Professional Development | Feature

Five Digital Literacy Professional Development Strategies

Discussing digital literacy as a way to locate, understand, organize, evaluate, and create information using digital technology is one thing, but putting the concept into motion in the college classroom isn’t always easy. With new information resources proliferating daily, and some educators reluctant to change their "old ways" of teaching and disseminating information, professional development has become a key consideration for institutions that are looking to leverage digital literacy.

Here are five simple professional development strategies that schools can use to help faculty effectively teach and use digital literacy in today’s classroom:

  1. First, discard all assumptions about the "digital natives." Community college instructor Karen Southall Watts struggles with the issue of digital literacy on a daily basis. Many of those challenges stem from the fact that students aren’t as tech-savvy as everyone thinks they are. A business ethics instructor at Bellingham Technical College in Bellingham, WA, Watts said college students aren’t always the "digital natives" that they are portrayed to be. "Just because a younger students knows how to update Facebook or share photos doesn’t mean he or she is ready for the technology demands of college," said Watts, who frequently finds herself teaching students how to attach files to email messages, navigate online classroom platforms, conduct online research, and blog. "Using technology for entertainment and consuming content is very different from true digital literacy that allows students to research information and create content."

  2. Get faculty thinking in a digitally literate manner. It’s not just students who need to know how to find, organize, and understand digital information – faculty members also need to polish their digital literacy skills. "As educators, we have the responsibility to teach our students how to vet various digital resources that they find online," said Pamela L. Baker, director of the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning (CET&L) at the University of Cincinnati, "because that’s the first place students go when they have a question about something." Rather than relying on general resources like Google, however, Baker advises educators to think beyond the basic and question the sources of information that they’re sharing with students. Key questions teachers should ask themselves include: How do I know if this is really a good resource? Who is running this website? Who is creating these digital resources? What value does this information provide to my students? "When you can answer these questions," said Baker, "you can get students to make smarter choices about the digital resources."

  3. Tap into librarians’ vast knowledge bases. Long before computers and the Internet became mainstream educational tools, college librarians were pros at locating, distilling, and disseminating meaningful information to students and faculty. This knack hasn’t waned in the information age. In fact, it’s been honed and channeled in a digitally literate fashion. "Librarians are a terrific resource for professors who need help with digital literacy," said Baker. At the University of Cincinnati, for example, librarians partner with faculty members and teach them how to more efficiently locate information, vet sources, and cite sources that they’re using in their classrooms.

  4. Set up digital learning centers and offerings. You don’t need a separate building or staff to establish a center that focuses on digital literacy on campus. In many cases all it takes is a few one-on-one sessions with an "early-adopter" to get faculty members thinking about digital literacy and the role that it plays in the college classroom. Baker said workshops, seminars, and standalone professional development programs are all effective strategies, particularly when such events are organized and led by librarians, early-adopters, IT staff members, and other interested parties. The core of each professional development offering should center on a commitment to use digital tools for teaching and learning and for supporting student use of such resources. "Get some professional development programs in place that truly support digital literacy," Baker advised, "and that show both faculty members and students exactly what digital literacy looks like and how it can be leveraged in the educational environment."

  5. Encourage professors to participate in self-study. Ben Eveloff, assistant professor of communications at Lewis University in Romeoville, IL, has taken several online courses over the last few years to boost his digital literacy prowess. One of his favorite resources is Codeacademy.com, a self-led, online tutorial where anyone can learn how to write computer code. "This is a good way to get some basic technology skills – regardless of what subjects you’re teaching – and apply them in class," said Eveloff, who also uses resources like Mashable (for the technology how-tos, trends, and news) and Coursera (for online video lectures and assessments) to stay on top of new digital literacy trends. Eveloff parlays his self-study into the classroom, where he introduces the newfound knowledge to his students. "It’s tough because there’s just so much stuff out there right now," said Eveloff, "but if you take the time to educate yourself – even in small chunks – you can learn some great digital literacy strategies to apply in your classes."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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