Education InFormation

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Robert Luke
University of Toronto

The digital citizen is key to current conceptions of digital democracy and education, but before accessing these technologies we must first be technologically or digitally literate. Digital literacy includes skills required to access technology as well as the ability to critically assess, decode and work within networked environments. The access/assess equation is central to the amelioration of digital divides, and includes the concept of accessibility for those with learning and/or physical disabilities. The notion of access is crucial, not just for those with disabilities; at issue is the free and open access to information that constitutes the lived and material relations of this incipient digital era. Cultivating communities of practice and learning networks that foster civic engagement and ensure open access and accessibility is a key step in ensuring that digital citizenship is founded upon fundamental rights of participation and engagement for the public good.


The access/assess bifurcation unfolds as follows:

People with physical or learning disabilities can be excluded from online learning opportunities when learning environments are not designed according to the World Wide Web Consortium's Website Accessibility Initiative guidelines. This means providing an inclusive, accessible environment for learning that might otherwise be closed to people with physical and/ or learning disabilities.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be enabling. ICTs can provide avenues for social and cultural empowerment, and can help ameliorate digital divides based on ability, class, ethnicity, gender, and social circumstance. ICTs also enable digital pedagogies to be formed that better reflect the nature of living in a digitally networked world. These digital pedagogies include teaching digital literacy-the ability to critically evaluate all sites of cultural production.


The evolution towards learning as process is replacing the old product-centered model, and will result in changing conceptions of the role of learning itself. In order to be effective and accessible, these new digital pedagogies must take issues of access and digital literacy into account when designing programs that use any sophisticated digital media.

This environmental shift towards a digital pedagogy will open up the educational process for all, provided this shift includes an emphasis on accessibility. Changing conceptions of education (towards lifelong learning) and in learning styles (with the inclusion of multiple modalities enabled through digital technology and pedagogy) will result in a more positive and inclusive social structure as a whole.

The insinuation of ICTs within the broader fabric of culture gives rise to digital pedagogies that are more congruent with the open systems of the Internet and WWW. The open source movement, supported by the philosophy of open access to information and the sharing of information and knowledge, forms communities of practice that share and work together for the public good. This creates Open Source Learning (OSL), the theory of knowledge sharing and production in both formal and informal settings. OSL is one way to describe how open environments of knowledge sharing for the public good create opportunities for citizens to learn about ICTs, learn how to use ICTs, and thereby learn how to find a place in the new economy. Open Source Learning environments are where digital literacy skills are taught, shared, and maintained. When OSL communities of practice are fostered and created, digital divides can be ameliorated, accommodated, and overcome.

With Open Source Learning environments, enabling technology thus has two distinct meanings. The first is that technology is enabling to those with disabilities (accessible technology). The second is the fact that technology enables different conceptions of teaching and learning: it mobilizes or is mobilized to construct digital pedagogies. Information and communication technologies can allow access to educational opportunities for a wider audience, especially with asynchronous online delivery of curricular materials. But rather than just using online media to deliver course materials and to perhaps facilitate communication between students and instructors, these media have the potential to radically alter the very pedagogy that underlies the provision of distance education. Accessibility is factored into building architecture from the ground up. So too should WWW and Internet architecture account for accessibility initiatives from the outset, to ensure equitable access to online resources. In order to achieve true democracy and the democratization of knowledge, the cultural contexts within which we live must be rendered transparent. We must resist being lulled into thinking we have a democratic knowledge base when in fact we are passive consumers who have learned to live within a commodity landscape.

Recognition of the socio-technical nature of ICT development and use, and the ways in which the social construction of knowledge is part of an ongoing process of living within the technologically mediated interactions can aid the formation of digital pedagogies and literacies that are community-relevant. The increasing use of ICTs in all aspects of life influences the social contexts of technology use, as well as the manner in which social constructions of (understanding) technology are created and mediated.

Communities of practice, whether on-line or off-, are constructed, mediated, and conducted within a complex system of community exchange that is a combination of social and technological forces. The social context(s) of learning are important aspects of socialization within communities of practice, particularly as regards open learning environments. Knowledge constructed within open environments and communities of practice is part of an ongoing interactive and iterative process within the social contexts particular to time and place. Contextual understanding of new technologies and their role in mediating knowledge is particularly important for understanding media effects and the informal structures of learning that define everyday life.


Cultivating communities of practice that share and foster community-relevant knowledge in an open environment can create open source learning that benefits the communities themselves, as well as contributing to the larger cultural paradigms of digital literacies and ICT use. Following the WAI guidelines for developing and designing accessible online media can help to prevent digital divides from growing disproportionately. Implementing digital pedagogies means understanding the ways in which multiple literacies come to bear on the teaching and learning process, as well as within culture in general. These multiple modalities of learning must be encouraged and embraced in order to pedagogically engage within the lived and mediated relations that we are part of each day. It also means that we encourage accessible media design so that all people can be producers of information, and not just passive consumers.

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