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Write up of the UKLA/BERA Research Symposium: Digital Literacies in Education


On Tuesday May 17th over 70 members of UKLA and BERA joined together to attended the UKLA/BERA Digital Literacies in Education research symposium, hosted at Sheffield Hallam University. This was the fifth annual research day organised by UKLA and BERA, and its aim was to explore how opportunities and challenges surrounding the use of digital literacies are playing out in educational contexts for learners and educators. The day was formed of two inspiring keynotes and a series of 5 minute research slams from UKLA Digital Literacies in Education SIG members working internationally and from a variety of perspectives. The day provided rich opportunities for learning about each other’s research and for contributing to discussion. Special thanks go Sheffield Hallam University for hosting the day, to our two amazing keynote speakers: Professor Jackie Marsh, University of Sheffield and Dr Julia Gillen, Lancaster University, and to the 14 SLAMMERS who took up the challenge to present their research in 5 minute sessions.

One member of the UKLA Digital Literacies in Education SIG, and event SLAMMER Fiona Maine has reflected on the day for us:

Digital Literacies in Education – a reflection on the day by Fiona Maine

A year ago at the UKLA annual conference in Bristol a group of digi-lit enthusiasts came together for an inaugural breakfast of the newly formed Digital Literacies in Education Special Interest Group. We were delighted by a large, international group turnout and led by Cathy Burnett, Julia Davies and Clare Dowdall, began to hatch plans for future ‘get-togethers’; opportunities where we could share research and network with each other. ‘Let’s have a slam!’ suggested Julia, and the seeds of the first SIG research symposium (supported by UKLA and BERA) were sown. Several months later, invitations were sent round and I dutifully responded with enthusiasm. Of course I could present my research in five minutes! What a great opportunity, and surely not much planning would be required, would it?

So, on a rainy Tuesday in the middle of May (a day when the rest of the country it seemed was basking in sunshine) we gathered at Sheffield Hallam University for the most interesting and innovatively designed day. Interspersed with a couple of stellar key note talks from Julia Gillan and Jackie Marsh, fourteen different presenters gave a flavour of their digital literacies research in strictly imposed, five-minute segments - and it was exhilarating! The variations of pace within the day, with the ample opportunities for discussion and debate, led to a hugely enjoyable experience.

After an introduction from Cathy and Clare, Julia Gillen kicked off the symposium with a fascinating history of Ways of Knowing, linking back to the medieval pedagogies of Abelard and his student John of Salisbury with his ‘Metalogicon’ , a ‘Twelfth-Century Defense of the Verbal & Logical Arts of the Trivium’. Bringing us up to date with global collaboration, Julia introduced us to the magic of the Zooniverse ( as we contemplated the similarities and differences between those medieval philosophies of education and the potential of the digitally connected world.

In the second keynote, Jackie Marsh gave an absorbing comprehensive overview of research networks involving multiple European partners looking at The Digital Literacy Practices of Young Children. Inspiring as ever, Jackie linked the projects exploring multi-modal practices at home and in communities using the theoretical framework of Bronfenbrenner to examine the eco-systems and chrono-systems, at micro-meso and macro levels, of the complexities of young children’s experiences with digital literacies. To find out more about this extensive European project, visit

In the two slam sessions, fourteen presenters gave snapshots of their research. In the morning we were invited into the worlds of children and parents reading on text and on screen; of digital storybooks and apps; explorations of critical literacy and literacy teaching in the iWorld; the role of film texts in young children’s literacy engagement and a visual montage of literacy learning spaces in schools. In the afternoon, ‘play’ and games dominated as themes as we explored playful, dynamic literacies and curation; playful pedagogies and trainee teachers as game-makers; children’s exploration of the digital story worlds of gaming and virtual play; and young children’s agency with ipads.

Presenters took innovative approaches to the five minute slam format, presenting their work through graphics, image montage, films and comic strips. Researchers as far afield as Canada, who couldn’t make it to the session in Sheffield took part virtually and asynchronously, as they sent us their films and presentations to be shared. The variety of approaches to the ‘slam’ presentation was astounding – and no one ran over time. And, no, preparing a five-minute presentation is not easy, nor quick, but it’s a great discipline and provided the opportunity to share and make interesting connections between seemingly disparate research projects.

Thanks also go to Fiona for her reflections and insights. If you are interested in joining the UKLA Digital Literacies in education SIG, please contact Cathy BurnettClare Dowdall or Julia Davies, who convene the SIG. 

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