An Investigation of Digital Literacy Needs of Students

By Nelson, Klara; Courier, Marcy et al. | Journal of Information Systems Education, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

An Investigation of Digital Literacy Needs of Students


Nelson, Klara, Courier, Marcy, Joseph, Gilbert W., Journal of Information Systems Education


1. INTRODUCTION

The top five challenges in teaching and learning with technology include the development of 21st century information, digital, and visual literacies to ensure that students are equipped with the skills needed to succeed in college and future careers (Educause, n.d.). Digital literacy is considered "an essential requirement for life in a digital age" (Bawden, 2008, p. 30). Often used interchangeably with computer or information and communications technology (ICT) literacy, digital literacy or competence, however, is a broader concept and does not automatically follow from the ability to use ICT tools (Ala-Mutka, Punie, and Redecker, 2008). Gilster (1997) first defined 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" (p. 1). Since then, a plethora of often inconsistent definitions of digital literacy have emerged that range from the technical aspects of operating in digital environments to the cognitive and socio-emotional aspects of work in a computer environment (Eshet-Alkalai, 2004). Such ambiguity obviously poses challenges for the effective design of curricula and courses targeting digital literacy. Determining what specifically should be taught is further complicated by a host of other issues:

* Difficulties with clearly defining what a digital environment entails as rapidly changing technologies represent a moving target (Leu, 2002);

* Lack of a common inventory of digital literacy skills or outcomes expectations;

* Steady shift of introductory college level material to high-school curriculum (Yahya, 2010);

* Disconnect between what colleges expect students to know and what students (often erroneously) think they already know as students' self-efficacy ratings exceed their actual performance scores (Easton, Easton, and Addo, 2006; Morris, 2010);

* Claims that students who have been "born digital", i.e., only know a world that is digital (Palfrey and Gasser, 2008), are radically different and do not have to learn ICT but merely experience it (Nasah et al., 2010);

* Very wide range of computer proficiency and online skills among students depending on factors such as socio-economic background and personal innovativeness (Hargittai et al., 2010; Nasah et al., 2010; Smith and Caruso, 2010);

* Criticisms related to the exclusive use of or focus on products from one vendor, raising the issue of "propagandizing a specific vendor" or having higher education textbook publishers drive what the outcomes of a technology course should be (Hodge and Gable, 2010).

* Concerns about making content relevant to different academic disciplines.

Universities employ different methods to ensure computer literacy of their students including introductory and often required computer skills courses included in the general or liberal studies core (Van Lengen, 2004). In response to concerns about such a one-credit-hour course in software applications required of all students at a medium-sized university in the southeastern United States, a task force was formed in Spring 2010 to develop a better understanding of the digital literacy needs of students and determine core curriculum items that should be taught. Based on a survey conducted by the task force, we sought answers to three basic research questions:

Q1. What are faculty perceptions of the importance of different aspects of digital literacy?

Q2. What are the commonalities and differences between the colleges vis-a-vis the different aspects of digital literacy?

a) What aspects of digital literacy need to be known by all students regardless of academic major or college affiliation?

b) Are there significant differences in the digital literacy needs between the colleges?

Q3. What are the implications of the digital literacy needs as perceived by faculty for course curriculum and course development, specifically the need for or redesign of the current one-credit-hour applications course? …

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