Basic Skills for the Information Age: Ideas from the Community College Circuit

In April, I attended the Council for the Study of Community Colleges’ annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Part of my work there involved co-organizing a roundtable session around the idea of digital literacies in community colleges. Since then, I have published a summary of the session here.

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Defining Digital Literacy

One of our biggest challenges has been to come up with a definition or explanation of what distinct skills or practices are implicated in the term “digital literacy.” Which technological paradigms are most salient, and why? The following four categories of digital skills emerged from the roundtable discussion:

Data types. Students need to gain familiarity with types of data that are used in the production and consumption of information in the digital age. Visual, textual, audible, and spatial data are available in an endlessly evolving array of formats and sizes. Students need to become acquainted with how to make decisions about which should be used in a variety of situations to inform effective communication.

Digital writing. Writing in traditional academic formats (APA, MLA, and so on) is a touchstone in higher education, yet these academic styles represent only a narrow set of uses in the wider workforce.  Digital writing refers to the increasing ubiquity of online publishing that includes hyperlinks; collaborative authorship; and malleable, dynamic texts. This approach incorporates new ways of engaging with critical thinking, taking full advantage of the information age contexts.

Social media. The ubiquity of social media across commercial, non-profit, service, and governmental sectors demands that students be familiar and comfortable with their potentials.  The blurring of roles producer and consumer is paramount, moving beyond passive consumption to engage critically with these networked means of communication.

Blogging. Even as one of the older technologies in the digital age, blogs continue to represent a powerful tool for communication and collaboration. Disrupting the traditional barriers to publishing, blogging empowers students to synthesize the full array of data types for a worldwide audience. Practical knowledge of this evolving technology is applicable to a wide variety of implementation of problem solving and critical thinking skills.

But these seem limited at best. In seeking out a more comprehensive definition, I stumbled across a paper presented at the Innovations 2012 conference in Philidelphia. It is a meta-analysis of existent literature surrounding “digital literacy” in community colleges over the last 20 years or so, and it includes this very helpful table:

This table is borrowed from Riel, J., Christian, S., & Hinson, B. (2012, March). Charting digital literacy: A framework for information technology and digital skills education in the community college. Paper presented at Innovations 2012, Philadelphia, PA.

This table is borrowed from: Riel, J., Christian, S., & Hinson, B. (2012, March). Charting digital literacy: A framework for information technology and digital skills education in the community college. Paper presented at Innovations 2012, Philadelphia, PA.

So in considering what digital literacies we would hope to instill in W&M students, or college graduates at large, these lists offer a good starting place. The next question, and by far the more challenging, is “how?”