Horizon Project

Report: Time for a Digital Literacy Reboot in College

Report: Time for a Digital Literacy Reboot in College

By 2020 a third of the skills people will need for work will involve "a blend of technical savvy, creativity and complex thinking," according to the World Economic Forum. The same blend could be used to define digital literacy. It's not enough for a student just to be able to use a technology; he or she must also be able to reflect, imagine and understand implications of decisions as part of doing a task or producing an object that otherwise wouldn't be possible without the technology. Bottom line: To be considered digitally literate, learners must be creators, using digital tools to make their creations. That's the message of a new report from the New Media Consortium (NMC), which recently released "Digital Literacy in Higher Education, Part II: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief," a follow-up to its 2016 strategic brief on digital literacy.

NMC is a community of universities, colleges, museums and research centers that explores the use of new media and technology in learning and creative expression. Like the report that came before it, this one was sponsored by Adobe, which produces software for creative work.

The focus this time around is on sharing frameworks that can help schools standardize the elements and outcomes of digital literacy as part of education programs — frameworks, plural, because nobody agrees on what digital literacy encompasses. Most of them, however, have common aspects, according to the report: communication, critical thinking, technical skills, content creation, civics and citizenship and copyright law.

Context matters too. Departmental efforts, the report pointed out, "will have a narrower scope than a campus-wide one." For example, while the humanities may call for writing for social media or creation of video, computer science might emphasize coding as a "central competency." One aspect that matters more for the United States right now than for other countries, the report added, is an emphasis on digital citizenship and culture and politics.

The report also offered examples of programs from institutions worth emulating. The University of Pennsylvania, as one example, has the "Digital Fluencies" project, which runs workshops for faculty and students to show them how to produce and distribute digital media legally. The Emory Center for Digital Scholarship trains students in digital storytelling and publishing, Creative Commons and managing online and professional identity. Once they're armed with those skills, they're paid to work as specialists and consultants at the center to help faculty, staff and students with digital research and pedagogy-related questions.

Eleven global "digital literacy leaders" offer essays on digital literacy in education, rounding out the report.

"Students are not all digital natives and do not necessarily have the same level of capabilities. Some need to be taught to use online tools (such as how to navigate a LMS) for learning," wrote Judith Bailey and David Santandreu Calonge from the University of Adelaide, in one of these essays. "However, once digital literacy skills for staff and students are explicitly recognized as important for learning and teaching, critical drivers for pedagogical change are in place."

The report is openly available on the NMC website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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