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4 ways your institution can improve digital literacy for student workforce success

A new NMC Horizon Project brief details how strengthening digital literacy can benefit students' workforce readiness.

Forming partnerships and maintaining a maker mindset are two ways to improve digital literacy and help prepare students for the global economy they will enter upon graduation, according to a new report.

Commissioned by Adobe, Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief, released by the New Media Consortium (NMC) in conjunction with the 2016 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, is intended as a call to action for higher education leaders in an effort to establish a shared vision of digital literacy and how to make it more meaningful for students.

The report comes from a sense that there exists a lack of consensus about how to define digital literacy and implement effective programs. It explores how digital learning in higher education should evolve to best benefit students.

NMC’s report highlights various examples of digital literacy models, including universal literacy, creative literacy, and literacy across disciplines, to demonstrate how programs can support a range of digital literacy skills.

(Next page: Three models of digital literacy, and recommendations to strengthen them for students)

Universal literacy is defined as a familiarity with using basic digital tools such as office productivity software, image manipulation, cloud-based apps and content, and web content authoring tools.

Creative literacy includes all aspects of universal literacy and adds more challenging technical skills that lead to the production of richer content, including video editing, audio creation and editing, animation, an understanding of computational device hardware, and programming–along with digital citizenship and copyright knowledge.

Literacy across disciplines is diffused throughout different classes in appropriate ways that are unique to each learning context, e.g. sociology courses can teach interpersonal actions online, such as the ethics and politics of social network interaction, while psychology and business classes can focus on computer-mediated human interaction.

Examples of strong digital literacy initiatives in action are profiled in the report:

  • At Ryerson University in Canada, coding is seen as an emerging and important literacy that will cultivate in students the skills needed to define and create the digital tools of the future. In their “Challenge Accepted” workshops, students learn how to create a mobile app in only three hours. Understanding how algorithms apply structured linear thinking to address a variety of problems will be a key workforce skill, even in non-technical fields.
  • The library at Massey University is collaborating with the Teaching and Learning unit to build a Digital Playspace for academic and professional staff that will provide informal learning opportunities as well as facilitated training to improve digital literacy.
  • California State University Channel Islands’ CI Keys project provides faculty and students with open-source content creation tools to integrate into projects so they are able to become familiar with building online portfolios, journals, wikis, and other kinds of digital resources.

Higher education leaders and technology companies should prioritize students as makers who learn through the act of content creation rather than mere consumption, according to the report.

The report identifies four recommendations to help higher education leaders and technology companies improve digital literacy for students.

1. Engage in strategic implementations: Upon evaluating digital literacy pilots in one setting, institutions must think more broadly about wider implementation and include their campus libraries in the planning and creation of standards.

2. Focus on students as makers: Digital literacy policies and initiatives must empower students as content and media producers rather than purely knowledge consumers. Makerspaces, both physical and virtual, can provide opportunities for innovation.

3. Build industry-education partnerships: Technology companies and institutions should partner to better understand ever-changing workforce demands for digital literacy, with ample and continuous conversations that are inclusive of all stakeholders.

4. Develop smart collaborations: Governments, public and academic libraries, museums, and cultural heritage organizations must work together on developing information-sharing initiatives, online communities of practice, and digital literacy projects.

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Laura Ascione

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