework/). We wanted to keep it fairly simple with only one or two learning outcomes for each activity. We also built upon the information literacy content we already had as well as suggestions we received from faculty.


Q: How did you choose the technology?

A: We looked at three different packages and programs based on various criteria such as accessibility, price and ease of use. Accessibility was the key criterion. We chose Xerte (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xerte/index.aspx), an open source program from the University of Nottingham that contains a series of online toolkits. We did need technical support from IT to customize Xerte and install it on our server. Xerte Online Toolkits provides templates to easily create interactive learning objects. It is used by many academics who are not technically oriented. Xerte puts the authoring power in the hands of the author, who can update content without needing someone, such as IT, to make the changes for them.


Q: Who was involved in designing and implementing this resource?

A: We had a small team. Jo Parker served as the project manager while Katharine Reedy, Natasha Huckle and Kirsty Baker wrote the content. One of our team members, Kirsty Baker, had experience with accessibility matters and focused closely on this area. Two other people provided technical assistance in order to set up the digital site. We liaised with Chris Yates, our systems manager, to get Xerte set up and behaving right. Activities started out in Flash and were then made available in HTML 5 following a new release of Xerte Online Toolkits.


Q: Did you do any usability testing on “Being Digital?” What did you learn?

A: In the early stages of development, we tested prototypes of “Being Digital” with a group of students at their annual conference. The students wanted small chunks of information, at most 20 minutes in length, which is why our activities are under 10 minutes. They also said they wanted more instruction on critical evaluation and concepts they do not already know about. In addition, we had a couple of student workers at the library test the activities and they provided useful and honest feedback to help us pitch the activities right. We also had an opportunity to test the prototypes with Open University staff, and we found that we were on the right lines with the small chunks of information.


Q: From initial plan to final release, how long did it take to complete “Being Digital?”

A: From initial concept through delivery was at least 18 months. It always takes longer than you think to complete a project, even with a dedicated staff. We spent a quite a lot of time planning, getting initial approvals and setting up the web site. Be aware that internal processes can hold you up. Some things like branding had to be approved by the university communications/marketing department. As a result, know whom among your stakeholders would have a say on your projects. This may present a challenge if you were not aware of them.


Q: What lessons were learned in the creation of this project?

A: Be flexible because things change during the process. Certain aspects may take a while to materialize, then you have to act on it very quickly. Be ready to change your plans if needed. In addition, make sure you have a project team with the right people. Also, think about the sustainability of your project and how you can keep it fresh and updated.


Q: What has been the response to “Being Digital?”

A: Overall, the response has been positive and it has been interesting to see how people have used “Being Digital.” It was originally aimed at beginner students, but has also been used by PhD students. Since “Being Digital” is on a public site, we get people from all over the world using it. We did a survey with a set group of students and got a huge positive response. Over 92% of respondents believe digital and information literacy skills to be very or quite useful for their studies and a significant number see the value of these skills for work and everyday life, particularly managing ones digital identity and being able to select the right online tools. The bite-size nature of the activities was universally liked. Activities were found to be easy to follow and engaging, with most respondents assessing the interactive elements as very or quite helpful.

Comments include:
– “It is difficult to know what to trust on the internet and a lot of what I find is not relevant to the area of research. These skills help in weeding out the rubbish!”
– “Brilliant for anyone new to the digital world or as a reminder for those who are more adept.”
– “Amazing idea, keep going this is what the OU is all about. Congrats.”

In addition to being selected for the PRIMO database, “Being Digital” won the LILAC Credo Reference Digital Award for Information Literacy in 2013. We plan to do a survey next year with students, asking how they would apply what they just learned through “Being Digital”.


Q: How is “Being Digital” being promoted and used at your institution? Is it integrated into classes, workshops, assignments, etc.?

A: “Being Digital” has its own communication plan and was promoted to OU students and staff via OU websites and publications, and printed postcards. Social media was also used to promote it more widely (the OU Library has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts). At launch there was a dedicated communications plan, but now “Being Digital” communications are integrated into the overall communications strategy and plan for the unit. We have a team of Learning & Teaching (L&T) Librarians who are assigned to different faculty at Open University. The L&T Librarians work with program and module teams to embed digital and information literacy skills into the curriculum. Because all of our students are distance learners, we do not have face-to-face contact with them, and therefore our key priority is to integrate skills and resources into the teaching, via the course materials. Course materials are increasingly online, although some printed books are still sent out. In a few cases librarians may deliver some teaching via web conferencing (Blackboard Collaborate) on topics such as referencing, or finding information for assignments. Some Librarians also contribute to moderate online forums or occasional face-to-face day schools. “Being Digital” became another tool in their instruction toolbox.

We also promoted it through word of mouth, and we sought every opportunity to talk about it where we could. It is increasingly used in a range of level 1 and 2 modules and is being used in introductory level modules, for students new to higher education study. “Avoiding Plagiarism” is one of the most popular activities. There are four self-assessment questionnaires on the “Being Digital” site, so students can figure out what they do and don’t know and choose the appropriate activities to develop their skills.

We also regularly receive enquiries from other learning organizations outside of the OU, who wish to embed or link to “Being Digital” content.


Q: Do you plan to create similar series for other topics?

A: “Being Digital” will be growing in the near future. The areas judged most important by students to cover in the future were referencing, online security and safety and understanding intellectual property and copyright. A referencing pathway has now been created.


Q: Is there anything else you would like us to add?

A: The purpose of “Being Digital” is to focus on employability as well as academic skills. The activities could be used by people in the workplace. “Being Digital” is available for people to learn when they have time, even if they only have just a few minutes. Also, “Being Digital” is not licensed under Creative Commons, because of the copyright on the stock images. However, anyone can link to the activities. We just ask them to let us know if they do.


June 2014 PRIMO Site of the Month

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