Navigating Digital Literacy: Pathways and Practices of First-generation Black Students at a South African University


This paper examines the experiences of first-generation black (FGB) students at a South African university during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in 2021. The study focuses on how these students navigated their digital-scholarly becoming, taking into account the role of family, as well as issues of identity, context, and culture in shaping their digital literacy acquisition and learning pathways. The study draws on social reproduction theories incorporating Bourdieu’s conceptual tools - habitus, various forms of capital, and field - to explore the students’ acquisition pathways in the university. The paper highlights the importance of understanding the university as a context of digital immersion for gauging the extent of students’ access to digital literacy skills and supporting their pathways towards accumulating digital capital. The results of the study suggest that virtual teaching and learning require elaborate, creative, and autonomous expressions of teaching and learning identities, which entails that students extend their identities as they engage with their digitally-based teaching and learning spaces. The study also underscores the importance of digital literacy for FGB students in navigating the virtual HE field and emphasises the need for higher education institutions to pay attention to the swift adoption of blended and distance-learning models and their effects on all stakeholders. The paper concludes with recommendations for the development of policies and programs that promote digital literacy acquisition and equitable access to digital resources for FGB students in higher education institutions in South Africa.


Elzahn Rinquest
Lecturer, Education Policy Studies, Stellenbosch University, Western Cape, South Africa


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Technologies in Learning


Digital literacy; Digital capital; ICT practices; Student experiences; Higher Education

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