Winston-Salem State University
Many years ago, reading and writing literacies appeared. Then came Cultural Literacy, Media Literacy, and Information Literacy. Somewhere in the midst of these came Digital Literacy. Digital Literacy essentially means the ability for people to access and utilize technology to promote or enhance their daily lives. The American Library Association has defined Digital Literacy as "the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills." The effect of technology on our daily lives, particularly the past 20 or so years, is indisputable; however, technology is currently changing at its fastest pace ever. Consequently, the definition of Digital Literacy continues to evolve, which today encompasses not just how we interpret but how we employ and utilize the digital world to create needed items.
Our 21st-Century Employee
Digital resources are a necessity in the modern age, and the way we employ them is integral to our success. Knowledge of digital platforms is not enough. The reality of the contemporary workplace is proficiency with digital understanding, being able to pivot among multiple platforms to generate the needed product, and, of course, adapt to the next new "thing" in technology as it emerges. Studies now show a notable gap in digital knowledge and digital expectation between employees and employers. In an Internships.com survey of students' confidence in being digitally prepared for work, 44% responded that they felt "well-prepared" or "very prepared." In contrast, only 18% of surveyed employers responded that students demonstrate competency for entry-level positions.
In a Hart Research Associates study, 80% of employers found electronic portfolios fairly or very useful in identifying useful job skills, compared with only 45% of employers who found traditional college transcripts helpful. John Jolliffe, a senior manager with Adobe, described changes in how we define Digital Literacy by describing today's students and workers as "becoming content makers, fluent in expressing and presenting their ideas to external audiences. They don't just want to understand problems but to produce solutions to problems; likewise, they don't want to know how to merely use technology but apply it imaginatively to perform a task or create something new. "This presents an important challenge today in higher education: How do we teach these skills and how do we leverage them effectively and efficiently within the curricula of our disciplines?"
Digital users and digital composers
Some of the most remarkable changes in the way we store and access information have come in the past 20 years. These changes include wholesale digitization of assets, including infrastructure, connected machines, data, and data platforms. These changes affect how we interact with that information, as the digitization of operations, including processes, payments, and business models, and customer and supply chain interactions have followed suit. The changes above have led to digitizing the workforce, requiring workers to use digital tools, digitally skilled workers, and entirely new digital jobs and roles.
New Goals for Education
This new digital paradigm requires new skills from educated individuals both working and navigating the world. Digital literacy development, as a whole, helps contribute to that knowledge society. Learners are able to interpret and make meaning of an abundance of information and navigate how they share data online. However, in addition to supplying the confidence to address a digital world, these digital literacy skills would enable workers and citizens to become efficient consumers of the digital and composers of the digital. The new Digital Literacy should be, in fact, a skill set of creative as well as analytic. Recognizing and developing Digital Literacy skills is a primary task right now. These will be as crucial for everyone moving into the 21st century as any literacy skills that have come before. It's important that we invest wide attention to it.
Implementing Digital Literacy Outcomes in Classroom Assignments
As noted above, Digital Literacy is the ability to ethically use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information effectively. This is a broad definition that covers the basic literacy of our digital age and indicates a higher order of fluency to understand and navigate digital mediums and apply them aptly, appropriately, and effectively. This definition is not meant to supplant any concept of literacy that has come before it but to determine that the Digital encompasses separate skills and demands that determine fluency in Digital modes. And Digital modes are a venue of their own to be navigated by a different fluency than any other literacy. A key point of understanding for the Digital Mode is that it both requires a different fluency to be successfully used and that items in a Digital Mode project themselves in a different way than other modes of communication. Digital communications are read in different ways; Digital Modes are projected in different ways. Digital skills and understanding how to incorporate digital modes as a means of effective communication and a source of knowledge are critical proficiencies for students as a key to understanding the digital world and navigating a career within it. Coursework can exhibit important skills to ensure students are proficient digital users and creators.
Creating a Digital Assignment
Following is an example of an assignment from an introductory humanities course. It asks students to incorporate multiple digital modalities into a presentation. The format for this assignment can be adapted to fit assignment objectives in other disciplines by changing content or altering objectives to fit student learning needs.
A Digital Humanities Assignment Example
In this assignment, you will:
• Evaluate or analyze a major work in the course
• Utilize digital modes to construct an argumentative narrative
This semester you have read, discussed, and offered short analyses of three principal works: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens), Guerrillas (V.S. Naipaul), and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (Thomas Keneally). Each of these novels is set in a different country and in a different time frame. Using Adobe Spark, put together a presentation that touches on a social condition in one of the above works. This presentation may focus on any issue evidenced or discussed in the work, but must contain the following elements:
1) At least three digital modes. A digital mode can include: video, text, text links, photograph, simple graphic, interactive or animated graphics, and Infographics.
2) A developed narrative that addresses one of the following themes:
• A discussion of the issue, describing its place as a point of conflict in the novel.
• A reflection on the relevance of the issue. Is this issue present with us today? If so, where and how is it exhibited in the world? Does it appear in different degrees or variations?
3) A clear integration of the digital mediums you chose above. To do so, you may choose to video record sources (interviews) who can speak on the issues. You can use audio or links from appropriate media to substantiate your points. However, be sure to make clear reference to each medium and how it serves as a part of your whole presentation.
Expand this basic assignment by adding objectives and digital outcomes, which students may implement in other activities that may fit a particular class or discipline.
Teaching digital skills as a proficiency and critical thinking process is essential for developing students who will be navigating the 21st century as capable digital citizens and as effective thinkers. Incorporating these skills in course assignments will add to a student's general skill set and strengthen a student's ability to navigate and create in a digital realm.
• How can or are digital outcomes implemented in your primary discipline?
• Describe ways digital outcomes can enhance critical thinking skills?
• Explain how digital modes can be used to enhance analysis or evaluation?
Hart Research Associates, Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2015), p. 13.
Internships.com, (16 July 2014 ) “New Skills Gap Survey Reveals Increasing Student Demand for Digital Skills, Employer Appetite for Tech Savvy Hires,” press release.
Jolliffe, J. (2016, Nov 22). New Approaches to Digital Literacy and the Digital Skills Gap. Adobe Blogs. https://blog.adobe.com/en/publish/2016/11/22/its-time-to-rethink-approaches-to-digital-literacy-and-the-digital-skills-gap.html#gs.6yqo70