A Digital Literacy Initiative in Honors: Perceptions of Students and Instructors about Its Impact on Learning and Pedagogy

By English, Jacob Alan | Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Fall-Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

A Digital Literacy Initiative in Honors: Perceptions of Students and Instructors about Its Impact on Learning and Pedagogy


English, Jacob Alan, Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council


Researchers acknowledge the necessity of acquiring digital competencies to participate adequately in society (Ala-Mutka; Boyles; Cobo; Davies; Littlejohn, Beetham, & McGill; Teske & Etheridge; Tryon; Warf). Although the development of digital competencies has become increasingly important in higher education, integrating digital literacies in the college classroom has occurred at a slow pace. Honors programs and colleges represent one area of the academy that typically values a more traditional approach to skill development while resisting technology. My research study describes a digital literacy initiative in the Georgia State University Honors College, a large urban research university, and explores its perceived impact on teaching and learning. The study examines the activities introduced in the classroom and various disciplines, and it seeks to determine if the initiative's goals were met. This study does not attempt to make any sweeping claims about whether digital literacy should be a primary focus of honors education; rather, its purpose is to discover how adapting pedagogy to include digital competencies might meet the objectives of undergraduate honors education. The research question asks how the intentional inclusion of digital competencies into the honors classroom affects learning and pedagogy, with the goal of providing a model for other honors programs and colleges seeking to implement and evaluate similar programs.

DIGITAL LITERACY AND HIGHER EDUCATION

The current climate of digital literacy development in higher education provides the context for examining the status of digital literacy in the honors community. The term "digital literacy," introduced in 1977 by Paul Gilster, is pervasive in society. Technology has become an integral part of a student's life, but digital competencies are not always introduced in higher education classrooms. With the analogous terms "computer literacy,' "information and communications technology (ICT) literacy," or "digital competence" (Nelson, Courier, and Joseph), a simple Boolean search of digital literacy returns a multitude of definitions that are abstract, technical, and pragmatic in nature (Joint Information Systems Committee; Media Awareness Network; New York City Department of Education). One definition from a report by the European Commission describes digital competencies as follows:

knowledge, skills, attitudes (thus including abilities, strategies,
values, and awareness) that are required to use ICT and digital media
to perform tasks; solve problems; communicate; manage information;
collaborate; create and share content; and build knowledge effectively,
efficiently, appropriately, critically, creatively, autonomously,
flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation,
learning, socializing, consuming, and empowerment. (Ferrari 43)

The range of definitions underscores the complexity of attaining digital skills.

As a result of this complexity, digital literacy development is proving a challenge in higher education in the United States (Jeffrey et al.). The low level of development is disturbing when major governing bodies, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce, acknowledge the necessity of digital literacy for today's jobs and for taking advantage of educational, civic, and health advances. The literature cites several possible reasons for the lag in developing digital literacy at the college level: instructors' unwillingness to adjust their pedagogies (Schmidt), overestimation of students' ability to use technology to solve business and real-world problems (Murray & Perez), students' illusion of knowing and overconfidence in career readiness (Hart Research Associates), and issues of access and self-efficacy (Jeffrey et al.).

In a 2014 study, Murray and Perez used an exam to evaluate the digital competency of graduating seniors from a variety of majors in a capstone course. …

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