When Opportunities Arise
As I’ve noted before, one of the ideas I’m working on with a faculty committee is incorporating digital literacy (e.g., critical consumption of data, the production of data visualization, computational thinking) as a key element of the current educational landscape. If we think seriously about the types of skills we hope to give students as they enter the workforce and citizenry, we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t take digital literacy as seriously as we do, say, writing. Students are naturally adept at consuming digital information, but are they adept as critical consumers and producers of digital ideas via words, sounds and visions?
One of the ways the committee has talked about enhancing digital literacy is to provide students and faculty with digital resources that encourage them to rethink elements of their coursework. We need to find ways to provide students with both specific tools (i.e., software) and training/support on how to use those tools if we hope to enhance digital literacy across campus.
While formulating a digital literacy case study, I was contacted by Lutz Koepnick, Gertrude Conway Professor and Chair of German, Russian and East European Studies, as well and Director of the Joint-Ph.D. Program in Comparative Media Analysis and Practice (CMAP). This is an innovative program that is ‘layered onto’ a student’s primary field of study (and all fields may link to CMAP) and focuses on the “critical investigation of modern media culture and the innovative making of digital objects.” Students complete the program in conjunction with their field-specific plan of study and graduate with a Ph.D. in their respective area and in “Comparative Media Analysis and Practice.”
Koepnick contacted me because he was just about to begin teaching a Maymester course entitled, “Creative Media Practice.” This course is a four week long series of workshops “designed both to foster graduate students’ skills in various areas of digital media practice and to help doctoral candidates to develop creative solutions to present research projects in their fields of specialization and matters of public concern.” The students are taught elements of visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, sound production, web design, gaming, and 3D/virtual reality design. Fortunately, my discussion with Koepnick turned into an opportunity to provide digital literacy training and support to his Maymester students.
What if we gave the students access to both software (we arranged for students and faculty to have access to the Adobe Creative Cloud, as well as other programs) and support for using this software? Koepnick identified numerous faculty who could help teach students specific tasks and support them when they had questions or ideas. While the course is currently ongoing, our hope is that students learn new ways to present and visualize their research projects to both a general and an expert audience. This will ideally represent a small case study of how training in ‘digital literacy’ might work if students and faculty have access to adequate software and support. In a month we will find out, but right now, Koepnick reports that the students are excitedly working on their projects and finding very creative ways to present their research. I very much look forward to seeing what they produce at the conclusion of their course.
The lesson to be drawn from this is not simply what we will learn from the outcome of the course, but that we need to be observant for opportunities, like this one, allowing us to give our ideas that best chance to work. That is, Koepnick has presented an organic instance in which “digital literacy” was at the heart of a course, and we saw this as an opportunity to test drive the idea of combining access and support. I’m thrilled to be part of this and very much look forward to seeing what the students achieve.