Brandt’s ideas are relevant in today’s digitally infused world where information is organised and made accessible to those who seek it online through search engines such as Google. Companies such as Google, through their computer code and artificial intelli- gence systems, are among today’s highly influential ‘sponsors of literacy’. Their digital platforms are conduits of economic and political forces which regulate and establish the value and agentive potential of people’s digital literacies as they use those platforms.
Drawing from a social practice approach to literacy, this study examines digital litera- cies as ‘the constantly changing practices through which people make traceable meanings using digital technologies’. A social practice approach to digital literacy does not, therefore, assume a deterministic and predictive relationship between digital media and students’ writing and study practices. As Gillen and Barton caution ‘many mistakes – at the design, commercial and indeed theoretical levels – are made through assuming that there is a straightforward relationship between what a new technology can do and how – or even whether – it will then be used’. Instead, a social practice approach to digital literacy begins with detailed exploration of digital literacy in the lives of those who use technologies over and above an a priori notion of ‘what works’. In this respect, a social practice approach to digital literacy is set apart from related perspectives (e.g. ‘information literacy’ and ‘media literacy’) which conceptualise literacy as a metaphor for autonomous skills which can be acquired and transferred from one domain to another. A social practice approach is important in institutions, such as universities, where large-scale investments are made in new digital technologies, and where there seems to be little or no examination of what digital literacy actually looks like in practice for students and staff. The ways in which learners embrace a suite of institutional technology is not always reflected in the intentions of investors or pol- icymakers who will likely evaluate its use exclusively within broad instructional frame- works which tend to define digital literacy through a categorical classification of something which students have (or have not), rather than something which they do