ScOPT Trustee Jon Bolton reflects on how technology impacts on all areas of our lives.

At a conference in Boston, Massachusetts, earlier this month, some students complained that assumptions regarding their attitudes, hobbies, and abilities are hurting them academically.

They were particularly against the notion of young people being 'digital natives'. They suggested that although many students know how to use online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for fun, they have no idea how to leverage them for academic and professional use.

If you've not come across the term 'digital natives', it was coined by Marc Prensky at the turn of the millennium. He argued that today's students, having grown up surrounded by digital technologies, were somehow different to those who had not.

"These students, the 'net-generation', were 'native speakers' of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. In contrast, those not born into the digital world (aka older people) were 'digital immigrants' who acquired the language of the digital world like a second language."

(Frawley, 2017)


I'm tempted to go off on a tangent and have a rant about how and why the whole concept of 'digital natives/digital immigrants' is just wrong... but I'll rein myself in and carry on! I'm not alone in thinking that by the way - for example, see Frawley (2017), Herald Scotland (2014), O'Neil (2014).

Whilst I disagree with the 'digital natives' thing, I do think it's important that we recognise that technology is now very pervasive and impacts on all areas of our lives. It is more available than ever before, but that doesn't necessarily mean that people are comfortable using it in the different contexts of their life.

It also means that information is flowing in all directions, constantly. Information overload is nothing new, but it is getting far worse. We live in an "always on" society, where information is available anywhere at anytime.

This causes three specific problems:

1. How do we manage our memories? You may have heard of the Google effect, also called digital amnesia. It's the tendency to forget information that can be found readily online by using Internet search engines such as Google. According to the first study about the Google effect people are less likely to remember certain details they believe will be accessible online.

2. How do we make sense of information, specifically in terms of fact-checking? Social work students need to apply theory to practice, evaluate information, use the best evidence in practice, and use different approaches and perspectives that fit the particular problem presented. But how we check that it's the right information?

3. How do we manage our digital identities? Our digital identities matter. What we post, share, say, upload, snap, and tweet represents our digital identity. It's our online presence. But in recent years there has been an increase in the number of Fitness to Practise cases as a result of inappropriate behaviour relating to social networking sites and digital communications. Students have been discontinued from their programme and practitioners dismissed from employment. Taylor (2016) suggests that social work practitioners are navigating unchartered waters when it comes to practice in a digital world, where the boundaries between digital knowledge, skill and ethics are not explicitly understood in terms of appropriateness and professionalism.


Making sense of information

The Open University (2014) suggests that information literacy is knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it – and digital literacy goes beyond this to encompass communication, collaboration and teamwork, social awareness in the digital environment, understanding of e-safety and creation of new information. Both digital and information literacy are underpinned by critical thinking and evaluation.

Actually, Belshaw (2011) argues that digital literacy should actually be plural – ie. literacies (he suggests 8), and that those digital literacies are context-dependent.

Here are some tools to help you and your students make sense of information:

23 Digital capabilities to support practice and learning in social services (SSSC)

Confidence Through Evidence Toolkit (IRISS)
- a toolkit with four steps designed to help you Acquire, Assess, Adapt and Apply evidence in your practice.

Information Literacy Interactive Tutorial (IRISS)
- a tutorial which will provide you with an understanding of information literacy in six simple steps: Question, Sources, Find, Evaluate, Combine, and Share & Apply

Finding Evidence to Inform Your Practice: A Guide for Social Workers (SSKS)
- an interactive PDF to help you find evidence quickly and effectively.

Managing knowledge to improve social care (SCIE)
- an e-learning programme that sets out to help front line social workers gain a basic understanding of the principles and practice of knowledge management, as well as organise and manage their knowledge and information as effectively as possible.

Evidence Informed Practice (Skills for Care)
- a video explaining how research evidence can be used in decision-making


Managing digital identity

Why social work students need to be careful about online identities (The Guardian, 2012)

Social media: confidentiality and the Code of Practice (SSSC, 2012)

What is Social Media? (SSSC, 2014)

Researching the contribution of social work education to the digital socialisation of students in preparation for practice in the technological age (Taylor, 2016)

Social Media in Social Work Education (Westwood, 2014)



Belshaw, D.A.J. (2011) What is 'digital literacy'? Dissertation for Doctor of Education, Durham University. Online at - accessed 30 November 2015

Frawley, J. (2017) The Myth Of The 'Digital Native'. Online at - accessed 26 June 2017.

Herald Scotland (2014) Myth of the digital native. Online at - accessed 24 June 2017

O'Neil, M. (2014) Confronting the Myth of the 'Digital Native', The Chronicle of Higher Education. Online at - accessed 24 June 2017

Oblinger, D. and Hawkins B.L. (2006) The Myth about No Significant Difference. Online at - accessed 26 February 2010

Open University (2014) Succeeding in postgraduate study, Session 5. Online at - accessed 31 March 2017.

Scottish Government (2004) Confidence in Practice Learning. Online at - accessed 31 March 2017.

Smith, P.J. (2003) cited in Quinn, K.G. (2011) Using Mobile Devices to Support Workplace Learning: Comparing the effectiveness of technology-enhanced situated learning with traditional, classroom approaches to workforce development. Dissertation for Master of Science degree, University of Ulster

Taylor, A.M.L. (2016) 'Researching the contribution of social work education to the digital socialisation of students in preparation for practice in the technological age'. Paper presented to the Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference, Sheffield Hallam University, 16 December 2016. Online at - accessed 31 March 2017.

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