EdTech, Higher Education

Digital Literacy and Information Fluency in Higher Ed

Consuming information online is no more than a click, scroll, or swipe these days. All searches are not created equal and rarely do we think about fact checking what we find on the Internet. I am not alone in thinking about how “…the Internet is actually changing the way we read the way we reason, and even the way we think, and all for the worse” (The Death of Expertise, Nicols, 2017, p. 111). In higher education, I think it is imperative we teach our learners and colleagues about what it means to participate and interact in digital spaces and places. How can our institutions help students, staff, and faculty “be” online and consider how both information and digital environments impact knowledge sharing and learning?

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Definition: Digital Literacy and Information Fluency

Digital literacy is multifaceted. The New Media Consortium provided a Digital Literacy Strategic Brief (Alexander, Adams Becker, & Cummins, 2016) to identify the role policy, practice, and curriculum can have on all facets of our campus. Alexander et al. (2016, p.1) define digital literacy as “not just understanding how a tool works but also why it is useful in the real world and when to use it.” To improve our practices for improving this literacy we need to think broadly about strategic planning and the creation of standards at our campus. There are new opportunities to encourage learners to become content and media producers, identify technical competencies for the workforce with industry-education partnerships, and develop smart collaborations within the community entities, such as governments, libraries, museums, and cultural heritage organizations. This report offers insights across universal literacy, creative literacy, and literacy across disciplines by offering exemplars in practice at institutions that include digital literacy in program and curriculum design.

Beyond digital competencies, we need to develop media and information fluency in higher education. The Association of College and Research Libraries (2016) has updated their literacy competency standards by developing a Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education to offer guidance “to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Scholarly inquiry requires analyzing information for credibility and understanding if an online resource is primary, secondary or irrelevant. Information is constructed in context to digital environments and is often created as a process of knowing, reflection, editing, and production online. Beyond this, the Institute of Museum and Library Services are offering suggestions for data information literacy to help us understand how we manage, curate, and design curriculum around data and information. To encourage both digital prowess and information awareness online, we need to develop skills around: outline critical thinking for research, encourage digital teaming, and identify privacy, security and data issues online.

Critical Thinking and Online Research

Much of what we want our students, and perhaps colleagues, to develop is technical competency with information management in the digital real. Digital literacy and information fluency help us improve our understanding and acquisition of knowledge to move beyond the #FakeNews fallacies and make meaning of what we are learning. In seeing how fast information travels with inaccurate content, I often wonder if my learners understand how the Internet works? Part of our responsibility, as educators, is to teach effective search processes online, to investigate databases, and examine scholarly repositories with our students and co-authors.

Additionally, as we encourage learners and peers to share presentations or develop projects it is critical to encourage citing and attribution of resources. Beyond using APA 6th edition format for referencing scholarly work, we also need to scaffold content curation and sharing, specifically with regards to copyright, fair use, and creative commons licensing. Work can be contributed to course materials (e.g. LTEC 4000 Course Wiki), textbook development (e.g. PM4ID), or perhaps even contributing to general knowledge on the Internet (e.g. Wiki Edu). Applying search skills in a course will help to hone and develop expertise beyond their degree and put into practice in their work and personal life. Here are a few examples of Information Literacy Activities or Resources you might include or apply in your course or program on campus.

Virtual Teaming: Collaboration & Problem-Solving

Part of being a member of a college or university community is the opportunity for discussion and discourse among peers. Scholarly inquiry and debate cannot and should not happen in a vacuum. Learning experiences should offer ways to evaluate information and to participate in civic online reasoning helps our learners beyond course discussions, class activities, and assigned projects. With the advent of the social web and networked communication platforms, there is an increasing opportunity to gather virtual teams or to support distributed group work. How can you enhance distributed collaboration for learners and support your peers online?

The new social learning helps us “join with others to make sense of and create new ideas…[it] is augmented with social media tools that bridge distance and time, enabling people to easily interact across the workplace, passion, curiosity, skill or need. It benefits from a diversity in types of intelligence and in the experiences of those learning” (Bingham & Connor, 2015, p.8). These digital environments need to be woven into our pedagogical considerations learning design and considered in context to support virtual teaming among scholars. Much of the creative problem solving, production development, and final products for learners can be self-directed via peers online. Some examples, I have used in practice and for instruction include shared documents for education, planning virtual group meetings, supporting hashtags for learning, and offering on-demand, online office hours. There are many ways to learn and work from a distance – decide what your purpose or goal is first, and then explore what digital platforms to use.

Digital Privacy, Security, and Data

To further this notion, we need to consider how we thrive in the digital age and this should start at our colleges and universities. The US Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity put out a Report on Securing and Growing the Digital Economy. As human behavior and technology are intertwined, it will be vital to secure our technologies, processes, and products online. As we “live” online and continue to get hacked online, we need to identify how we will operate in digital spaces and also prepare cybersecurity workforce capabilities online as outlined in this report. Higher education IT colleagues are continually thinking about ways to respond to cybersecurity attacks; however, prevention and awareness among campus stakeholders should be priorities at our institutions. I often have my students and peers think deeper about their privacy and security online by introducing them to ideas shared by WNYC’s Note To Self: Privacy Paradox 5-part series and the Privacy Paradox tip sheet, specifically to have all understand how to protect personal information and perhaps to take control back of their shared personal  data online. Beyond this short course, I often encourage colleagues and students to read recent news reports, or listen to podcasts, such as CBC Spark and Reply-All, to prompt discussions about current issues and events that apply tot their own digital life to ask more about their own Terms of Service.

References

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

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2016, January 11). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

Bingham, T., & Conner, M. (2015). The new social learning: Connect. Collaborate. Work., 2nd Edition. Alexandria, VA: ATD Press.

Hardin, G. (2016). White Paper: University of North Texas, Information Fluency Initiative. UNT Libraries. Retrieved from https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc944367/

Nichols, T. (2017). The death of expertise: The campaign against established knowledge and why it matters. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

An edited version of this blog post was cross-posted on the Ed Tech Magazine: Focus on Higher Ed website. 

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