06 SES 03, Lifelong Learning and Digital Inclusion/Exclusion
Large-scale assessment surveys like PIAAC or several national surveys point out that even in highly developed countries many adults read, calculate or use information technology on low or even very low proficiency levels (OECD 2013; BIS Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2011; Grotlüschen und Riekmann 2011; Jeantheau 2015). Nevertheless, common stereotypes about ‘functionally illiterates’ can be proved to be misleading. For instance nearly 60 percent of the low literate adults in Germany and in France are employed (Grotlüschen 2014; ANLCI - Agence Nationale de la Lutte contre l'Illetrisme o.J. (2005)) and low literate adults in Germany by the majority did not leave school without certificates. Nevertheless, low skilled adults remain a subpopulation exposed to a higher risk of social exclusion. They make up a vulnerable part of the population. But is this true for the variety of social fields? An ongoing survey about reading and writing skills among adults in Germany is following the question of literacy-related exclusion in different spheres of everyday life observing literacy-related practices. Among those are financial literacy practices, health related literacy practices, literacy practices related to politics and practices of digital reading and digital writing.
Digital writing so far only had little attention in large-scale studies. PIAAC does provide information about skill use. In PIAAC the variables in question refer on reading, writing, math and ICT (at work or at home). The frequency of skill use and literacy skills show a high correlation (Grotlüschen et al. 2016, S. 47; OECD 2013, S. 214). From a perspective of employability and effects on workplaces and earnings the positive effect of ICT skills had been reported (OECD 2015). However, only few of these variables can be referred to practices of digital writing. Only data on the use of email and of text processing software are available. The national literacy survey in Germany (LEO survey on basic competencies, April 2017 to December 2019) thus analyses digital practices more detailed, e.g. asking about information seeking behavior, about certain digital competences and on some aspects of digital writing. Among those is the use of short messages (SMS, WhatsApp) and social media (e.g. writing on Facebook). The survey not only describes the frequency of these practices but also looks on modes of writing in digital environments like worrying about spelling (use of spell checkers), use of emoticons and emojies or of abbreviations and inflexives. These variables are to serve as proxies for the use of the register of digital writing.
Main research questions for this paper are:
- Research question 1: Do practices in digital writing differ between low literate adults and adults with higher proficiencies?
- Research question 2: Can we interpret these differences as a higher risk of digital exclusion?
- Research question 3: Which additional impact does age have on digital writing?
The paper draws on data from the field trial of a large-scale survey. As this survey however pays attention not only on skills but also on (under-researched) practices, it theoretically bases on approaches defining literacy not as a single set of skills but as a social practice. These approaches most prominently are represented by the New Literacy Studies. Authors from the New Literacy Studies (Street 2003) claim that literacies should be considered pluralistic, diverse and local (Barton und Hamilton 1998). In recent years more attention had been put on literacy practices (Reder und Davila 2005; Thériault 2016; Zeuner und Pabst 2011). Another theoretical strand origins from linguistic research on different registers of writing distinguishing digital writing from non-digital writing and pointing out that efficient switching from one register to another is a competence of higher-literate adults (Storrer 2013).
The paper draws on data from PIAAC and from the field trial of the LEO-survey on adult basic competences. From the PIAAC data (Round 1 and 2) the variables related to digital writing (email, word) are analyzed regarding skills levels, age, gender, employment status and other variables. While PIAAC data already are available, the data from the LEO-survey are still to be gathered, data from the field trial however have already been analyzed and show first results regarding the research questions. The results presented in the paper thus are still under reserve of the main survey data (expected in late 2018). The survey is a follow-up study of the first German LEO-survey on adult literacy (Grotlüschen und Riekmann 2011). It is performed as a nationwide survey (n=5,500) carried out in mid-2018 among German speaking adults aged between 18 and 64 years. The survey consist of an extensive background questionnaire which covers sociodemographic features as well as everyday practices in domains like monetary affairs (financial literacy), literacy practices related to politics and health and practices of digital reading and writing. The survey then performs a paper and pencil literacy assessment (reading and writing). As focusing on low literate adults, the items used for the assessment represent relatively simple tasks. The items originate from a research project on workforce literacy (LEA: http://blogs.epb.uni-hamburg.de/lea/). The assessment allows differentiating the level of low literacy skills more detailed compared to PIAAC. Item difficulties and personal skills are calculated using item response theory and plausible values. Data from the field trial are available for a quota sample of about 384 adults (German speaking, 18-64 years old) including a subsample of about 100 adults with low formal qualification. Item difficulties and personal skills were calculated using weighted likelihood estimates (WLE) using R as software application. Calculations with the variables concerning digital practices/digital writing also were performed with R.
Results from PIAAC in general show correlations between literacy skills and literacy practices. This is true also for the variables regarding digital writing. Digital writing therefore appears as a practice predominantly for adults with higher literacy skills (research question 1). Moreover, age effects appear which portray digital writing as a practice more common among younger cohorts (research question3). From this starting point, the paper presents detailed information about digital writing practices based on the field trial data. With all due caution, caused by the small sample size a number of instructive results will be discussed. The use of digital devices – which makes up a basis of developing ICT skills and digital practices – is less frequent among low literate adults. The information seeking behavior differs between different levels of skills; information search on the internet is less common among low literate adults. In addition, the self-reported competences regarding digital environments appear lower among low literate adults. According to research question 2 (higher risk of digital exclusion) we conclude that according to survey data this risks can be confirmed. Regarding digital writing, these patterns seem to recur. Use of email, use of written short-messages and writing in social networks appear less frequent among low literate adults. Moreover, the way digital writing is carried out (use of spell checkers, awareness for orthography, use of different registers) as well shows a distinction between higher literate and low literate adults.
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