Tag Archives: digital literacy

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.

Versus / and / or: The relationship between information literacy and digital literacy

For years now, I’ve been working to both simplify and deepen how I think and talk about information literacy. These goals may perhaps seem at odds, but they feel rather complementary to me. Essentially, I’m trying to hone my ideas, language, and examples so that information literacy is both accessible and meaningful to my audience. I want them to recognize information literacy as something in which they are also (already) invested, as something that they also value and seek.

When I look back at that first sentence and see “for years now,” it gives me pause. Really?! It’s taken me years? Well, it’s not so surprising really. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but in part it’s that my own understanding of and work on information literacy is always growing and evolving. As is my understanding of my audience, too.

Recently, I’ve been trying to think more about digital literacy and its relationship to information literacy. Across higher education, momentum for digital learning continues to increase. My institution is no exception.

In a recently “expanded” definition, ACRL describes information literacy as: “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” While the tone of ACRL’s earlier definition (the “set of abilities requiring individuals to ‘recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information’”) tended to be more procedural and mechanistic, both definitions highlight the critical thinking integral to the consumption and production of information.

So what is digital literacy then? In his book, published almost 20 years ago, Paul Gilster describes it as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers.” For Gilster, the “most essential of the [core competencies of digital literacy] is the ability to make informed judgments about what you find on-line.” As part of “this art of critical thinking,” Gilster also includes among these core competencies reading skills, “assembling knowledge” from “diverse sources,” and search skills. For Gilster, digital literacy is essentially “literacy for the internet age.”

More recent definitions continue in the same expansive vein. ALA’s Digital Literacy Task Force describes digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, understand, evaluate, create, and communicate digital information, an ability that requires both cognitive and technical skills.” Cornell University explains it as “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.” UK non-profit JISC defines digital literacy as “those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. Digital literacy looks beyond functional IT skills to describe a richer set of digital behaviours, practices and identities. What it means to be digitally literate changes over time and across contexts, so digital literacies are essentially a set of academic and professional situated practices supported by diverse and changing technologies.”

Digital literacy is sometimes coupled with media literacy, as in Renee Hobbs’ Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan for Action: “the term ‘digital and media literacy’ is used to encompass the full range of cognitive, emotional and social competencies that includes the use of texts, tools and technologies; the skills of critical thinking and analysis; the practice of message composition and creativity; the ability to engage in reflection and ethical thinking; as well as active participation through teamwork and collaboration.” The Journal of Digital and Media Literacy states that “broadly defined, digital and media literacy refer to the ability to access, share, analyze, create, reflect upon, and act with media and digital information.”

I could keep going. Variations abound, but their essence stays constant. Digital literacy is not a checklist of skills. It’s far more than knowing how to operate a computer or a particular application. Instead it’s about critical thinking and reflection, social and cultural contexts, and identity. Rather familiar territory, no? So is digital literacy just information literacy in a digital only environment? Most definitions seem to at least acknowledge their connection. In library-centric spheres, information literacy tends to be presented as the larger category of which digital literacy is a part. But the reverse seems to be the case in other realms.

Why does this matter? I’ve written before that librarians are translators and that our “unique position affords us opportunities to reach across divides of perspectives, stakeholders, and disciplines.” I’ve also written before about honing how we both communicate and listen in order to connect, find common ground, and seize opportunities. So when I wonder if digital literacy is just information literacy in a digital only environment, I do not mean to diminish or disparage. Instead, I seek to highlight points of intersection, alignment, and overlap. If we’re not talking about precisely the same thing, we’re certainly on the same page. I think it will serve us all well to recognize the difference in our language, but the similarity in and continuity of our teaching and learning goals.

What’s your take? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.