How Can Universities Prepare Students with the Digital Literacy Skills Employers Are Seeking?

by Patrick Hoy

posted on 10-02-2019

This article is part two in a two-part series on internships, a continuation of 3 Ways Internships Benefit Students.

Digital literacy skills are applicable to any career, not just careers heavily involved with design or programming. In fact, “8 in 10 middle-skill jobs are now digitally intensive with roles growing 2.5 times compared to non-digital jobs,” reported Clodagh O’Brien, a writer at Digital Marketing Institute. “The key thing about digital skills is that they can be used in any job role; it is not solely in the domain of marketers or sellers. As such graduates, job seekers and professionals should learn these key skills to improve their odds of getting hired.”

Universities can help students develop digital literacy skills by encouraging internships and focusing on those skills in the classroom. Here’s how.

Digital literacy through internships

No matter a student’s area of study, internships that develop digital literacy will prepare students for success. Encourage students to apply for internships that are outside their field of study and that will develop digital literacy skills. For example, a biology major might apply for a social media marketing internship, or an accounting major might apply for a web design internship.

Why would a biology or accounting student need to develop digital literacy skills? Because digital literacy skills are in demand in the workplace. These skills include soft skills like creativity, collaboration, analytical reasoning, and communication as well as hard skills like UX design, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.

Adobe Creative Cloud is used in businesses around the world, from global corporations to small startups,” says Andrew Phelps, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. “By teaching students to use Adobe creative apps effectively to communicate designs and ideas with others, we’re setting students up for successful careers.”

Students no doubt graduate well-prepared for their jobs. But if they strictly follow their major’s recommended classes and barely skate by in their elective classes, they may be missing out on key parts of a well-rounded education. Digital literacy-focused internships help round out the educational experience, as do digital literacy-focused elective classes — when students take them seriously, that is.

For example, one Adobe intern learned a great deal as she conducted studies as an intern, as anticipated. But particularly valuable was the ability to “carry the learning back with her into the academic environment, where she could continue to publish, promote, and improve her work.” While we often think of internships as a means to getting a job, one salient benefit of internships may be how they make schooling even more meaningful.

Digital literacy through faculty intervention

Encouraging students to apply for digital literacy internships is most effective if faculty are fostering digital literacy in the classroom. While some internships are happy to take any college student, some require at least a familiarity with digital tools. But beyond that, students need to be digitally literate to communicate in their careers and communities.

“Institutions need to be thinking about how to raise the digital literacy level of their students and faculty,” said Debbie Morrison, a digital education consultant and founder of Online Learning Insights. “Students need to have experiences locating, curating, and organizing digital information for academic and professional use, and they need to be able to create digital content that contributes to and engages in community and national events and conversations. Otherwise, students will lack the depth and breadth of digital skills they need to thrive in a global economy in which an abundance of knowledge and digitization is transforming business and social institutions.”

How can faculty help students gain these skills and experiences? Resources like Adobe Education Exchange make it simple for faculty in any discipline to incorporate digital-literacy-building assignments into their curricula. Professors might consider assigning students to create digital portfolios, which would teach students to learn skills like UX design and critical thinking and also how to use software like InDesign and Illustrator.

Professors could also incorporate digital careers activities into the classroom. These activities “align to the key design, research and communication, project management, and technical skills that are required for students to be successful in their future digital career” or any career that will require digital skills, the number of which is increasing. Some of these activities include how to prepare images for web, how to create interactive documents, and how to create prototypes.

Faculty should encourage internships and help students qualify for them by incorporating digital literacy into the classroom. This can have a positive, life-altering effect that prepares students for the modern economy.

Get more ideas about how digital literacy prepares students for the modern economy.

Topics: Industry, Education, digital literacy,