Penn State Focuses on Digital Fluency to Prepare Students for Jobs of the Future

Imagine you’ve traveled back in time 11 years. The year is 2008. Apple launched the App Store for its new iPhone. Blu-ray won the format wars as Toshiba officially abandoned HD-DVD. Now imagine telling people that your job in 2019 is Uber driver, social media marketing analyst, or wearable app developer. Hard to imagine, right?

Looking ahead another 11 years, it is equally difficult to predict the technology and work that will make up our everyday lives. According to a 2017 report, The Next Era of Human/Machine Partnerships, 85% of the jobs that will be available in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. This poses a clear challenge for universities. The job of any university is to prepare students for success, but how do you do that when so much of the future is unknown?

For Penn State, the solution is going beyond digital literacy and focusing on digital fluency to give students the tools to be creators and flexible skills that will help them define the future. We sat down with Marie Hardin, Dean of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications; Michael Kubit, CIO and Vice President for IT; and Kyle Bowen, former Director of Innovation, Teaching and Learning with Technology, to talk about how they are readying students to face a future filled with unknowns and opportunities.

We hear about digital literacy in education, but what is digital fluency?

Kyle Bowen, former Director of Innovation, Teaching and Learning with Technology at Penn State.

Kyle: Digital literacy generally refers to the ability to read, interpret, and think critically about information presented in a number of different digital mediums. Digital fluency takes that concept a step further by adding on the how, when, and why. How do I create and communicate new knowledge? When should I apply different technologies—and why is this the best approach?

Michael: Simply put, literacy is the ability to read a digital language, while fluency is the ability to speak and create in the digital language.

Why do you think digital fluency is so important for students today?

Marie: In our highly connected digital world, communication is more important than ever. But with so many ways to communicate ideas, students need to understand how to use different methods of communication effectively. Should an app designer film a video that shows how a new app idea can help users? Or should they create an interactive demo that shows how the app will act?

Digital fluency is about teaching students to think critically about how they develop and present information so they can become active participants in the digital society of the future.

Is digital fluency important for all students?

Michael Kubit, CIO and Vice President for IT at Penn State.

Michael: Absolutely. One of the key components of digital fluency is the ability to effectively tell a story, which involves analyzing and creating a message that really takes into account medium, audience diversity, and intent of the content. Simply put, students need to understand what they’re trying to say, who they’re saying it to, and how to best deliver that message.

Marie: Storytelling is an essential skill for any field of study, but it can also mean different things in different fields. Storytelling in journalism often involves trying to reach a wide audience with a clear message. Storytelling in a corporate environment may mean trying to get a small group of colleagues on board when suggesting a change to an established business process.

By helping all students understand the basic foundations of how communication works and how they can use digital tools, we can give them the skills to adapt storytelling to their goals.

How do educators bring digital fluency into the classroom?

Marie Hardin, Dean of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State.

Marie: Having the right tools is important to challenge students and encourage experimentation that leads to digital fluency. Before we had Adobe Creative Cloud available for all students, it was difficult to assign more challenging storytelling projects because students might not have equal access to creative tools. Now we can take down those barriers and enable students to really explore how communication differs across mediums.

What are some things Penn State does to support digital fluency?

Kyle: The Teaching and Learning with Technology group works directly with faculty to support lessons and learning goals with technology. Our IMEX Lab, for example, creates a space where faculty and students can come together to create 360-degree video and virtual reality experiences. It’s not just science and technology students using this space either. We’ve had great projects from journalism students, agriculture students, and even the marching band.

Michael: By giving students access to great technologies and tools, we can help students differentiate themselves in the job market and set them up for success, no matter what the future holds.

Penn State uses Adobe Creative Cloud to support digital fluency initiatives for all students, faculty, and staff. Learn more here.