Photo by Alexey Ruban on Unsplash

Are creative media students really digitally literate?

A post by Saad Qureshi, Dean, SAE Institute UK.

As the Association for Learning and Technology (ALT) conference approaches in September 2018, I reflect on the current position of creative media institutions in developing students’ digital literacy.  I pose the question to encourage a fresh look at how such institutions can enhance their strategic and pedagogical approaches in this domain.

It is almost taken for granted that students studying at creative media institutions are already, or have a greater cognitive disposition to become, more digitally literate, which refers to the ability to create, access and use information (Gilster, 1997). It is not so difficult to comprehend why some have this view. Studying in technical and resource intensive creative media disciplines such as Film Making, Audio Production and Games Development, can only be undertaken with state of the art camera equipment, coding, large consoles such as mixing desks, and software from Da Vinci Resolve to Pro Tools.

Compared to other disciplines then, one could say that such creative disciplines are well positioned to embed Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), another popular term synonymous with digital literacy, in the curriculum. I began to explore this notion further in the time I have been with SAE Institute, the world’s largest creative media education provider. In the UK I have had several discussions with staff and students and have also had the privilege of observing live teaching sessions with students. Apart from being fascinated with the student-led and facilitated learning taking place because of the immersive nature of a practice-based curriculum, I found excellent examples of students learning to use technology; whether this be through deconstructing videos to explore the realms of diegetic music in movies or the use of post-production software.

From what I found, creative media students would be typically classed as advanced users, as opposed to basic or intermediate users, as they are utilising software and technology for a specific purpose or career (Johnson et al, 2002). In contrast, basic users would only make use of technology through more mainstream services such as social media networks. Indeed, it is also taken for granted that just because new generations of young people live in an online world of connectivity, that somehow, such youngsters would be digital natives (Prensky, 2001) like the presupposition of creative media graduates,

However, I argue that creative media institutions can benefit from moving away from just taking a bottom up approach to digital literacy, and towards a top down, integrated curriculum. The latter refers to a planned approach to curriculum development and considering the trends across the discipline (Anderson, 2013).

Many institutions offering creative media programmes such as Nottingham Trent University do have a digital capability or TEL or equivalent strategy that embeds this in the curriculum. Often however, some institutions develop programmes for TEL as an after-thought, when curriculum has already been developed. Institutions should take the opportunity to build in TEL at the time of curriculum (re)design.

To this end, SAE is currently undertaking a large scale revalidation effort across four regions (the UK and three overseas regions), comprising over 20 campuses. In addition to the enormous logistical challenges of coordinating such a global activity there are challenges of embedding digital literacy in a single curriculum delivered in so many jurisdictions. Nevertheless the shared global expertise benefits the curriculum design process and is curriculum integration on a grand scale.

This revalidation exercise is also being informed by an Industry Advisory Council comprised of leading experts in the field. Current trends suggest a significant shift towards artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and further a fusion taking place between critical workflows and functions in some creative disciplines. With respect to the former, whilst my view is that machines will not replace the human interface, graduates are increasingly going to be required to work in an automated and remote environment. As such, this is not about the use of specific software, which as referred earlier is relied upon as indicator of digital literacy. However, in the case of the aforementioned trends, this is about a broader range of digital skills such as the cognitive ability to make sense of the world and how it is changing (Eshet-Alkalai, 2004).

Other industry trends indicate that graduates are also increasingly being required to possess a multitude of skills in addition to their subject specific skills. An exciting example of this which also indicates the merging of technical activities, is where post-production between film and audio seems to be integrating. Graduates will be required to have skills in both.

To support these trends, creative media institutions are in a unique position in that there are also a committed professional group of technicians that have the digital capability and expertise to support the realisation of improving digital literacy. Yet I have found they could be given a greater role in supporting curriculum development. In addition, whilst there is a national shortage of technicians in other disciplines such as science and engineering, creative media tends to enjoy a steady supply. However, the science and engineering subjects have created a Technician Commitment to help support the development of technicians. I would argue for creative media institutions to have a greater role in such similar initiatives.

In the end, there is no doubt that creative media institutions play a significant role in equipping the next generation of graduates for a sector that far outstrips many others contributing £92bn to the economy according to the Creative Industries Council. I advocate for an integrated curriculum approach coupled with industry insights to ensure that graduates are adequately prepared with the portfolio of digital skills required for the 21st century to contribute and compete in their chosen professions.



BélisleC. (2006). Literacy and the Digital Knowledge Revolution. In Martin & Madigan, 2006: 51–67.

Denise M. Anderson (2013) Overarching Goals, Values, and Assumptions of Integrated Curriculum Design, SCHOLE: A Journal of Leisure Studies and Recreation Education, 28:1, 1-10

Eshet-Alkalai, Y. (2004). Digital literacy: A conceptual framework for survival skills in the digital era. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 13 (1): 93-106

Gilster, P. (1997), Digital literacy. New York: Wiley Computer Publications

Johnson, R, Edmundson-Bird, D and Keegan, B (2012). Making digital literacy a success in taught marketing courses, Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, 4:2, 1-15

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Available at: %20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf (accessed 22 July 2018).

Prensky, M. (2004). The emerging online life of the digital native: What they do differently because of technology, and how they do it. Available at: Prensky-The_Emerging_Online_Life_of_the_Digital_Native-03.pdf (accessed 02 July 2018)


Other resources:

[1] Nottingham Trent University Digital Literacy Framework

[2]Technician Commitment


Saad Qureshi, Dean, SAE Institute UK,

For ALT’s 25th Annual Conference we will bring together different critical perspectives in Learning Technology from across our community that will examine the challenges ahead and question the shape of things to come. For more details, visit the conference website 

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *