Digital Literacy: Talking Teaching Recap (Part 1)

The Technology Fellows Program and Information Services department co-sponsored this Tuesday’s Talking Teaching event, which focused on the concept of the “digital native”–a term often applied to the Millennial who uses technologies with a fluency not afforded to preceding generations. Faculty shared their diverse experiences, successes, and concerns with digital encounters in their courses. Throughout the discussions, it became clear that there is often a disjunction between what professors (and the students themselves) assume students know about technology and what they actually know. Effective leveraging of digital technologies to enhance pedagogy requires careful considerations of such factors as accessibility, differences in types of digital literacies, and the potentially negative effects of digital technologies on the development of collaboration and communication skills. The following is the first in a two-part summary of some of the important challenges and considerations raised at Tuesday’s meeting. Each discussion point is followed by some of the successes shared and techniques suggested by the group.

Digital Skills Training: When adopting a new technology in an assignment or classroom activity, how do you approach training students?

Recommendations:

  • Hands-on work time in class is important to give students the opportunity to ask questions and problem-solve together.
  • Model behaviors—Tek-wah King consistently displays his iPad throughout class across the semester to help students learn over time which applications work best for which tasks.
  • Give students guidelines for how long a task should take to avoid the situation in which, before reaching out for help, they spend four hours trying to figure out how to use a technology that should have taken a few minutes.
  • Lynda.com tutorial videos—Embedding assignment-specific tutorials into your course Moodle page may work better than simply directing students to this vast resource and expecting them to find the best tutorial to meet their needs for a particular assignment.
  • Suggesting or requiring that students meet with librarians and instructional technologists during the semester will ensure they recognize the training services and digital resources that are available to them in the library.
  • Inviting librarians to your class to provide assignment-specific reference instruction sessions helps students learn how to use databases, digital citation tools, and digital collaboration tools that they can apply to many of their courses and assignments.

Digital Literacy is a Process: How do we ensure that students see digitally-enabled activities and assignments as part of a progressive process? Rather than building a broad toolkit applicable to many courses and future endeavors, students tend to approach each technology learned as assignment- or course-specific, often failing to apply these skills and resources in their other classes, or forgetting them by the next semester. Are students struggling with the pace of change? How do we distinguish between discipline-specific skills and more generally-applicable ones?

Recommendations:

  • Better scaffolding of technology skill acquisition across a semester and across the four-year curriculum
  • Develop and codify a way to track expected development of digital literacy skills over time
  • Repeat and assignment-specific interactions with reference librarians and instructional technologists help students gain and retain skills and learn to apply them across their coursework.
Photo by Sean MacEntee, 2012, Flickr
Photo by Sean MacEntee, 2012, Flickr

Generational Differences in Types of Digital Fluencies: Students tend to be especially app-savvy, but they do not necessarily understand other elements of computing, such as programming. App user interfaces are designed for “elegant consumption” and assume no user knowledge of the back-end processes. Digital literacy assumes an amount of experience that affords the ability to be able to easily adapt to changes in software and hardware as time goes on; but if students do not have the foundational knowledge, they will be unable to just “click around” and figure out new interfaces and software. Despite students not knowing life before the internet, professors often have more years of experience with a broader range of technologies. A seemingly basic task of creating a PDF may be completely foreign to a student who was never asked in high school to submit a document in that format.

Recommendation:

  • When adopting or assigning a new technology in class, always assume that at least some students may have no foundational knowledge. You can always change pace as you learn more about the students’ skill levels.

Further discussion:

Several faculty members wondered how we can leverage digital technologies in the editing process for written student assignments, which led to a robust discussion of digital editing tools and methods. Others wondered how we are using technology to replace certain interpersonal interactions, and at what cost? We also discussed issues of digital accessibility and inequality in the development of digital literacies. Stay tuned tomorrow for a follow-up post on these topics!

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