Developing digital literacy through change – is transliteracy the answer?

Digital literacy I hear you say it’s everywhere! It is certainly a topic I hear much more frequently now than I ever used in my current role as a Career Consultant in higher education. As a term it feels ubiquitous but strangely also feels  like we’re all talking about it but sometimes with differing meanings and purposes – (do you ever get that feeling about “employability” as well?).   For example, for some of the students I work with they initially take the term to mean just using social media platforms or in some cases very specific software.  To help us understand some of the problems with becoming digitally literate it’s useful to think of our environment and starting points.

Some of you may have heard of Prensky who coined the terms digital ‘natives’ or ‘immigrants (settlers)’ as a way of distinguishing between those born into the digital age club and those amongst us (myself included) who get in via their analogue ticket (R.O.A.R).


If you’re not digitally native you’re not coming in!

Ironically, there’s a certain paradox here in the settlers very often being tasked to aid the natives in their digital development!  Maybe there’s more going on here than meets the eye and we need to extend our view of what it means to operate in 2017 and indeed prepare for the future – I’ll come back to this later on. But coming back to Prensky the terms suggest two ends diametrically opposed and the assumption  – to use the same analogy – that both clubs have strict entrance policies and play different music – Daft Punk versus Blondie perhaps!

But at what point given the widely accepted pace that technological developments occur do those lines become blurred and the demands placed on  natives and settlers to keep pace remain equal for all concerned even if our start points are different? Now, within education (and I know I’m generalising a lot here) is it also feels like the issue dealt with in a couple of ways:

  • Staff should do more to embed digital literacy and promote its use but may not feel equipped – this could be both in capability and time.
  • Throwing an increasing supply of sophisticated technology at the problem to somehow generate capability. e.g Sign up for LinkedIn and you’ll network your way to a job.

So what is the way forward?  Without pretending to have the precise answers I believe a solid starting point is dealing with our own understanding of what is “digital literacy”. I loved reading this article 20 ways of thinking about digital literacy in higher education. Without trying to show favoursitism these are the four ideals that stood out for me.

  1. Literacy is not static.
  2. HEIs need to help legitimise digital practices without trying to own them.
  3. Engage students in this debate and ensure that they too have ownership of this agenda.

However, one statement connected with me more than the others that I think helps bridge the divide between Presky’s ‘native’ and ‘settler’ debate and allow us all entry into a club that values our diversity and capabilities.

Digital literacy as an important part of transliteracy.  It is the literacy of convergence, unifying literacies past and present across different platforms, media and cultures.

This suggests we all have a contribution to make in being able to support our own and each others digital literacy development but also acceptance of where we have all come from and who we want to be both now and in the future.  What is comforting about transliteracy is that it includes and values other measures of what it means to navigate the 21st century life. It isn’t tied to a particular concept or piece of technology and it has space for the relationship we have with technology that at times feels just like a inevitable dystopian future of job losses.

There’s a great short video about developing transliteracy from Jeremy Brueck that gets you to consider what a lifestyle in a transliterate world means.


But as digital literacy remains so visible amongst us I’ve also produced a short presentation that explores some of the prevailing concepts and capabilities that helps us understand its relationship to employability.





Social mobility and graduate earnings IFS report

I’ve just been perusing the recently released and lengthily titled report from the IFS  How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background.  It’s interesting because it uses a big data approach tracking the student cohorts between 1998–2011.   For the record the published research from the IFS used anonymised tax data from HMRC and student loan records for 260,000 students up to ten years after graduation.

For a shorter summary the Guardian have also ran a piece based on the report “Richer students have higher graduate income, study finds”.

My own particular interest stems from two related angles.  Firstly I graduated from a post 92 university in 2001 so therefore would have been included in this data set and secondly as a careers practitioner with an interest and view on social mobility.

In many respects the report summary and article are depressing reads. Although there are a couple of exceptions with regards to graduate v non-graduate earnings and the rise in student numbers.

I’ve included a brief snapshot taken from the summary report:

Differences in earnings by parental income

“Graduates from richer family backgrounds earn significantly more after graduation than other graduates, even after completing similar degrees from similar universities. The average gap in earnings at the median between students from higher-income households and the rest was £8,000 (£5,300) a year for males (females), ten years after graduation”.

“Even after taking account of subject studied and the characteristics of the institution of study, the average student from a higher-income background still earned about 10% more than the other students at the median”.

If we were left in any doubt about the impact of family background has on future earnings we do not need to look far:

“the 10% highest-earning male (female) graduates from richer backgrounds earned about 20% (14%) more than the 10% highest earners from more modest backgrounds even after taking account of subject and the characteristics of the university attended”.

There was also the release of data concerning the impact of the subject studied on future earnings.  Perhaps no surprises in the gap in earnings of say medicine v the arts but from a careers guidance perspective stark figures on the impact of subject choice.  Further down the road you also wonder how sustainable the current policy on fees and repayment will be.  The governments own figures estimate 60% of students will never repay their loans.  To give this some context  a recent graduate with a healthy starting salary of £40k will not repay their loan after 30 years – and that is assuming 3% inflation & graduate earnings growing at inflation + 2% per year.  I’ve said for a while that student debt is effectively a graduate tax with slim hope of full repayment for most.

Gender gap

Gender pay gap issues are also exposed:

“For graduates with incomes greater than £8,000, the median income for male graduates was £30,000 compared to the female median of £27,000”.


Although government policy over the last 15 years  has done much to widen participation and access to higher education the same cannot be said of its legacy for social mobility.  Your family background, gender, what university you went to and what subject you studied all play major parts in your future career.  Structural issues in our society still persist and given the lack of diversity in both central and local government top jobs you wonder whether the will to challenge the status quo exists in any meaningful way.

Given the nature and power of careers work to impact positively on social mobility you have to question whether policy has again improved or stripped the profession’s ability to make the impact we know it can make (think Connexions and the post code lottery for careers guidance for young people  that we have at the moment).

Finally, for those of you familiar with Bill Law’s community interaction theory I thought it worth highlighting a key point concerning the power of influence has on all of us.

“Career management, then, becomes a matter, not so much of what you know concerning decisions and transitions, but of who you pay attention to among the people you know”.


Hello. It’s me….

I was pointed in the direction of this video by a colleague and I have to say he has come up trumps this time.  I was skeptical at first as I’m not an Adele aficionado but this parody hit home.  I’m not going to throw in too much of a spoiler but it’s a satirical look at one graduate’s attempt to secure work – just in case you were wondering what is it doing on my humble blog.

Now, this does throw up one question.  Is it really that tough  a market for graduates at the moment?  Reading  Charlie Ball’s (HESCU) blog post The 2016 graduate market in the UK then no it’s not doom and gloom.  Rumour has it grads aren’t all rolling in the deep and that skills shortages in many sectors leave many graduates in a strong position.  The AGR Winter Survey 2015 also backs the trend in vacancy growth but with the caveat of skills shortages leaving some roles unfilled.

But I think there’s some truth in the video.  I don’t know if it’s just me but I’ve seen more and more stories doing the rounds on social media of motivated graduates outside train stations and the like with placards seeking work.  Fortunately many seem to have a happy ending but lets not underestimate the sheer volume of work and emotional energy it takes to keep applying for roles following rejections.

I’ve also  heard firsthand stories from many graduates of the frustration at a lack of etiquette from employers following interviews in not getting back to them – even for feedback (in fact I’ve experienced this myself on a few occasions which I’ve always thought as unprofessional at best).

If you’re a recruiter then  pick up the phone and as Adele might say “Hello, it’s me”……..


Used under CC from


AI, Robots and the future

I’ve noticed  a recent spate of articles in the news as well as the  blogosphere on robots, AI and the impact on society and the labour market so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.  I wanted to  highlight a couple of  thought provoking pieces I’ve read recently in the Guardian that reference   a recently released BOA report that drew on research from Carl Benedikt Frey & Michael Osborne in this area.

The first was Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality which focuses on how the global economy will transform over the next 20 years.  The content isn’t overly radical  – for example the cost efficiency of using robots over people even through offshoring – but it does summarise and tie together important themes.  Unsurprisingly there is no universal agreement on the impact of technology on society as a whole and the article duly refers to it as the “stark divide between techno-optimists and pessimists”.

So what’s my stance on this?  I blogged about technological determinism a while back “Why is everyone so busy? Why our technological future hasn’t really delivered” particularly around the lifestyle gains technology was supposed to deliver.  John Keynes is referenced again and I’m in complete agreement when the piece refers to the need for a societal rethink between the relationship between work and society.  It makes me wonder where the end game may be as efficiency gains from technology continue unabated in conjunction with the continued growth in the world population (here’s a geeky world population clock which I quite like ).  This all does make me question how sustainable education and effective career management could be as agents to offset the fast paced change within job sectors and roles in our lifetimes.

Surely, somewhere in the future the endgame is that we don’t need to work for basic human need?  This would therefore require a huge economic and cultural shift to meet John Keynes utopian vision of 15 hour working weeks.

What if we're already too late?

What if we’re already too late? Image used under CC from

The second article I read mirrors the first.  “Artificial intelligence: ‘Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of gods and the rest of us”.

Picking out a real danger from the advancement of technology  the dangers of marginalisation and inequality are identified.

“technology is leading to a rarification of leading-edge employment, where fewer and fewer people have the necessary skills to work in the frontline of its advances”

It doesn’t yet feel like society has got to grips with the demise of our usefulness in developed economies or the societal changes needed to live in a future world where our role may be one of play and leisure rather than work.  For example, the way those unfortunate enough to be out of work (most of us have been there) are often demonised as a collective group in society tells us perhaps we aren’t ready and conditioned yet.

Alas, both articles are a great read and as ever the blogosphere is a lonely place so make your views known!

Creativity in Careers Work: Pictionary anyone?

I recently attended a training session called “Creativity in the Classroom” mainly because I deliver workshops in a classroom or when required more formally ( imagine yourself saying this in a posh voice ) in a “lecture theatre”.

Some great concepts, ideas and discussion were generated over the 2 hours and I scribbled some notes and thoughts as we got through the content and activities.   Certainly the creative vibe that was fostered by the group got me thinking about the relevance and application of creative tools to my work as a careers practitioner.

So first off, what is creativity? Rather than bombard with static definitions I’ve gone with a short video to explain this from Sir Ken Robinson.

“the process of developing original ideas that have value….applied imagination”.

Some important themes emerge from video such as creativity being an evolving process we are all capable of and born with but much like a muscle is something we need to nurture and exercise to get the best results.  I also like the way Ken describes how creativity “comes with the kit” of what we are imbued with at birth.  This is perhaps why I tend to distance myself away from the TDI models/tests that are still in common usage or matching models such as Holland’s RIASEC that attempt to put people in boxes.

There is certainly creative innateness in all of us but much like play it is something that convention, time and let’s face it, the whole adult world almost drums out of us as we enter adulthood.  The causal link between play and creativity is well established and if Einstein said it then it must be true surely?

Maybe he's onto something....

Maybe he’s onto something….

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the most popular Ted Talk of all time also happens to be Sir Ken Robinson’s take down of accepted, modern (well circa 2006) education in the titled video “Do schools kill creativity?”

The act of creativity has boundless applications for our life and career.  Making new cognitive patterns of who we are and what we can achieve can be considered demonstrations of this.  For example, from our experiences we can sythenthise a completely new and often profound understanding of ourselves that alters existing perceptions of our place in the world.  This could lead us to new career goals and opportunities never previously considered.  Indeed, it may lead to creative acts such as developing our own innovative business idea or associating our current role and skillset with another seemingly unrelated one.

Widening opportunity understanding and developing self-awareness are two of the cornerstones of effective career management but often  – for the careers professionals amongst you – we are always aiming and pushing clients to think more radically and divergently from often narrow, pre-existing knowledge and perceptions of what can and should be followed.  What we are asking or wanting very often is for clients to think more laterally about about themselves and their situation to create their own solutions for life and career.

But if we take the view, as offered by Ken Robinson, then creativity is an evolving process and as such are we really expecting solutions to problems to originate in a single guidance interview?  The question should be then, how can we set the creative process in motion through a framework that encourages rather than inhibits creative thought patterns?    For example, I’d never even considered the possibility of fun or play within a guidance setting.  Obviously a client may feel slightly perturbed if you were to whisk your prize board game Pictionary out at the start of an appointment but actually, would it be that crazy an idea if it helped the client to start thinking more laterally rather than conventionally?

However, there are  tools and techniques other than Pictionary you can use with clients to encourage creative thinking which I jotted down in the session (as well as adding a few I found) that have applications in life and career  – not to mention guidance appointments for the careers people reading this.

Provocation (questioning)


Problem Reversal

Lateral thinking

Parallel thinking


Ideation techniques – brainstorming


Our own task is to try and incorporate the opportunity for creative thought processes to form and evolve in the spaces we interact with clients.  This requires some creativity on our own part in tailoring and refining our tools and communication to each client and group.

The ones I’ve leaned to and used already include mind-mapping, ideation and provocation questioning.  I quite like the idea of trying parallel thinking (role play) and problem reversal in more frequency.

I’d be keen to know if anyone out there can feedback on their experiences of these techniques and what results were yielded (for yourself or anyone you worked with).  Just reply in the comments with your thoughts.

Reading: Edward de Bono Serious Creativity

5 ways to stay updated with the careers world online

I tweeted (@careers_chap) last week asking people in the careers world stay up date.

tweet, tweet, tweet!

Everyone who tweeted back (not a biased poll then!) said the same stuff – they used social media, especially twitter for news and general conversation.  I think this harks back to my last blog post on “Why is everyone so busy”.  Technology in a way has become our new master rather than  a time saving slave.

So as we’re all so busy social media and the portable tech that goes with it does afford us quick and simple ways to stay up to date with CPD activity.  So for those of you working in or with an interest in the  world of careers work (especially if you’re new) here are five ways to stay current.

1) Twitter.  The CEIAG world is quite a small one.  I find on twitter that careers people/organisations who have been on there a while all follow each other.  Which is good because it means newbies have ready made lists to follow too.  This means you only need to follow a few accounts to get started.  From there just look at who they are following as well as looking at the lists people have compiled which you can follow as well.  Good places to start?  Well you could follow me! @careers_chap.

Also look at @CEGNETUK, @UKCareersChat, @newmanswords, @theCDI, @CareersEngland, @SecondaryCEIAG, @Tomstaunton84, @iCeGS, @pigironjoe @CareersDefender to get you started from a UK perspective.  It’s great to look internationally too such as CDAA_inc and @ceric_ca.  I’ve missed out lots of great ones as the list would be too long but this list is a good starting point.

2) LinkedIn.  Lucy Hawkins blogged  a really nice piece on her LinkedIn connections policy which I think is an important thinking point before you dip in and develop your network. The real power for staying up to date on this platform – in my opinion anyway –  is not the news feed (tends to be filled up with spammy inspiration quotes or news articles I can find myself) but with signing up to common interest groups.  Ones I’ve find useful include: Career Coach Forum, Careers Debate, UK HE Careers Professionals and AGCAS Careers Education.  I am members of others but in truth they aren’t particularly active which is important I feel.

3) Blogs.  I’m relatively new at this but I’ve found tremendous value in writing down my thoughts for my own CPD.  In addition it has meant I’ve sought out other bloggers and read their work all of which contributes to a wide range of views on practice and theory.  In March this year CEGNET produced their top 10 careers blogs which is a good starting point.  Most blogs also have a blog roll which mentions who they are tracking as well.

4) Journals.  The Careers in Theory blog has a great page which lists the relevant journals to careers work here.  The International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) is also  a proliferant producer of research in this area.  You can check out its list of publications here.

5) Ezines & articles.  These are normally published articles or news rounds up that act as news aggregators for your careers fix. You can usually sign up for alerts via email  or follow the associated twitter feed.  Here are a few I use at the moment.  Working Adviser Careers Round-Up, AGCAS Phoenix (this is subscription), Contactpoint Careerwise,  CDA New Zealand Ezine, AGR.

I know I will have missed some brilliant sources off my top 5.  Please add anything I’ve missed in the comments and I’ll keep this as a working document.  

Why is everyone so busy? Why our technological future hasn’t really delivered.

Chancing upon an article in the economist titled “Why is everyone so busy” was my muse for this post.  Quoting an early passage the piece centres around from the hugely influential British economist John Maynard Keynes who stated in 1939 when predicting future work/life balance:

“Our grandchildren would work around three hours a day—and probably only by choice”.

It resonates because it’s something I and many others can probably relate to.  With so many technological and socio-economic advances since the industrial revolution and indeed since the birth of the internet age, why does life feel so rushed and pressured? The article refers to the notion of perception and contrast rather than a reality that we actually all have less time.  This is succinctly summed up in the piece when it says:

To be pressed for time has become a sign of prosperity, an indicator of social status, and one that most people are inclined to claim.

This alludes to a paradigm of choice suggesting we have complete freedom and we are victims of our own self-determinism. But for me it really highlights the pernicious culture in the developed world of materialism and neoliberalism.  In these contexts the question of “what is success” could be measured by one’s wealth, professional status and social capital. So despite technology the gap between the have and the have nots is getting ever wider despite platitudes and policies by western governments to counter this.

The 2013 Oxfam report “Even it up” is well worth a read on this subject but it really adds validity to the attribution of policy as a driver for inequality. The Economist article also references this divide:

The struggle to earn a place on that narrow pedestal encourages people to slave away for incomparably long hours. So rising wages, rising costs, diminishing job security and more demanding, rewarding work are all squeezing leisure time

So there is the race to the top for the haves and the race to stay afloat for the have nots.  In the UK for example the huge rise in the number of workers on zero hour contacts and the paucity of investment in careers guidance (a proven and valuable component of any social mobility policy) really reinforces this systemic failure. Whilst still on this subject of the impact of careers guidance a recently commissioned “mobility manifesto” report for the Sutton Trust really hammers  home its value.  Governments take note!

Technological determinism has always been at the forefront of mainstream popular culture and prediction albeit following a divergent pattern.  For example we are often presented  with the  utopian (think Star Trek) and more box office, dystopian future (think Terminator). So where am I going with all this?  Well, I can’t help but think the combination of technological advancement and policy has not really worked out as the optimists may have intended.  Certainly not in the case of John Maynard Keynes predicted.

Many people have found the advancement of technology has eroded low skilled jobs and those in professional roles may not have seen the home working revolution we were promised (have you seen the traffic jams recently!). So it does make you wonder who the winners from us mere mortals really are doesn’t it?

Our life space has also suffered. Surely the most destructive device to work/life balance has to be the smart phone.  Again, I know many people who are “on call” well beyond their contracted hours and access and respond to work emails on their Blackberry because they feel compelled to.  Push notifications must seem to some to be the modern day Victorian servant bell.

Finally I am reminded of the story of the Mexican fisherman.  It’s well known but it’s stayed with me over the years.  For those of you unfamiliar please have a read because it’s a parable that  relates to a question I posed in a previous post, “What is Success?”

The moral of the story.  Sometimes we’re so busy trying to climb the mountain we forget the name of the mountain we’re trying to climb.  Food for thought.