April 21, 2011

What Are Digital Literacies? Let’s Ask the Students

Category: Digital Citizenship
student playing game on the screen of a control room

Two weeks ago I blogged on DML Central on “Doing Better by Generation Y” and the tendency for pundits to criticize Gen Y’s absorption with new media, critique how little they know, blame their lack of attention, and castigate their inability to sustain real friendships (rather than “superficial” social networks).  I argued that, even if this point of view were correct, it neither helps young people by providing them with better ways of understanding the social imperatives of the Internet culture into which they were born, nor does it recognize the social media skills students do have. 

It was with these critiques in mind that I asked undergraduate students in my two classes, “This Is Your Brain on the Internet” and “Twenty-First Century Literacies” to come up with a list of new social media skills they had mastered and come to analyze and understand in my peer-driven, peer-assessed, peer-led classes.  Of course they also mastered other content (whether regarding neural networks or novels) in each class, but I wanted them to focus on new skills. We might call these skills “digital literacies.”

Check out their list, and then tell me if you recognize those self-absorbed, no-nothing, isolated, and distracted students described by the pundits.  To my mind, this is a list of digital literacies any of us might aspire to:  

  • Using online sources to network, knowledge-outreach, publicize content, collaborate and innovate
  • Collecting, managing, and interpreting multimedia and online data and/or content
  • Appreciating the complex ethics surrounding online practices
  • Engaging successfully in an “Innovation Challenge,” an exercise in simultaneous multi-user, real-time distance collaboration, on deadline
  • Developing a diversity of writing styles and modes of communication to best reach, address, and accommodate multiple audiences across multiple online platforms
  • Demonstrating technical and media skills: Web video, WordPress, blogging, Google Docs, Livechat, Twitter, Facebook Groups, Wikipedia editing
  • Participating successfully in peer leadership (without an authority figure as the leader to police, guide, or protect the collaborators), peer assessment, peer self-evaluation; making contributions to a group on a coherent and innovative project
  • Cultivating strategies for managing the line between personal and professional life in visible, online communities
  • Understanding how to transform complicated ideas and gut reactions about technology into flexible technology policy
  • Learning how to champion the importance of the open Web and ‘Net Neutrality
  • Collaborating across disciplines, working with people from different backgrounds and fields, including across liberal arts and engineering
  • Understanding the complexity of copyright and intellectual property and the relationship between “open source” and “profitability” or “sustainability”
  • Excelling in collaborative online publishing skills and expertise, from conception to execution to implementation to dissemination
  • Incorporating technology efficiently and wisely into a specific classroom or work environment
  • Leading peers in discussing the implications and ethics of intellectual collaborative discourse and engagement online and beyond
  • Using the superior expertise of a peer to extend my own knowledge

Banner image credit: Adriano Agullo http://www.flickr.com/photos/lost__in__spain/3162978858/