Exploring creative appropriation

I’m looking for collaborators to help with a literature review of effective learning in a digital age. I haven’t got a project or any money – I just think it would be a cool thing to do.


What we know about how students learn effectively is almost exclusively derived from the pre-digital age. However, learners now grow up in an inherently digital world. What would a model of effective learning look like if it was designed from now, based on what learners are telling us about how they are learning?


The research that I’ve been involved in and been following has come up with lots of different ways of expressing necessary digital skills and practices. We have quite a collection now of models of digital literacies, including the pyramid model I worked on with Helen Beetham (Sharpe et al, 2010, Chapter 6).

The pyramid model is being used by projects at Reading (Digitally Ready), Bath (PriDe) and Exeter (Cascade) and others.

I think that although the pyramid model seems to stand up at levels of access, skills and practices, there is still quite a lot of confusion about what is going on for our most effective learners. This is variously being called digital maturity, agility, or fluency. Helen Beetham and I called it ‘creative appropriation’.

There seems to be themes coming out that are important to enable students to be able to creatively appropriate technology to support their studies, around learners’ intentions and conceptions. Something about attributes like confidence or agility (Seale et al, 2010). But I don’t think we’ve haven’t collected together enough evidence yet to say what is going on at the top of the pyramid.

The problem

We’ve been promoting methodologies which foreground the learner voice. This is great, but it means small sample sizes and tentative conclusions. How can we pull together what’s been learnt from the explosion of learner experience research in the last 5-6 years?

The plan

I’d like to use a review technique called meta-ethnography to see what can be learnt from studies of learner experiences of using technology (with thanks to Maggi Savin-Baden for showing me how to use this technique).

In the coming weeks I’ll starting the literature searching and entering what I find into a shared Endnote file. I’ll be coding in nVivo.

Please let me know if you would like to join in, perhaps just by adding to the collection of studies in the Endnote database, by meeting up to explore themes and help with coding, or by improving this plan!


Seale, Jane, Draffan, E.A. and Wald, M. (2010) Digital agility and digital decision-making: conceptualising digital inclusion in the context of disabled learners in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 35, (4)

Sharpe, R., Beetham, H., & deFreitas, S. (2010) (Eds) Rethinking learning for the digital age: how learners shape their experiences. RoutledgeFalmer, London.

About the author

Rhona Sharpe

Rhona is Head of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University. Her interests are around developing and tutoring online courses, developing learners for a digital age, and  pedagogic research. Rhona is one of the co-founders of ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group), a Senior Fellow of the Staff and Educational Development Association, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a National Teaching Fellow. She is Editor of the Brookes eJournal for Learning and Teaching.

You may also like...

3 responses

  1. Nathalie Ticheler

    I would be very interested in taking part. I have just completed my thesis which focuses on students’ experience of VLEs for blended learning so your project is of particular interest to me.
    Looking forward to hear from you in due course.
    Nathalie Ticheler

  2. Elizabeth Cleaver

    Would love to be involved. I am going to be a bit limited in terms of contributions to the reviewing as new in role at Hull and somewhat rushed off my feet, but if I can be of any help at all in meetings/contributing to discussions/doing a few bits and pieces of reviewing etc then let me know.

    Am trying to get an institutional approach to TEL and DL off the ground here so this project would be of great help to me. Just sorry I can’t commit more time at present – but will do what I can.

  3. Judith

    Certainly sounds interesting. If I can contribute in some small way, I’d be happy to do so. For example, if you want to include non-English publications, I could have a look at German-language pubs. Certainly want to read more about your idea 🙂