Developing Digital Literacy: Supporting technology-enhanced learning in higher education

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This morning you were perhaps awoken by the sound of your smartphone’s alarm blazing menacingly. You reached over to where your device was laying on the nightstand, silenced it, then spent a few minutes mechanically scrolling through your Facebook news feed and responding to WhatsApp messages. Every single day we employ our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and the like, with the objective of garnering knowledge about the world around us. In this modern era, it is evident that technology plays a functional role in all societies, and, more often than not, its use is triggered by personal need for information. Engaging in this type of activity brands today’s youth as digital natives (Levy, 2016), but this does not necessarily equate to them being digitally literate. Since technology is always evolving, it can be realistically hypothesized that it will continue to be a dominant feature of education in the future. On this note, can university students be academically successful without being digitally literate? If not, how can students’ digital literacy be developed to support technology-enhanced learning in tertiary institutions?

digital literacy

Digitial Literacy Explained

Though there is no universal consensus on the definition for digital literacy, there exist several proposed explanations which seem to fall into either of two categories. The first focuses on users only as consumers of digital information, while the other concentrates on users as both consumer and creator of content.

An early example of the former is noticed in Gilster’s (1997) explanation of digital literacy as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers”.  This definition may have been suitable during that time, because technology was predominantly used in business settings, and not so much in people’s personal lives. So, once they were able to perform simple tasks using technology (e.g. printing a document), they would be considered digitally literate. On the contrary, many of today’s tertiary learners were introduced to technology primarily in a way that would entertain them and allow them to communicate socially (Ventimiglia and Pullman, 2016). They were raised in an environment driven by technology, and are thus naturally able to use digital tools (Alexander, Adams and Cummings, 2016). digital literacy2Unfortunately, this only creates an illusion that they are digitally literate, and does not mean that they are confident users of same in educational contexts (Alexander, Adams, Cummings, 2016; Levy, 2016).

Possessing digital literacy far supersedes merely being digital natives. For example, at the tertiary level, students are expected to be able to access educational resources via course containers, interact with their lecturers and peers through discussion boards, and conduct meaningful research using online search engines or digital databases. It requires that students are able to utilize the various technologies in the appropriate manner for a given context, so as to “find, evaluate, create, and communicate information” (Alexander, Adams, Cummings, 2016). This requires that they are competent in using both their technical and critical thinking skills in order to achieve this outcome. A digitally literate student is then able to, for instance, “critically evaluate information encountered on the web” (Alexander, Adams, Cummins, 2016).

So why does it matter?

fake newsFollowing Donald Trump’s success in the US presidential election, there was quite a bit of buzz regarding fake news and how social media sites were contributing to the circulation of it (Seargeant and Tagg, 2016). In fact, Adams, Cummins, Davis, Freeman, Hall and Ananthanarayanan (2017) reveal that students at the undergraduate level struggle with determining the validity of the information shared via such platforms. Seargeant and Tagg (2016) advocate that higher education (HE) institutions should be held responsible for facilitating the development of the digital literacy of their students, so that they may become more critically engaged citizens existing in a digital sphere. Such development could equip students with the practices which would contribute to their success in the academic arena.

Building digital literacy in higher ed

Cultivating digital literacy was reported to be one of the six notableunder-construction-flashing-barracade-animation challenges impeding the use of technology in higher education for this calendar year (Elemes, 2017). This is so, since producing digitally literate graduates requires that HE leaders enforce digital literacy practices right across the curriculum (Adams et al., 2017).). This would equip students to discover and assess information online, perceive issues from a digital point-of-view, mature into self-directed learners, and quickly grasp an understanding of new technology and software (Ventimiglia and Pullman). One strategy for effecting digital literacy practices could be through collaboration between faculty and campus libraries as it relates to curriculum design (Alexander et. al, 2016). Though such libraries have always been instrumental in supporting universities, it is suggested that they can play an even greater role in developing students’ digital literacy skills (Alexander et. al). Instead of putting on occasional digital literacy sessions, the library could become more deeply involved in the design of curricula to facilitate development of related competencies on an ongoing basis. Faculty and the libraries could decide on the set of targeted competencies that they wish for each student to have had developed upon completion of each course.

Enabling blended learning

blended learning

The MEd in Early Childhood Education is just one of several blended learning programmes scheduled to begin by September 2017 at the University of the West Indies. Blended learning is one mode of instruction, which has gained recognition with the advancement of digital technology. It involves both an online and face-to-face component in learning and teaching, and can be beneficial in combatting some of the challenges presented in the brick-and-mortar classroom (eg. convenience of learning anytime and anywhere). A recent study revealed that successful learning in such a setting requires that learners are digitally literate so that they may adapt well to the unconventional learning environment (Tang and Chaw, 2016).

Now for a quick recap…

Possessing basic literacy skills has been an essential facet of the human existence for ages, therefore it would be frustrating to live in today’s fast-paced world without being able to read and write. In the same way, it would be challenging for students to enjoy the vast possibilities of technology, within the educational context, without being able to use it to efficiently manage the information available at their fingertips. It is imperative that higher education institutions put university-wide practices in place for advancing students’ digital literacy. This way, they will be well-equipped with the know-how that will heighten their potential of experiencing academic success. The development of all related competencies could allow for the employment of learning models which are either enhanced or entirely driven by technology. When these are the sort of graduates produced by universities, what more could employers ask for?


Written by Xavaunik Brown-Clarke, MA Teaching Student at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus

References

Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall Giesinger, C., and Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017) NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Alexander, B. Adams Becker, S., and Cummins, M. (2016). Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief. Volume 3.3., October 2016. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Elmes, J. (2017, February 16). Six significant challenges for technology in higher education in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/six-significant-challenges-technology-higher-education-2017

Gilster, P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York: Wiley Computer Publications.

Levy, L. (2016, May 2). 11 Digital literacy myths, debunked. Retrieved from https://rossieronline.usc.edu/blog/digital-literacy-myths/

Seargeant, P., and Tagg, C. (2016, December 29). Fake news: the solution is education, not regulation. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/fake-news-solution-education-not-regulation

Tang, C. M., and Chaw, L. Y. (2016).  Digital Literacy: A Prerequisite for Effective Learning in a Blended Learning Environment? The Electronic Journal of e-Learning , 14. Retrieved from http://www.ejel.org/volume14/issue1

Ventimiglia, P., and Pullman, G. (2016, March 7). From written to digital: the new literacy. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/3/from-written-to-digital-the-new-literacy

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Developing Digital Literacy: Supporting technology-enhanced learning in higher education

10 thoughts on “Developing Digital Literacy: Supporting technology-enhanced learning in higher education

  1. shenzhem says:

    Trending topic indeed Xauvanik.

    I am always up for new ways of teaching and digital literacy is indeed critical to the 21st century. It would not only benefit the graduates and employers of these graduates but it would also benefit the lecturers/academics/institutions. Through digital literacy, in UWI’s own words, we will be creating the ideal graduate. This concept of digital literacy contributes to the development a knowledge based technological society.

    Classroom teaching should never be static and mundane, it should be dynamic and engagement, so that we can reach all learning styles. Through this medium, HEIs would be able to develop students’ critical thinking skills, and measure their application of these skills.

    We are a stage where we have to meet students at their level, and their level is not necessarily going to the library religiously to find a textbook, whilst some would do this, others would gravitate to the technology. Digital literacy provides this space for those students who learn better through technology.

    During my undergrad years at UWI, I had lecturers that refused to do a PowerPoint presentation (now it is prezi) – this particular lecturer would come to class with a book and read, because he/she did not think that this fancy thing called PowerPoint would help the students because it is not traditional. This same teacher by the following semester started to use the PowerPoint, and it made a difference. Students could now relate to what was being taught and follow the discussion.

    So just imagine if we utilized digital literacy which offers way more than a simple PowerPoint, it would change teaching and learning in the classroom.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. vestinao says:

    I agree with that point that digital literacy is crucial to ones survival in this global and modern era. Possessing digital literacy can transform the whole arena, especially in educational spaces. This is a whole different ball game than when I was being schooled. So much have developed in such a short time span. It only show how the world is evolving and that change is inevitable. We too have to keep abreast with modern advancement, especially since we are educators. Just last week, while at a car show, I was saying to myself “wow, I really need to upgrade my car!!” So much technological advancements have transpired in the last decade. The thought also dawned on me, that we have advanced so rapidly, yet, many are ignorant to much of what technology has to offer. Many of us are unaware of what even our phones can do, apart from talking, messaging and social media. I believe that this generation and subsequent ones is at a great advantage, because they live in an era where they have access to information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources than what existed before. That is not the issue though, I realize that it is their ability to understand and use information in multiple formats, is where the disconnect exist.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. shanique101 says:

    Alas, someone raised this issue. When I decided to pursue this course as an elective, I had some preconceived ideas about topics that will be discussed and this was one.

    I am amazed that not much discourse is happening about this trendy issue. I believe that resistance to change is a key factor affecting digital literacy among higher education faculty. Some educators believe that because they taught without the use of technology then the current students should learn without technology. However, this generation can be deemed as the ‘google generation’ or ‘generation of google’ because they are technology driven and they are competent. It is about time that the educators who refuse to make a PowerPoint or join a class groupchat or facebook page realize that the ‘chalk and talk’ days ‘done’. Learning styles differ and as such the teaching styles should differ. It cannot be the samething every week. Diversity is good and the use of technology in the classroom is diverse.

    We must find creative methodologies to get our point to the students and as such we should all be computer literate. I must admit that I am not au fait with all the advancement in technology and it is like ‘keeping up with the kardashians’ but I know the basic and is willing to learn. That is all we require of all, willingness to accept change and to learn.Whether we like it or not, the physical walls of higher education institutes will soon collapse and all that will stand the test of time are online classes. Thus educators ought to be abreast of this and retool themselves for the possibility.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. realchez says:

    Yes, times have really changed and educators really have to keep abreast to equip our students with the proper tools for lifelong learning. We have to make the classroom fun. The chalk and talk is really becoming of the past. There is Google classroom, Zoom among others that teachers can use. But really there is a challenge with funding and a lot of schools have some ‘pitbulls’ as their gatekeepers hence a lot of ‘redtape’ and bureaucracy which is such a big turn off. The information is there to be shared yet some persons hold onto it fo rdear life.

    Online classes are becoming more and more dominant and as universities remain competitive they have to embrace this. Persons no longer have the time to sit everyday in a classroom and to make themselves marketable higher educators have to conform to meet the growing needs of present and future students.

    VESTINAO I agree that a lot of the tools are out there and are not being utilised.

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  5. wkeisha says:

    Digital literacy, I believe, starts with the individual. The person, who adamantly rejects technology in this day and age, will never a literate become. Students in higher education know that education has been transformed by technology, so they must play their role in the process. They say at university you ‘read for your degree’ and they mean that literally. Nowhere is information more in abundance than at a place of higher learning – except maybe on the world-wide web.

    Universities will provide you with the information and tools you need or require to complete your education, but nowhere is it written that the university should hold your hand. So I agree with Sergeant and Tagg that the universities do have a facilitatory role to play in cultivating this skill in their students. I see that work at UWI every time I am there – blended learning classes, interactive classes like Trends, literature and seminars organized for students on writing research papers, how to avoid plagiarism, how to use the library and its resources, etc. I wonder how many of us have actually participated in these activities.

    Blended learning or online learning is not for everyone. It requires some getting used to and many persons never get used to it; they function better in a face-to-face environment. Shenhaye said it. If the university has failed, it is because some of our own lecturers have not embraced technology, opting instead for the chalk and talk of old.

    We live in a technological age where children are born knowing how to configure phones or to use tablets (I think my 4-year-old is more technological savvy than I am). I think that all HEIs do is harness our prowess, limited or otherwise, and force us to use it in the proper fashion. I believe my programme’s curriculum sufficiently engages the digital world – especially Dr. Stewart’s classes – but the delivery of some courses may be where the tweaking is needed.

    Truth be told, technology itself can be an annoying concept. I am only digitally literate, because it is a means to an end. But I wonder, if universities are the facilitators for their students, who/what is ‘facilitating’ the multitudes outside the university system – which happen to be the majority?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. tanneice says:

    I will share generally some comments I made to another another blog on on-line education, mainly because it relates to this topic and it is an area that I am interested in exploring. The thing is there are barriers to faculty adoption and use of technology in their teaching methodology and practices.

    Studies on the adoption and use of technology in teaching and learning has revealed that there are factors, internal and external, that act as obstacles and impede the adoption and use of technology among educators at the various level of the educational system, these factors are generally called barriers.

    Abrahams (2010) study on the subject of adoption and use of technology among faculty found that the issues associated with technology adoption are not one-dimensional but multi-dimensional factors influenced by different barriers. Overall, the stakeholders perceived lack of leadership and support for the technology, and the lack of knowledge/information about the technology to be the driving forces inhibiting faculty use of web-based technology in instruction. This study found that faculty time and support were attributed as critical factors to faculty resistance to the use of educational technology in the early adoptive phase.

    Butler & Sellbm (2002) noted that unreliability of technology was most commonly cited as a significant barrier. That study also indicated that to successfully implement new technologies in teaching and learning, institutions must address barriers to faculty adoption and that organizational and cultural differences will make implementation of recommendations quite different at each institution. A earlier study , Farby & Higgs (1997) indicated that resistance to change, teachers, attitude, professional training and development, time, access and cost in relation to technology were major issues in the implementation and integration of technology into the classroom. Until the issues were addressed on a broader scale, the integration of technology will continue to be a major concern.

    I just thought I would add this to the mix of the discussion. Whether or not we see these factors as barriers, if the faculty in any of the higher educational institutions considers any factor a barrier – we cannot ignore their concern.

    Like

  7. ventomspecial says:

    Information technology has an ever-bigger role in everyday life and business. It is not only about knowing the technology, but also knowing the logic behind knowledge-based, networked and global information society. The new ways of communication improve business productivity and competitiveness and open up new markets and business opportunities. In education, social networking services facilitate collaborative, interactive, and customised models of learning.

    The development of information society also involves threats such as a growing digital divide, diminished privacy and information security, and difficulties in adjusting to a new, more technical operating environment.(Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 2014)

    Technology is inevitable, it is a global phenomenon and one has no choice but to embrace it by being educated. Technology allows one to work smarter, which ultimately increase productivity be it higher education or business. I agree with Saunches that the ‘chalk and talk’ method is gradually fading and higher institutions administrators must be flexible in their approach in the new and living way of technology. Notwithstanding, its disadvantages, but the benefits derives from technology are far more significant. I totally agree with Shenhaye that if the university in light of lecturers fail to untilise technology, then learning will be boring and demotivating. Based on my own experience, technology has made my work load more easy and lighter. For instance, technology has allowed us to access our university library by reducing long hours on campus and working in the convenience of our homes. Also access to other search engines at our finger tips. You have online lectures via Zoom, Skype just to name a few.

    Technology is the way forward, there is no turning back, let’s get with the programme, apart from the basic and creative skills, it is important that lecturers and students learn about the logic and operation of different networks and their virtual forms.

    Well done XBrownClarke|

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  8. Three things crossed my mind not so much on the importance of technology in the classroom and being digitally literate but more so on the change from brick and mortar classrooms to more digitally literate ones or ones with more technological components integrated in teaching :

    1. Is the University of the West Indies and even the Caribbean ready to transition from the regular brick and mortar classrooms to those that incorporate more technology, on a large scale? It may not make sense that we rush things before it’s time. While technology has been integrated more in other universities and in other societies, it may very be the case that we in the Caribbean is just not at that stage yet. Is the change welcomed and who is it welcomed by? Are we prepared to deal with the change should it happen now? Would we be able to really maximize on the good that the change will bring and are we also prepared to deal with the bad also?

    2. If they are indeed ready, are the resources available to really make the transition become something of a reality? Often times, we rush the process of change and try to take on certain things that we are not quite ready for because of the lack of resources. This usually results in poor transitions, poor implementation of policies and change, and sometimes even half done projects that have to be put on pause for years before they are resumed, and sometimes never resumed at all. So do we really have the resources to even take on the task of transitioning our classrooms from brick and mortar to ones that incorporate more technology? Is it that we are able at this juncture to even start the transition and if we should start do we have the resources to complete it?

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  9. Lotoya Bond says:

    At the rate of how technology is increasing rapidly, we have to try and keep up. It is important to get the necessary training to use these technological devices effectively. Technology offers a great deal of flexibility because you can use the device anytime or anywhere to get the necessary information. I think the use of technology should be incorporated in every school because sooner or later everything that we are required to do is going to be based on some form of technology. The earlier we start to learn to use technology, the more knowledgeable and competent we will become.

    Like

  10. patknightletts says:

    The article starts off by making a distinction between Digital Natives and Digitally Literates. However I am of the view that prior to making these distinctions, the issue of the Digital Divide must first be addressed. The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines the Digital Divide as being “The gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not”. This in my view must be the first step and the foundation upon which the ideas of, and distinction between Digital Natives and or Digital Literacy are built. It is also my view that this MUST start at the level of Early Childhood Education as it is in these very formative years that basis for personalities and inclinations are to be harnessed and formed.
    Cellular phones nowadays tend to a very large part be the first step, in introducing our children to mature technology. For our purposes the term ‘mature technology’ is defined as technology that will be in use in essentially the same form, for life. Today’s cellular phones are more accurately describes at mobile computing devices because long gone are the days when they serve to only allow making phone calls. They are now more about WhatsApp, FaceBook, IMO Messenger, SnapChat and many other Instant Messaging services. In the early days of Email services, postal mail was then considered to be ‘Snail Mail’ as it was thought to take ‘forever’ to get from sender to recipient, whereas Email was almost instantaneous. However with ever increasing popularity of Instant Messaging, Email is now the new ‘Snail Mail’ because that now seems to take forever (i.e. from five to ten minutes) from sender to recipient whereas Instant Massaging take between two and five seconds.
    It now seems that from a very early age children are given cellular phones as presents and today’s children demand more than simply those useless ‘banger’ phones. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘banger’ as “An old car in poor condition”. However usage of this term in reference to cellular phones in popular Jamaican culture or more specifically, in the vernacular, refers not so much to an old phone, but more so, to a cellular phone that does not allow for internet access of any kind especially to the aforementioned ‘apps’ . In other words, ‘non-Smart phones’ are no longer acceptable as gifts even to very small children. Fact of the matter is that in a lot of instances, the younger generation are very far ahead of us ‘older people’ in terms of technology awareness and general ‘tech-savviness’. This goes beyond just being able to more easily and efficiently utilize ‘hi tech’ devices into the realm of creating content, sharing information and participating in group chats etc.
    In the early 2000s as technology matured and as more businesses got involved with technology, there was a significant increase in companies whose primary operations were based online. With this, there was less need for ‘brick-and-mortar’ offices. This led to significantly lower operating costs e.g. office rentals, security, transportation etc. However some entities still maintained their physical offices while entering the online environment. These entities were referred to as being ‘bricks-and-clicks’ entities. The aforementioned models by now have matured and we now see where other types of entities are entering these spaces e.g. schools and other higher learning institutions. In fact at the university level, a number of course are offered only as online courses. At the primary and secondary levels, a there now exists virtual learning environments. (i.e. VLEs). The Oxford University Press defines VLEs as being system’ for delivering learning materials to students via the web. These systems include assessment, student tracking, and collaboration and communication tools. Traditionally these lessons were delivered via specially designed set top boxes connected on one end to the Internet and on the other, to a television set. This allowed the classroom to evolve from a single physical classroom space into one which encompasses diverse geographic locations and time zones.

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