4 Ways Digital Literacy Enhances Education

A group of students working together.

by Alex Gay

posted on 03-14-2019

A recent Pew Research Center study found that just 17 percent of adult learners are “confident in their ability to use digital tools to pursue learning.” Students and educators need to feel confident in their digital skills so educators can help students be better prepared for the modern economy.

Could digital literacy help the 83 percent who don’t feel confident? The answer is yes! Digital literacy is defined as the power to use digital tools enabling students to solve problems, create innovative projects, and enhance communications to prepare for the challenges of an evolving workplace. Digital literacy enhances education by making education more collaborative, helping you take full advantage of resources, allowing you to keep pace with the modern workplace, and creating an agile learning environment.

Digital literacy makes education more collaborative

Collaboration “is one of the key trends in 21st-century education, since peer-to-peer learning incorporates the social learning trends that are so widespread in modern society,” said a higher education writer at Visipoint. “Collaborative learning technology can enhance problem-solving and communication skills and foster creativity, complementing the goals of higher education on the whole.”

When students and faculty are digitally literate, they can harness the power of virtual collaboration. This has benefits like

One outcome of Georgia State University’s digital literacy initiative was that students sought to develop their digital skills outside of class by participating in entrepreneurial and professional activities. Students came together in a peer-to-peer learning community, with students across disciplines learning about things like programming, the blockchain, and team building.

“While digital skills are a crucial piece of educating students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we cannot lose sight of the human element and the increasing importance of collaboration, communication, and compassion as technology advances,” said Phil Ventimiglia, chief innovation officer of Georgia State University and Tiffany Green-Abdullah, assistant director of learning community development at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Digitally literate faculty and students can take full advantage of their resources

One aspect of digital literacy, as defined above, is that you are empowered to use digital tools to solve problems. With millions of terabytes of data on the internet, that skill is pivotal. Students and faculty alike need to know how to navigate and find high-quality sources. Digitally literate people know how to navigate the internet, synthesize knowledge from competing sources, and use digital tools to further their educational objectives.

When students are assigned to create videos based on their own articles, for example, faculty and students alike must take advantage of several disparate resources available to them. Faculty take advantage of creativity, technology, and student engagement, which together form a transformative learning experience. Students take advantage of the same elements, but they also have to dig deep to achieve true understanding because of the medium.

“You may find that in order to produce work that would be compelling and clear for a viewing audience, you will need to drastically cut down and simplify the information that you wrote about in your article,” explained Todd Taylor, professor of English.

As Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Digital literacy helps education keep pace with the modern workplace

Remember the mere 17 percent of adult learners who are “confident in their ability to use digital tools to pursue learning?” The other 83 percent range from having low digital skills and limited trust in online information to being cautious in their digital skills. In other words, most students’ digital literacy skills are not on par with the technology being used on campus and in the workplace.

Today, workplaces have a long list of digital skills they want to see in employees, which includes not only competence with digital tools, but also the ability to

How can educators combat the digital skills gap and help students be prepared for the modern workplace? One way is by making creativity an intrinsic part of core coursework.

“Our high-impact practice courses promote experiential learning to actively engage students in their coursework,” said Amir Dabirian, vice president for information technology and CIO at California State University, Fullerton. “By embedding Creative Cloud in three of these courses — English 101, First-Year Experience, and Business Administration 300 — we’re increasing digital literacy and making progress toward our goals of improving retention, closing the achievement gap, enhancing learning, and raising the graduation rate.”

Another way to keep pace with the modern workplace is by adding a rigorous digitally focused requirement to curricula. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for example, undergraduates are now required to take two data-intensive classes in order to graduate. The university is also adding data aspects to other existing courses to help students develop data dexterity.

“We chose the term ‘data dexterity’ because we really want our students to be quite competent — experts in working with the data — and we think that cuts across all disciplines,” said John Kolb, vice president for information services and technology and chief information officer at RPI.

Adding creativity to core classes and adding digitally focused classes to curricula make it possible for students and faculty to make strides in digital literacy themselves.

Digital literacy creates an agile learning environment

Higher education is undergoing a transformation. We’re seeing increasing numbers of nontraditional and first-generation learners who are often working adults with multiple priorities and ever more students are bringing devices to class. Meeting the needs of all these students is challenging, making it difficult for faculty to engage them in traditional lecture-style classes.

But with digital literacy and “adequate support, training, and tools, instructors can provide students with better feedback as a means of supporting active learning and creating an agile classroom,” said Eran Ben-Ari, a specialist in customer insights.

What is an agile classroom? “The agile [classroom] framework is about responding to change and measuring ‘meaningful learning’ over grades,” said Vawn Himmelsbach, a writer at Top Hat. “The perspective here is that failure is, in fact, an option.”

The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, for example, has plans to eliminate six liberal arts majors and refocus the college on career and interdisciplinary training, infusing curricula with liberal arts training. The idea is that these changes will meet evolving demands in Wisconsin.

“Particular traits of a liberal arts degree, such as critical thinking, persuasive communication, creative problem-solving, and sorting through ethical dilemmas are vital to training better professionals,” say proponents of the plan.

Another way educators and students can embrace the agile framework is by using resources like “Adobe Creative Cloud Across the Curriculum: A Guide for Students and Teachers.” This online resource is designed “for students who want to tackle their academic work in innovative, digital ways and teachers in all disciplines who want to incorporate digital assignments into their coursework.” This guide allows students and faculty to be flexible and choose learning activities that best support their individual needs.

We want to get to a point where 100 percent of students and educators feel confident in their digital skills. Digital literacy is the answer — it makes education more collaborative, helps you take full advantage of resources, allows you to keep pace with the modern workplace, and creates an agile learning environment. All the factors needed to prepare students and educators of all disciplines for the challenges of an evolving workplace.

Want to create an engaging, creative, and collaborative classroom experience for students? Learn more about Digital Literacy.

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