Growing a peer digital learning program

I’ve been working with colleagues at my institution over the course of the past year to launch a peer digital learning initiative. The program kicked off this past August with our “Learning in the Digital Age” pre-orientation program. Each year, my institution offers a few four-day pre-orientation programs to incoming undergraduate students. These programs give interested students the chance to arrive on campus early before orientation, meet other first-year students with similar interests, and connect with upperclass students, faculty, and staff who serve as program leaders. In our “Learning in the Digital Age” pre-orientation, our program-specific goals were to give students hands-on experience with various digital technologies being used for teaching and learning on campus, generate conversation around what it means to a learner and citizen in the digital age, foster awareness of and reflection on personal agency in learning, and invite students to help build our growing digital learning program in the year ahead. In addition to general community building and fun (LED frisbee was a particular hit), and helping students feel comfortable on campus before the semester started. Hats off especially to our student leaders without whom this program would have floundered.

Once the fall semester began, approximately half of the students who participated in the pre-orientation program plus the upperclass student leaders continued on into our Digital Learning Assistant (DLA) training program. A few other upperclass students excited about digital learning joined training, as well. Our primary goal was to prepare students to serve as tutors to other students in need of assistance with digital learning projects assigned in courses. During the fall semester, students in the training program participated in online and face-to-face activities to help advance their knowledge of core digital tools that faculty use most often in their courses for blogging, digital archives and data visualizations, digital mapping and GIS, digital storytelling, and e-portfolios. Each student selected one of these tracks for their first area of focus. We collected relevant readings and training resources and developed “challenges” to help the students develop proficiency in the area. Students gave short presentations as a culmination of their first semester training.

An important part of the DLA training program is to help students not only develop technical skills, but also think about ways they’ll be able to mentor other students trying to learn these tools as well as consider the tools/skills in the context of digital identity and digital literacy. We used a selection of readings (like Watters’ “The Web We Need to Give Students,” Rikard’s “Do I Own My Domain If You Grade It,” and Vygotsky’s “Interaction between Learning and Development”) to jumpstart reflection and conversation in these areas. The challenges students worked on during training, in addition to other activities, asked students to consider these aspects, as well. This semester, the DLAs began offering drop-in hours to assist students, while also continuing their training on both the technology and peer teaching fronts.

As we begin to gear up for year two, we’re thinking about how we’ll refine and revise both our pre-orientation program and our DLA training program. Our program has so far been inspired by our institution’s rich peer learning culture, as well as similar projects at other institutions like University of Mary Washington’s Digital Knowledge Center. We’re also guided by our shared interests in fostering student agency, developing communities for peer learning, and growing critical digital literacy skills and perspectives. I imagine these goals and values are also near and dear to many ACRLog readers, so I’m eager to hear your thoughts. What do you think are the most important questions, concepts, and models for building a peer digital learning program? What activities, readings, and resources do you think are valuable to help develop a peer learning community around technology, digital literacy and identity, and student agency? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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