Gently down the stream(ing): Can digital literacy help turn the tide on the climate crisis? 

Gently down the stream(ing): Can digital literacy help turn the tide on the climate crisis? 

The ubiquitous availability of digital content and web services has transformed the way we live, work, and learn (List et al., 2020). Technology provides us with tools to manage and accomplish work, content to entertain us, and applications to document, store and share our lives online. It is within this context that digital literacy features prominently in policy documentation and educational literature, recognising digital literacy as an essential skill for 21st-century living (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2019). However, as we stand on the precipice of climate disaster, is it time for digital literacy to focus its attention on the impact our increasing digital activity has on the environment?

Environmental impact of users’ digital lives

In education circles, conversations around the impact of educational technology on our environment have begun in earnest (Facer & Selwyn, 2021), however, this is less evident regarding the use of digital content and tools in our day-to-day lives. The usage of streaming services, for example, has soared in recent years and while providers such as Netflix have improved efficiencies in these services, their carbon footprint is still significant (Stephens et al., 2021).

Our music consumption habits have also shifted away from physical media, but overall greenhouse gas emissions from storing and distributing music online have doubled since 2000 (Brennan, 2019). Social media activity continues to increase at a remarkable pace, and a significant carbon cost (Perrin, 2015), and popular apps like TikTok and Reddit have a disproportionately large carbon footprint. Our regular scrolling of ‘news feeds’ contributes carbon emissions equivalent to a short light vehicle journey, per person, per day (Derudder, 2021).

This online activity, coupled with our desire to store data in the cloud, means data centres account for 1% of the global energy demand (Obringer et al., 2021). The continued desire for the latest phone is also costing more than our wallets, with the environmental impact of the device lifecycle being well documented (MacGilchrist et al., 2021). Current figures suggest that over half of consumers in many EU countries renew their devices every 18 – 24 months.

In our work environment, too, our digital impact must be acknowledged. While conferencing platforms such as Zoom come with great environmental benefits when compared with face-to-face meetings and conferences, further efficiencies can be achieved by challenging ‘camera on’ policies. A seemingly innocuous task like sending 65 text emails can cost as much carbon as a short car journey, and when factors such as attachments are considered, the cost is even higher (Duncan, 2022). This snapshot reveals just some of the impacts of our digital lives, some of which our students are unaware of.

Current focus of digital literacy and digital literacy frameworks

An acknowledgment of the need to develop our students’ digital literacy has existed since Gilster (1997) first coined the term and defined it as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of [digital] sources”.

Definitions of digital literacy have remained remarkably consistent in the decades that followed, focusing on the ability to source, evaluate and use digital information. In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on content creation and communicating using digital channels. However, academic definitions of digital literacy lack any real focus on the environmental cost of our digital activities. In fact, there is little evidence of this aspect of digital literacy being discussed in academic literature.

There are many digital literacy frameworks available to help academics and other users understand digital literacy and its competencies. Only the UNESCO and DigiComp frameworks refer to the environmental impact of technologies and their use, and this is nestled under the ’digital safety’ strand. The range of digital literacy frameworks (e.g. DigiComp, UNESCO, JISC) and volume of journal publications suggests that academics and policymakers are committed to the development of digital literacy, however, it appears that the impact of our digital lives on the environment has been largely left out of the debate. 

Shifting our focus

Calls for action to avert a climate catastrophe are becoming more strident. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (2022) paints a very troubling picture regarding the widespread and severe impacts of climate change. We must act now. We must adapt our practices and become more sustainable in everything we do.

I believe we can refocus our attention on digital literacy to guide our students to being more critical users of technology and understanding its impact on our world. Using familiar language and strategies, we might encourage students to identify their current digital activities and analyse their carbon footprint, before evaluating areas where improvements can be made. Students could be encouraged to construct new meaning from their investigations by capturing trends associated with work, study and social practices, and communicating these findings with a wider audience.

This shift in focus is essentially a repurposing of what we already ask our students to do with regard to digital content, but targeted at addressing the authentic and urgent issue of climate change. While frameworks such as DigiComp and UNESCO should be commended for including environmental impact, further development of this area should be encouraged.

Digital literacy frameworks should provide a detailed scaffold which encourages a multidimensional understanding of digital tools, their impact on the environment, and consideration of actions that can be taken to affect change. Developing this aspect of digital literacy would increase students’ awareness of the ‘cost’ of technology and promote a more critical use of the tools and services they use in their day-to-day lives.

Conclusion

The coming years present major challenges for society to tackle the climate emergency. It is crucial that we shift our mindset and begin to understand the impact our actions have on the environment, and make the necessary changes to recalibrate our relationship with nature.

Changes are required in all aspects of our lives, from energy and waste, to the provision and rewilding of natural spaces. While a refocussing of digital literacy and digital competencies in this way is not the panacea to the situation, it can act as a move in the right direction, one more component of our lives where we begin to understand and address our toll on the environment.

The post is an abridged version of an article in the upcoming (October 2022) issue of the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy

Key Messages

Society’s use of digital and online content is increasing

Digital literacy is recognised as a set of competencies for this digital world

Our day-to-day use of technology has an environmental impact

Digital literacy definitions and frameworks largely ignore the environmental impact

We should begin including environmental impact in our digital literacy definitions, frameworks, and discussions

Dr Peter Tiernan

Dr Peter Tiernan

Assistant Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University.

Peter is an Assistant Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University. He lectures in the areas of digital learning, digital literacy and entrepreneurship education. His current research focuses on digital literacy at post-primary and further education level as well as entrepreneurship education for third level lecturers and pre-service teachers.

Peter was shortlisted for the DCU President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2021.

Find Peter on Twitter.

References and Further Reading

A framework of pre-service teachers’ conceptions about digital literacy: Comparing the United States and Sweden https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360131519303380

Dimensions of digital literacy based on five models of development (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2019) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/11356405.2019.1603274

Digital technology and the futures of education – towards ‘non-stupid’ optimism (Facer & Selwyn, 2021) https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377071″>https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377071

Carbon impact of video streaming (Stephens et al., 2021), https://prod-drupal-files.storage.googleapis.com/documents/resource/public/Carbon-impact-of-video-streaming.pdf

MUSIC CONSUMPTION HAS UNINTENDED ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS (Brennan, 2019) https://www.gla.ac.uk/news/archiveofnews/2019/april/headline_643297_en.html

Social Media Usage: 2005-2015
65% of adults now use social networking sites – a nearly tenfold jump in the past decade (Perrin, 2015) https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/10/08/social-networking-usage-2005-2015/

What is the environmental footprint for social media applications? 2021 Edition (Derudder, 2021) https://greenspector.com/en/social-media-2021/

The overlooked environmental footprint of increasing Internet use (Olbringer et al., 2021) ​https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344920307072?via%3Dihub

Shifting scales of research on learning, media and technology, (Mcgilchrist, et al, 2021) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439884.2021.1994418

Text Messaging & Emails Generate Carbon Emissions (Carbon Footprint), (Duncan, 2021) https://8billiontrees.com/carbon-offsets-credits/reduce-carbon-footprint/texts-emails/

A Global Framework of Reference on Digital Literacy Skills for Indicator 4.4.2 http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/ip51-global-framework-reference-digital-literacy-skills-2018-en.pdf

Digicomp https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/digcomp_en

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report https://www.ipcc.ch

Featured Image Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Enhancing School Leaders’ Digital Capacity in an Era of Change

Enhancing School Leaders’ Digital Capacity in an Era of Change

School leaders in an era of change

In the post-COVID-19 era, educational systems and school organisations must have a concrete digital educational implementation framework. This framework must include a concrete plan on the pedagogical aspect of distance teaching and learning processes. The above reference covers the two most important stakeholders in this particular digital era of educational change: teachers and students in school organisations.

At the other end of the spectrum, school leaders need to maintain their leadership dynamic in these uncharted territories. The digital transformation of education has added a new level of responsibility for school leaders across Europe, even though many consider themselves unqualified or unprepared to integrate this digital aspect into their leading role. An increased level of digital competence is needed.

Even before the outbreak of the pandemic crisis, the European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice noted that European countries need to continually review and develop new strategic policies and measures to meet the new demands for high-quality digital education. (Digital Education at School in Europe 2019). The effects on global education systems have demonstrated the importance of digital education. In particular, one of the two strategic priorities of the current EU Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027), which aims to address and support the increased responsibility of Europe’s education and training systems in managing the aftermath of COVID-19, is “to foster a high-performing digital education ecosystem” and the need for “digitally-competent and -confident educators and education & training staff”.

Future steps of digitalisation in school leadership

School leaders need to maintain their leadership dynamic and address any confidence and competence issues to use digital technologies effectively. Educational systems across Europe need to emphasise the importance of school leadership digital capacity by promoting school leaders both as digital coordinators and digital pedagogical leaders.

 

Digital Coordinators

It is important to promote school leaders’ coordination role by fostering strong digital communication with the various internal and external school stakeholders and promoting a digital conflict management system through forums and digital discussion support groups.

Digital Pedagogical Leaders

It is important to promote school leaders’ digital pedagogical role in providing support to teachers in integrating digital technologies into their teaching and promote the implementation of digital learning communities among teachers – within their own school organisations, as well as across other school organisations.

 

To enhance school leadership digital capacity, governments and educational policymakers across Europe should rethink the educational sector in this post-COVID-19 era. In particular, the relevant stakeholders should prioritise specific practices to enable effective school leadership based on the digital transformation in school organisations. This is means increasing training, seminars, professional development, and digital support of school leaders. This can be done by engaging other government and private stakeholders with expertise in digital competence (e.g., universities, private companies, other governmental bodies).

For instance, in Italy, universities supported their neighbouring educational settings through their own expertise and provided the necessary professional development to ensure the basics of e-learning (Girelli, Bevilacqua & Acquaro, 2021).

In Cyprus, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute (whose main activities focus on teachers’ and school leaders’ pre-service and in-service training), as well as with the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy to implement the e-learning process across Cyprus (Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020).

In addition, a proper budget allocation, together with appropriate educational policies, is essential to enhance school leaders’ digital capacity. In particular, this concerns the technological infrastructure that should be integrated into the school organisations and the collaboration with various organisations and enterprises with digital competence that will assist the development of school leaders’ professional training and capacity. Therefore, EU states and, in particular, Ministries of Education and Ministries of Finances need to closely cooperate in order to have adequate revenues to meet the needs of their school members, including school leaders, during this new digital era.

Final Thoughts

The open public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan (2021) report conducted research in 60 countries with more than 2700 respondents. 95% of respondents considered that the COVID-19 crisis marks a turning point for how digital technology is used in education and training. The situation shed further light on the importance of digital education for the digital transformation that Europe needs.

For school leaders, digital capacity building in this new digital educational development is crucial and necessary action must be taken. In particular, educational policymakers, professional development centres, governments, and other relevant actors need to consider this specific aspect in school leaders’ developmental career –  both as digital coordinators and digital pedagogical leaders – and need to take immediate action to promote the effectiveness of school organisations in this new digital era.

Dr. Antonios Kafa

Dr. Antonios Kafa

Lecturer at Frederick University Cyprus, CY

Dr. Antonios Kafa is a Lecturer in Educational Management and Leadership at Frederick University in Cyprus. His doctoral dissertation was awarded as a “Highly Commended Award Winner”- Emerald/EFMD Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards 2016, in the Educational leadership and strategy field. Antonios is a co-convenor of the EERA Network 26 – Educational Leadership and an associate member/ researcher in the international comparative research project entitled “International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP)”, conducting research on behalf of Cyprus. He is, also, one of the members of the Board of Directors of the Cyprus Educational Administration Society (CEAS). His research interests include different aspects of educational leadership and administration such as successful school leadership, school leadership in times of uncertainty, school principals’ personal values systems, authentic school leadership and school leaders’ role in low performing schools.

Email: pre.ka@frederick.ac.cy

Website

References and Further Reading

Digital Education at School in Europe 2019 https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/sites/default/files/en_digital_education_n.pdf

Digital Education Action Plan” (2021-2027) https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/default/files/document-library-docs/deap-communication-sept2020_en.pdf 

COVID-19: What Have We Learned From Italy’s Education System Lockdown Girelli, Bevilacqua & Acquaro, 2021

 

Coping With the Global Pandemic COVID-19 Through the Lenses of the Cyprus Education System Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020