The continual changes in technologies affect our lives in so many ways. It is a constant struggle to stay abreast of those changes, make informed decisions, and choose when to migrate to the latest, greatest, newest hi-tech product or software update. In higher education we know that technology impacts us in many ways, ranging from integrating technology into our teaching, to the impact of changes in G Suite on our daily work lives, to how digital tools can be introduced to students for assignments in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities in meaningful ways. One of the aims of our Mellon Grant for the Digital Liberal Arts is “to create a community of digital learners: faculty who have used digital techniques in both their research and the classroom those who are interested in doing so, and experts from our library and IT departments.”  It is this aspect of creating a “community of digital learners” that I’d like to address.
In their article, “From Written to Digital: The New Literacy”, Phil Ventimiglia and George Pullman begin by pointing out that Walter Isaacson in his book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution “contends that the major innovations of the digital revolution—from the first general-purpose computer to the transistor to the iPhone—were all created by individuals who understood how to synthesize the humanities with technology.” On a similar theme, this spring there is a CST sponsored reading group that is reading the Fuzzy and the Techy: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the World. The promotion for the reading group, read
“In response to some of the discussions at the FAIR and faculty meetings this fall, our group will read venture capitalist Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World. “Scott Hartley artfully explains why it is time for us to get over the false division between the human and the technical,” one reviewer writes. “If received and acted upon with the seriousness it deserves, we can anticipate real benefits for business and society.” “Great book for all,” writes another. “Blows up the false dichotomy in education between tech and liberal arts. This book shows that not only can both coexist; it is dangerous if they don’t both exist side by side in an integrated manner. They make each other more effective.”
Both of these references point out the benefits of integrating technology into the liberal arts. This can occur on many different levels and integrating technology into the curriculum is already underway in many courses. However, as Ventimiglia and Pullman further point out, although teaching with technology is a focus in higher education, a more important issue is what are we teaching our students about living in a digital age. They state, “[s]tudents can be more successful after graduation if they are digitally literate.” So, I would like to suggest that we consider that it isn’t enough to just integrate technology into teaching. In terms of creating a community of digital learners, how are we introducing students to what it means to be “digitally literate?” I think we need to start considering what is needed to ensure our students graduate with the skills they need to survive in the 21st century and we also need to consider how to convey to the students why this important for their future success. Just slightly more than thirty years ago members of the library staff embarked on the process of developing a program for integrating information literacy into the curriculum and it has developed into a very successful program. Now we need to consider what it means to be a digitally literate person and why this is critical for the 21st century.
So what exactly is “digital literacy”? Bryn Mawr has developed a Mellon-funded, ambitious program, as outlined in their paper discussing the Bryn Mawr Digital Competencies Framework.  Built on the model of the Association for College and Research Libraries’ Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education . Bryn Mawr identifies 5 skill areas:
- Digital Survival Skills – learning network and file management, troubleshooting, and managing one’s digital identity and security, and developing critical understanding of databases.
- Digital Communication – learning use of collaborative tools, digital writing and publishing, and producing audiovisual materials.
- Data Management and Preservation – learning how to develop online surveys, protecting one’s data, and organizing, managing and preserving the data.
- Data Analysis and Presentation – learning how to use Excel along with software tools to manipulate data, and to develop skills in data visualization.
- Critical Making, Design and Development – learning how to interpret and edit computing code, developing competencies in design thinking, project management, and digital tools for disciplinary research.
You can go to Bryn Mawr’s Digital Competencies website and read in more detail about their initiative. Their program focuses on helping students from the start of their education at Bryn Mawr to launching their careers.
Bryn Mawr’s program is inspiring and worth reviewing for consideration in developing a similar initiative at Macalester. In today’s technology driven world, where change is rapid and constant, all fields leading to careers incorporate new technologies that require robust digital literacy skills. In order to be nimble, our students need skills to survive in a technological environment that is pervasive at work, home, and recreation. The role of the library staff in helping to develop digital literacy skills is partially based on the Framework for Information Literacy frame that focuses on Information Creation as a Process:
“Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.” 
However, all of the digital skill areas identified by Bryn Mawr are based on the information literacy framework. The library staff and ITS staff are involved in conversations about digital literacy because we see some specific needs we could address. In addition, developing a program that focuses on digital literacy is something that would also specifically address one of the objectives in Macalester’s Strategic Plan. It is stated that we want to “[b]ecome a leader among liberal arts colleges in the use of technology to improve and broaden the reach of teaching and learning.” I think if we want to become a leader, this involves the necessary task of improving the digital literacy skills in our students.
When we began our program to integrate information literacy into the curriculum, we started by focusing on the first year courses. Today, every first year course includes a library component and we have expanded to include more library sessions in upper division and research oriented courses. So, if we were to use a similar model, we need to find a starting point. Conversations are underway between staff in the library and members of ITS about how best to move forward in developing a program focused on digital literacy competencies at Macalester for all members of our community. As part of the Mellon grant is focused on creating a community of digital learners, what about a community focused on creating digitally literate individuals? Would you be interested in joining the conversation? If so, please send me a note and let me know and we will coordinate further conversations to help us develop a path forward.
- “Macalester Receives $800,00 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for Digital Liberal Arts and Writing,” https://www.macalester.edu/news/2015/02/macalester-receives-800000-grant-from-the-andrew-w-mellon-foundation-for-digital-liberal-arts-and-writing/
2. Phil Ventimiglia and George Pullman. “From Written to Digital: The New Literacy.” EDUCAUSE REVIEW, March/April 2016. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/3/from-written-to-digital-the-new-literacy
3. CST News, Jan. 4, 2018
4. Bryn Mawr College, “Bryn Mawr Digital Competencies Framework” (2016). Blending Learning Research and Open Educational Resources. 3. https://repository.brynmawr.edu/oer/3
5. Association of College and Research Libraries, “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. 2015. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework
Alexander, B., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M. & Hall Giesinger, C. (2017). Digital Literacy in Higher Education, Part II: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. (Volume 3.4, August 2017). https://www.nmc.org/publication/digital-literacy-part-ii-an-nmc-horizon-project-strategic-brief/
2017 Digital Literacy Impact Study; an NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief, vo. 3.5, November 2017 https://www.nmc.org/publication/2017-digital-literacy-impact-study-an-nmc-horizon-project-strategic-brief/
Digital Learning and Inquiry (DLINQ) – Middlebury College – http://dlinq.middcreate.net/