Digital Literacy: Missing Link in the Social Chain.

You tend to enter essay-writing contests, once you’ve learnt to write. Social media channels require a steady supply of content in order to thrive, preferably of the interactive kind. This interactive content results in the greatest amplification and engagement – but also requires the widest variety of rich media. The skills needed to master these forms of rich media are demanding; but they’re also accessible and students are especially keen to acquire them.


The principles and rules which govern the four forms of rich media used in social channels – words, photos, audio and video –  can typically be delivered in three, hour-long literacy sessions (audio and video are currently combined). Although they’re complex disciplines, instilling an interest and establishing social as a channel of self-expression, needn’t be an onerous or time-consuming task. The border between artistic disciplines and those deemed more academic, is also becoming noticeably fuzzier. It’s worth mentioning too, that although ‘words’ don’t appear to be rich; in their Internet form – containing hyperlinks, metadata and tags – there is more to consider.


Shooting video was once a specialist, arts-based activity, that's now accessible and relevant to all academic disciplines.
Shooting video was once a specialist, arts-based activity, that’s now accessible and relevant to all academic disciplines.


Extra-curricular competencies, often loosely termed ‘enterprise skills’, were significant in promoting Sheffield University from third, to top spot in the 2014 students’ satisfaction survey. So much so, that the programme will be embedded directly into the university’s core curriculum, rather than presented as an out-of-hours extra.


I’ve developed enterprise skills material over the past year, designed to tackle digital literacy in a rich media environment, not from a solely beginner’s stance, but more to stimulate interest by focussing on the existing need among students. Namely: how do I write content which people will read and how do I capture photos, audio and video, people want to share online? The lure is a promise of popularity on the Internet, but the strategic aim is to raise digital literacy and extend self-expression within courses.


The three, hour-long sessions cover the following topics:

Photographycamera components: lenses, storage cards, transfers and editing, operations: focal length, aperture, DoF, shutter, exposure, selective focus, ISO & bracketing. Composition, narrative, coverage and shooting-to-edit.

Video/audio Making a short video part 1: pre-production planning, production, post-production, storyboarding. Making a short video part 2: pre-visualisation, team/crew roles. Shot types, 5-shot rule, lighting, audio capture, transitions, shooting-to-edit.

Social, blogs and SEOHow search engines categorise information, how to increase visibility on the Internet, search engine optimisation and social media, developing media, distributing media. Short form writing and tone: first-person narrative v. third-person corporate.


Rich media assets were originally expensive and difficult to repurpose, however smartphone and tablet use have contributed to rich media proliferating beyond all expectation. A previous post, where content consumption was mistaken for content creation, demonstrated the ease with which assumptions can be drawn about student behaviour; but seeming, is rarely being. Snapchat, especially among the youngest age-groups is portrayed as a visual medium, but in many cases, a picture is sent followed by subsequent pictures of the floor. The doodles and captions – which are limited to 31 characters – form much of the communication content. The engagement is often text, rather than visual, albeit with the all-important short lifespan of 1-10 seconds. From a psychological standpoint, the popularity of transient content is linked to growing-up in an environment where the default position for users’ privacy – is that of a commodity to be exploited by third parties.


Snapchat is undoubtedly a visual medium, but is often used solely for texting. It's especially difficult to know this, as the content only exists for 10 seconds at most.
Snapchat is undoubtedly a visual medium, but is often used solely for texting. It’s especially difficult to know this, since the content exists for a maximum of 10 seconds.


As a trailblazer for rich media content in education, the Open University identified difficulties in re-purposing rich media and the lack of a clear direction in pedagogical terms for its place within higher education. However, no-one was prepared for a full broadcasting solution (YouTube) to be available at no cost, at lightning speed, using a tool which most ten year-olds are never without (a smartphone). The skills gap is now so substantial – it’s difficult to mentally encompass, let alone quantify. Tackling the production of rich media would benefit from being a collaborative process between undergraduates, postgraduates, professional services and academics (in the spirit of Grand Challenges). A further trend which is adding external pressure, is the increasing demand for online and partially online courses, which require rich media to compensate for the lack of face-to-face. It offers a different price-point to campus based education and is a useful option for those working, but still wishing to learn. Studying can be undertaken in time-slots which fit around a student’s availability. A similar demand has emerged in broadcast TV, where the recording and mass availability of content at any time rather than scheduled, has rapidly become the norm. However, the ‘watercooler moment’ of shared discussion, has not diminished as broadcast TV stations feared. Public shared experiences, such as The World Cup, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and the Commonwealth Games (which all occurred recently), demonstrate that these are more evolutionary sorties, than revolutionary sea-changes.


Rich media encourages creativity and broader communications, to a more inclusive audience. From both the authoring perspective, since not everyone excels at written skills, but also from the recipient perspective. YouTube enjoys such international traction, because spoken language is just one of many components needed to understand a piece of content.

Employers are keen for social media to reach their market audience, so a graduate equipped with not only the interface know-how, but the skills to develop content for the channel, will positively differentiate themselves in a pool of candidates.


The development of rich media is both satisfying and creatively liberating, a view that is frequently eclipsed by fears of increasing the workload, for an overburdened teaching resource. By addressing the fundamental rules of how to produce rich media, the interactive elements of learning and teaching will inevitably have their boundaries extended. However, much of the extra capacity can be shouldered by professional services and the students themselves.
Social media communication is also given the best possible chance of success, by equipping students and staff with the digital literacy skills to develop content for the channel. It’s the teaching to fish approach, which will ultimately supply the demand for engagement and participation.


Next postExample activities which may benefit from rich media and social media communications.

Previous post: ‘Digital Natives’ are Consumers, not Creators.


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