Digital literacy can boost employability and improve student experience – The Guardian

Extract from a Guardian Blog Post by Sarah Knight

The nature of knowledge is changing and, in this digital age, our definition of basic literacy urgently needs expanding. With an estimated 90% of UK jobs requiring some level of IT competency, the notion of digital literacy – those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society – is one that needs to be taken seriously by colleges and universities.

We live in an online world with the digital divide closing up both through government initiatives (Martha Lane Fox, the government’s digital champion, recently took up the challenge of getting 10 million people in the UK online, saying that otherwise “they will be even more isolated and disadvantaged as government and industry expand ever faster into digital-only services”) and technological advances – more than half the UK population now own a smartphone with internet capability.

Universities and colleges have a responsibility to develop students into individuals who can thrive in an era of digital information and communication – those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically secure and these skills are especially important in higher education given that graduate white collar jobs are almost entirely performed on computers and portable devices.

But it’s not just about employability – increasingly digital literacy is vital for learning itself. Digital tools such as virtual learning environments, e-portfolios and social networking software for peer mentoring are now common within further and higher education and students without the skills to navigate them risk suffering an inferior student experience at best, and being left completely behind at worst. It goes beyond IT skills, a complete culture change is required to live fully within the modern digital society, from understanding how to communicate ideas effectively in a range of media to managing digital reputation and history.

But surely, today’s learners are “digital natives”, as at home in a world of email, Facebook and mobile learning as their predecessors were with pen and paper? Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s easy to overstate the digital competence of today’s undergraduate students and even postgraduate researchers.

Academic staff generally perceive students to be more digitally capable than is really the case. A JISC study of 3,500 learners found that while the so-called Google generation have high expectations of digital technology, for example that it will be robust, flexible, responsive to their personal needs, and available anywhere, many learners do not have a clear understanding of how courses could or should use technology to support their learning.

Work by the JISC/British Library commissioned Researchers of Tomorrow team shows that there is little difference in the capabilities of younger and older students when it comes to online research. Most learners use only basic functionality and are reluctant to explore the capabilities of technology, preferring to passively consume content rather than create or curate it. The same study into young post doctorate researchers’ behaviour shows that they are unaware of some of the digital tools available to them..

SOURCE: Sarah Knight, “Digital literacy can boost employability and improve student experience”, The Guardian, 15 Dec 2012

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