When Bringing Your Own Device Isn’t Enough: Identifying What Digital Literacy Initiatives Really Need
Device ownership alone doesn’t make people digitally literate; rather, digital literacy is about how and why they use devices to achieve particular goals and outcomes.
According to the 2018 EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 95% of undergraduate students own a smartphone and 91% own a laptop. This near-ubiquitous ownership of these devices might suggest that digital literacy is mainstream, but just because students own digital devices does not mean that they’ve developed digital literacy.
Definitions of digital literacy can include the ability to use and access digital devices, but studies from the past decade tend to deepen this definition. A commonly cited definition from Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel asserts that digital literacy is “shorthand for the myriad social practices and conceptions of engaging in meaning making mediated by texts that are produced, received, distributed, exchanged etc., via digital codification.”
More recently, scholars including Jennifer Sparrow have suggested even adopting the term digital fluency instead of literacy in order to capture how students may need the “ability to leverage technology to create new knowledge, new challenges, and new problems and to complement these with critical thinking, complex problem solving, and social intelligence to solve the new challenges.”
Digital Familiarity Implies Intrinsic Knowledge
two-thirds of faculty think that students are prepared to use software applications, but students themselves express discomfort with applying these tools for learning.
instructional designers are key players who could take a more visible role in higher education to support educators in bringing explicit instruction on digital literacy engagement into their classes. University staff in instructional design and educational/faculty development spaces consult with instructors, lead workshops, and develop support documentation on a regular basis. People in these roles could be more empowered to have conversations with the instructors they support around building in particular lessons
Douglas Belshaw can be a source of inspiration for understanding how his essential elements of digital literacy may contribute to the development of students’ digital fluencies. In particular, some practices may include:
- Integrating the use of different applications and platforms so that students obtain practice in navigating these spaces, learning how to locate relevant and reliable information. For example, guiding students to specific databases that provide articles, books, etc., for your discipline may improve information and digital literacy. This is critical because most students default to Google search and Wikipedia, which may not be where you want them to explore topics.
- Developing student’s ability to curate content and how to follow academic integrity guidelines for citations and references.
- Establishing the norms and purpose for effective communication in a digital academic space.