EuNIC: an approach to digital literacy for adults (2007)

Although digital literacy is considered one of the key competences that all individuals need for fully participating in the information society, a large part of the European population still seems to lack the basic e-skills which underpin that competence. The 2005 Eurostat survey on a sample of 200.000 European people aged 17 to 74, shows that 37% has no computer skills at all and 15% has a low level of competence. These values vary remarkably according to the country of origin, level of education and age. This survey only supplies information on basic e-skills whose mastery does not guarantee a critical and informed use of ICT. If anything, the Eurostat data show clearly that social groups of people outside education and training circuits and in the working age, are more likely to be excluded – 46% of people aged between 24 and 55 has either a very low level of e-skills or none. Hence the need to close this gap does persist and it can be addressed by increasing ICT access opportunities and by promoting initiatives aimed at the development of digital literacy competences in this age range.

These considerations are at the basis of NIC -Nucleo Informatico Concettuale (Conceptual Informatics Nucleus), an approach to adult digital literacy designed in 2001 by the Institute for Educational Technology of the Italian National Research Council (ITD) and used in the local training system of the Provincia of Genova (District of Genova).

The NIC project was transferred to other European contexts within an EC project. The new project was called EuNIC and aimed at turning the NIC principles and practice into a European approach to digital literacy for adults thanks to the cooperation of five partner countries (Italy, Portugal, Greece, Latvia, Bulgaria). The project run from January 2006 to June 2007.

The transfer occurred by collaboratively adapting and tuning the approach to the partners’ needs, and subsequently testing it in each partner country through pilot courses. These courses were meant to be managed by pioneer teachers who would become the experts in their country for the EuNIC approach. All partners addressed the EuNIC pilot courses to adults, aged between 21 and 65, both unemployed and employed, with different professional backgrounds, with little or no computer skills. The EuNIC transfer experiments involved 13 teachers and 60 participants across the four target countries.

The aim of the project is to prepare “wise beginner users”, i.e. a users who are able to interact with the computer to carry out simple tasks; who understand how technology works and has an idea of its limits and potential; who are able to improve their computer competence in an autonomous way.

The approach is based on training to master a set of conceptual and operative tools underlying all digital environments and use them to solve meaningful problems.

The major features of the approach are:

  • (a) the focus on a small nucleus of basic concepts and skills, which are considered essential to interact with the computer and to underpin new, autonomous learning;

  • (b) the use of a problem-based method in order to make students transparently learn “why”, “when” and “how” to use the main computer functions and applications to solve real or realistic problems;

  • (c) the promotion of habits and attitudes that play a key role in beginner’s autonomy.

The course (80 hours) is organized into three stages.

The first stage, or Central core, is concentrated in a short period of time and is aimed at the acquisition of basic skills, as well as at the introduction of the core concepts. This is a crucial stage, as it concerns concepts and skills whose low mastery may become a constraint for further learning.

The second stage, or Immersion, entails the development of a project that requires the integrated use of different applications. The aim is to consolidate the core concepts introduced in the previous phase, to demonstrate the existence of recurrent patterns common to different applications and to develop awareness of the various types of problems that can be solved with each application. The last stage of the approach, or Emersion, aims to widen the horizons of the course, by introducing a brief history of computing and by giving practical and technical suggestions to foster an autonomous use of the computer and to support informed choices of future training initiatives.

The exploratory nature of the EuNIC project doesn’t allow to say a final word about the transferability of the NIC approach, mainly because the number of teachers trained and students involved was too small to give statistically relevant results. However, the process of adaptation, updating and localization of materials, and the training of teachers, gave positive results that seem to encourage the use of the approach in other contexts.

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