3 Ways Digital Literacy Empowers Faculty Members

by Alex Gay

posted on 03-14-2019

In 2018, a survey by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup found that “more than 7 in 10 faculty members who have taught online courses say the experience has taught them skills that have improved their teaching. Most commonly, they say their online teaching has caused them to think more critically about how to engage students with course content and to make better use of multimedia content.”

This finding may suggest that as faculty members become more digitally literate, they’re equipped with skills that make them better teachers — online and off. Digital literacy is the power to use digital tools enabling students to create innovative projects, enhance communication, and build proficiency in soft skills such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration to prepare for the evolving workforce. Looking deeper, we find that digitally literate faculty are better teachers because they are empowered to engage and arm students with digital tools for persuasive communications, and advocate for change.

Digital literacy help faculty engage students

When faculty members are digitally literate — and their students are, too — they’re able to use digital tools to experiment and find the pedagogical techniques that work best for engaging their students. They’re also enabled to get instant feedback so they can make quick adjustments.

Here are some examples of digitally literate techniques for engaging students:

As faculty embrace digitally literate techniques, students will respond. For example, University of Cincinnati Libraries has found success with engaging students through “ten initiatives as part of its strategic plan to enhance digital scholarship” in the midst of a changing library culture. Faculty have been an instrumental part of their goal to become the “globally engaged, intellectual commons of the university.”

For faculty, digital literacy means using digital tools to solve problems across disciplines and being innovative. It also means training students in digital skills that develop soft skills such as creative problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Digital literacy allows faculty to engage students as they prepare them for the challenges of an increasingly digital world.

Digital literate faculty can arm students with digital tools for creative and persuasive communications

According to the Adobe Gen Z Creativity Study, “When students use Creative Cloud tools to create presentations, infographics, animations, videos, or ePortfolios for their assignments, they understand it more deeply and retain it longer. This enables them to communicate their ideas, discoveries, and arguments in more innovative ways — often exceeding expectations in classes across all disciplines.”

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, is encouraging its students to harness digital communications to better understand and communicate about serious social issues. Izzy Pinheiro, a health humanities student, interviewed Syrian refugees in Jordan, as well as Jordanian clinicians and citizens, to understand how the Syrian humanitarian crisis is affecting healthcare. She then used Adobe Spark to help her tell their diverse stories in the best way possible.

“Working with Adobe Creative Cloud has really opened my eyes to how media can tell a story that will get people involved and support advocacy work worldwide,” she said.

Izzy originally wanted to make a documentary, but she found that a multimedia website would communicate her ideas better. As a digitally literate student, she didn’t just use digital tools — she harnessed them in the context of the real world.

Digitally literate faculty can teach their students how to harness digital communication tools to their fullest extent. These skills will prepare students to communicate persuasively when they enter the workforce.

Digitally literate faculty can advocate for change that will prepare students for the modern workplace

Digital literacy starts at a young age, but today’s college students may not have been sufficiently prepared.

According to new research from ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, the digital divide “is compounding equity problems within U.S. schools.” The study found that of students “whose parents have a college degree, the majority have access to more than one device at home; just 7 percent of this group have access to only one device, and 3 percent have access only to a smartphone — a disadvantage of 15 percentage points for first-generation college students.”

How can faculty help these students have success as they start college? The data makes it clear that these and other underserved students need advocates. They need faculty to be there for them early in their higher ed careers, taking innovative, effective approaches to teaching digital literacy that will help them succeed in the classroom and beyond.

“Innovation necessarily means some risk, and, when it comes to students, this is obviously very sensitive,” said David Soo, adviser to former U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “But we are not going to get dramatically better outcomes without trying new things, and to fail to meaningfully change the status quo year after year in the name of ‘student protection’ fails to protect students. The question is how to empower those acting in the best interests of students to try new things and to quickly correct when issues arise.”

Faculty won’t be able to simply implement technology and hope it helps. To help students who are digitally illiterate, faculty need to be digitally literate themselves. It takes experimentation and innovation to solve complex issues like the digital divide, but digitally literate faculty are perfectly positioned to do so. Digitally literate faculty know how their students engage and learn. They can arm students with digital tools for persuasive communications. And they can advocate for change that will prepare students for the modern workplace. As faculty become more digitally literate and help their students do the same, students will be better prepared to contribute to and thrive in the evolving workforce.

How is your digital literacy stacking up in your institutional curriculum? Explore more on Digital Literacy.

Topics: Industry, Education